Run for your life… and for others

On 30 September, a team of dentists aim to run the length of mainland Scotland to raise funds for mental health charity SAMH

10 February, 2021 / indepth
 Will Peakin  

Watching too much television can be bad for your health, as we know, even for someone like Stuart Campbell, Specialist Prosthodontist at Edinburgh Dental Specialists, and co-owner, with his wife Cheryl, of Loanhead Dental Practice on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Stuart is not a couch potato; he likes to spend his spare time gravel biking and trail running. Last year, he completed a number of ultramarathons (that’s a run longer than the 26.2 miles of a marathon).

During lockdown, streaming services have been a welcome distraction from group chats and worrying about the future of the profession and patients’ health. But, like many others, Stuart decided to make the most of his outdoor time. “After doing some lockdown ultramarathons, I was looking for a bigger challenge,” he recalled. “Then I watched a programme on Amazon Prime called Running Britain. It followed Sean Conway, a man with a wondrous beard, as he trudged pluckily from one end of the country to the other. From the comfort of my warm sofa cushions, I thought: ‘I could probably run Scotland.’

“Great things are not decided suddenly, which is what worries me about this challenge,” added Stuart, a note of self-reproach in his voice. “Following a hastily arranged chat with some easily influenced ultra-running dentists, some brainstorming over Zoom and an email exchange with Sean Conway, the idea gained some texture and the decision was made: we are running Scotland.”

After a couple of other ultra runs we thought, what better challenge than to run the length of our own country?

Derek Marner

Stuart and fellow dentists Derek Marner, Ryan Stewart and Paddy Watson plan to run an approximately 441-mile route from John O’Groats to Gretna Green.

Derek recalled: “During the pandemic, Stuart and I reconnected via Facebook and decided to run the West Highland Way. We did it in two stages, six weeks apart, running the first 54-mile section in one go and then the last 43-mile section over a single day’s running. Prior to this, the farthest I had run was a marathon – and I had only done that once. From here I think we got the bug and maybe the confidence to challenge ourselves and run further. After a couple of other ultra runs we thought, what better challenge than to run the length of our own country?”

And the exact plan? “To run the length of Scotland together as a group – socially distanced, if still necessary. None of this relay stuff, we’ll all be going the distance,” said Stuart. “We will be aiming to complete the chilling barbarity of this John O’Groats to Gretna Green route in 10 days, whilst also hoping that Scotland avoids rain-fall for the entire duration. As you might be able to tell, a key part of the plan involves our belief in the reverse-visualisation gambit; openly tempting fate by saying out loud the worst possible thing that might happen – in the hope that somehow it won’t.

“We are also aiming to have fun, to encourage others to get out and enjoy the great Scottish outdoors, to test ourselves to the limit, to complete the challenge – and then collapse at Gretna Green in a primal-rage type catharsis.”

From John O’Groats, they will head to Sutherland and down into Ross County. Taking in Muir of Ord and Drumnadrochit, they will hug the edge of Loch Ness until Fort Augustus. Moving on to Fort William and Ben Nevis, they will join the West Highland Way, down to Glasgow. From there they will head into South Lanarkshire and onto Moffat in Dumfries and Galloway.

The last leg of the run will take them from Moffat to the finish line at Gretna Green where, said Stuart, “we hope to find cakes and cushions”. They are encouraging anyone in the profession to join them, be it for a few miles along Loch Ness, a segment of the West Highland Way or round a city block in Glasgow.

The other primary aim is, of course, to raise as much money as possible for SAMH, the Scottish mental health charity. “Mental health issues are extremely common among dentists and other healthcare professionals,” noted Paddy.

“Really, I would just like to help raise more awareness of these issues, encourage people to talk about their struggles We all find running an excellent way to help combat the stresses of our professional lives, but it doesn’t have to just be about running – it’s about encouraging dentists to find activities outwith their working lives that make them happy and help them switch off.

“Mental health has really been thrown into the spotlight since COVID and it has never been more of an issue than it is now. We just want to encourage people to look after their mental health and wellbeing. That is why we have chosen the amazing SAMH charity to support during our challenge.”

No doubt they’ll draw inspiration from the fourth member of the team, Ryan, who – counter-intuitively – has found lockdown to be the saving of him, after growing disillusioned towards the end of 2019. “To be honest, I have been thriving,” said Ryan.

“I was stuck in a cycle of ‘nine-to-six’. I wasn’t stimulated in my job and I found myself stagnating and losing motivation only four years after graduation. I moved jobs thinking that would reinvigorate me, which it did, but only temporarily. I’ve been running regularly for 14 years but towards the end of 2019 I even managed to lose my running mojo and went two months with only a handful of runs instead of my usual six or seven a week, which is completely out of character for me.

“I was starting to try and fill the void with alcohol at weekends, which was just too easy. And so the rinse and repeat of hating work and drinking myself silly at weekends went on. The lockdown came just in time. I started running again as I had nowt else to do. I decided to give up alcohol and that went on for six months – a personal record since my university days!

“The time during lockdown to reflect made me realise I needed to find my niche. I didn’t want to fully return to the NHS grind, so I decided to apply for my MSc and start shifting my career to implants. I was also lucky enough to come across mindset coach Mahmood Mawjee, himself an ex-dentist, and I signed up to his online mindset coaching programme. This really reinvigorated me and my passion for dentistry and for living life to the fullest returned.

“Mahmood pushed me to get myself out there in the public eye. I created a YouTube channel detailing the pathway a young dentist can take to start their implant career. I now post parody/comic videos on my Facebook and Instagram while on my runs – ryanstewart_90, if you want a chuckle – and I achieved a long-time goal of starting my own running club, the Scottish Dental Runners. It has been a huge hit with our profession and we now have regular groups meetings in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen, with more to follow. I may have found my true calling!”

What do the next few months hold for the team? “Lots of running,” said Stuart, “in the rain, wind, snow, dark and going up and down hills. As well as lots of eating and mental preparation. In the words of ultrarunning legend Hal Koerner, multi-day ultra runs are 90 per cent mental strength. The other 10 per cent? That’s mental strength too.”

And what’s your ask, of the profession? “Get behind us, follow our progress on social media, share and like our social media content. Check out our website and donate what you can to SAMH. Even come and join up with us for a bit, if we are allowed to do so by then. We really want to encourage the dental profession to run, cycle, or jog along with us . Or come and join the support crew. We need all the help we can get!”

RunningScotland 2021 is supported by:

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