How Iron Man challenger started journey to fitness

Runner Craig Mackay decided to get himself into shape and discovered a vocation. Picture: Scott Louden

Runner Craig Mackay decided to get himself into shape and discovered a vocation. Picture: Scott Louden

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FORREST Gump, Roadrunner, even Crazy Legs Crane, runner Craig Mackay has heard all the names.

For when the 36-year-old ultra marathon man hits the road, he doesn’t seem to know when to stop.

While many crumble under the strain of even thinking about slipping into a pair of trainers and going for a jog, dad-of-two Craig is happily racking up the equivalent of two, sometimes three, marathons in a day.

If the run happens to be mostly uphill or stretches into a 24-hour race – with just a couple of hours sleep in between constant running – then he’s even happier.

He is one of a growing number of almost superhuman athletes for whom a typical 26.2 miles marathon is a brief stroll in the park. Instead, they push their bodies to the extreme, notching up mile after gruelling mile in long distance races that would have the rest of us just reaching for the car keys.

So far he’s completed 27 ultra marathons – runs which exceed the typical 26.2 miles marathon length, usually by extreme amounts.

Over the course of summer, he plans to tick off a further six in 12 weeks, covering a total of 412 miles – including one torturous Iron Man challenge that will include a 2.4-mile swim in the Forth even though he hates swimming, a 118 miles bike ride and a 27 miles run up and down Ben Nevis to finish.

It sounds an incredible feat of endurance and is all the more remarkable when Craig admits he only started running five years ago to help trim down after tipping the scales at around 17 stones.

Even then he hated his first race – the 10k Edinburgh Rat Race, the urban assault course style challenge – so much that he struggled to finish it, leaving him feeling like he never wanted to run again.

But according to Craig, pushing himself to run incredible distances is as much a feat of mental agility as it is one of physical endurance.

“It’s a mental thing,” he explains, “and most people could do it if they wanted. It’s like there’s a switch in your brain, it goes on and you just keep running until someone stops you.

“It’s actually really relaxing.”

Craig only started running by chance after his wife, Claire, and older son Lachlan, now ten, urged him to take part in the Edinburgh Rat Race after they’d enjoyed a trek up the Great Glen Way.

“I played a bit of amateur football, but I was getting fat,” he recalls. “It was the end of 2009, I was about four stones overweight, so I said I’d give it a go.

“I tried to train but couldn’t really run because I kept getting a bad back. So when the race come up, I had done hardly any training.

“It turned out to be fun, but it nearly killed me,” he says with a laugh.

It was another five months before Craig, from Carrick Knowe, felt like heading out again, this time working his way through a series of five and ten kilometre races.

But soon he had his sights on bigger – and longer – challenges. And, rather than gradually working his way up to tackling big distances, he plunged straight into his first ultra marathon.

“I suppose there should be some build-up, but I didn’t actually run a marathon first, I just went straight from half marathon to doing the Clyde Stride, which is 40 miles.

“I rolled up to the start and saw quite a few older runners, so I figured I’d follow them. At 20 miles, they were way ahead of me.

“People just seem to get into it. There are runners who are in the 70s, and one of the top Scottish women runners is a girl who 18 months ago was six stones heavier, now she’s among the top 20.”

Craig, a marketing project manager for Scottish Southern Energy, now runs at least five miles every day – he’s managed to hit the road every day without a break for 96 days.

And as he prepares for his summer season of races, he’s training even harder, from 5.30am at weekends for around five hours, taking in a 5k run at Cramond, a cycle, core conditioning and, as he prepares for the dreaded City to Summit Iron Man swim challenge, soon he’ll head for a run in the Pentlands followed by a bracing swim in a reservoir.

“I’m actually terrified of the swimming part,” he groans. “I did a triathlon that had a 800 metre swim and nearly had to get dragged out of the water. This is 2.4 miles in the Forth around South Queensferry, then 112 miles on a bike to Glencoe and a run up Ben Nevis.”

While he pushes his body to the limit, Craig burns off around 130 calories for every mile he runs, leaving him guilt-free to tuck into plenty of energy-boosting rice pudding, pasta, cheese and salami. “I’d rather eat food and drink beer than have energy gels,” he points out. “That’s why I do this – because I want to eat.”

The running bug has rubbed off on his family, but not to quite the same extent: while he ran all four Edinburgh Marathon races, the 5k, 10k, half marathon and full marathon back to back, wife Claire did the 10k and Lachlan – whose picture appears on the posters for this year’s race – and six-year-old Duncan ran the smaller races.

However, they are most likely to be found on the sidelines, travelling alongside Craig in a campervan and supplying him with drinks and food as he covers mile after mile.

“I suppose it is a bit of an obsession,” he says. “I’ve found something I’m good at and I want to see how far I can take it.

“It’s partly a need to do it, there’s a great social side to it. I find it helps me relax and besides, if I didn’t do this I’d have to find something else to do.”

Gruelling 412 miles for cancer charity

SUPER-RUNNER Craig Mackay is getting ready to complete six race challenges over 12 weeks and covering 412 miles.

He hopes sponsors will help him raise at least £10 for every mile, so he can raise £4120 for cancer support charity Maggie’s.

He plans to kick off the series of fundraising races in April with the London Marathon, with hopes of finishing in around 3hrs 27mins to give him a personal best time.

Then Craig will set out to complete the Highland Fling, 53 miles race along the West Highland Way.

Next he’ll travel to La Palma in May to take part in a mountainous 51 miles ultra-marathon across the harsh volcanic landscape in blistering heat.

And then at the end of May he’ll aim to complete the City to Summit Iron Man, a gruelling 2.4-mile swim in the Forth, 118 miles mostly uphill cycle to Glencoe and a 27-mile race up Ben Nevis.

In June he’ll aim to cover the 69 miles route of Hadrian’s Wall in The Wall Ultra.

Then he will end his ultra-marathon challenge for Maggie’s with the 72 miles Great Glen Way.

But, just like Forrest Gump, he won’t stop running there – Craig plans to keep going and reach his target of completing 100 organised races in five years by the end of 2014.

To support Craig, go to his sponsorship page at http://www.justgiving.com/craigmackay-ultra