Ultra runner James Stewart has witnessed some incredible feats of human endurance and asks what really is ‘fast’?

It’s kind of odd writing for a website called Fast Running when I don’t regard myself as anything like fast. The athletes featured tend to have marathon or 10k PBs that I would struggle to match in a car with a nitro button going downhill, downwind and being chased by Sonic the Hedgehog after hitting one of those boost chevrons.

But fast is relative, huh? I mean, in my sport I do run nine-minute miles for 24 hours which is fast. However, my seven year-old can knock out sub nine-minute miles, but as I reminded the cocky wee shite, when he can do it for more than the length of Don McLean’s American Pie he can start giving me his patter.

Fast over a longer distance starts to become much more difficult to discern. And then less about physical capability and more about the heart, the mentality and the desire of an individual.

Across the months of July and August, I have been blown away by friends who have had a go at incredible feats of human running endurance.

They ultimately came up short in some cases or in others tasted the kind of satisfaction that for most comes only from completing The Times crossword on a Sunday after starting on the Wednesday.

Dave Proctor

First up was Dave Proctor’s attempt to run the entire breadth of Canada. Dave is an incredible athlete. He holds the record for 24 hours on a treadmill at over 164 miles. Think about that for a minute. Dave was using the attempt to raise funds and awareness for the Rare Foundation.

Eventually, he had to pull due to injury and for the sake of his own health, but has since continued his journey around Canada to keep the cause at the forefront of local and national conversation.

I was totally engaged in this as I’d spent some time suffering alongside Dave at the 24-hour world champs last year and he told me the story of his son. The love and determination was oozing from him. It got him much further than it should have been physically possible given his injury.

Dan Lawson

Secondly, the story of Dan Lawson’s JOGLE attempt has been well documented on Fast Running. I was lucky enough to run around 20 miles with Dan on day three as he crossed over the Forth. We met some great folks on the way and seeing the love for Dan both in the flesh and in the online community was inspiring.

When Dan came up short it was gutting, but it was in the knowledge that he’d given it his best shot. Running 9 x 90 mile days back to back is attempted only by the brave and the stupid, and I know Dan ain’t stupid.

In the end the factors at play are so varied it doesn’t take a lot to miss out on the target. And even so, the reaction has been immense. I was honoured to spend a few hours with him and wished it had been more.

Race Across Scotland

My last piece of inspiration was the Race Across Scotland. This is a 212 mile west to east race across the Southern Upland Way. This is a trail that has scant marking, lots of bogs, undefined paths and some rather challenging undulations.

I spent a fair bit of the last week dot watching as the runners battled to beat the 100 hours (yes, 100 hours) cut off. The terrain is brutal, the conditions underfoot and overhead were, well, Scottish.

Yet, from DNFs to unreal performances the inspiration was oozing from the little red dots on the tracker.

The guys who attempted these events are all fast in their own way, it’s all relative. Let’s see David Rudisha get from the Forth to Carlisle in 17 hours. That’s fast. It’s mind-blowing. Or covering the breadth of Scotland on terrain best used for sheep grazing and hiding bodies in just three days with nothing more than blisters and poles.

Here’s the punchline, the conglomeration of three such epic personal challenges and races in the last few weeks has really caused me to develop an itch in the place marked “extreme adventure/challenge” in my skin. The question is what?

There’s so many options out there but perhaps in 2019 I need to find something to scratch that itch with. I am open to suggestions (as well as bribery and free nut butter).

James Stewart features in the ‘Fast 10: class of 2018’ and over the course of the year will share his running journey. You can read James’ previous posts here and further information about the ‘class of 2018’ can be found here.

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