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The 640-mile Run That Wasn't Far Enough

After seven days and 640 miles, ultra marathon runner Dan Lawson came agonisingly close to record-breaking glory, but in a sport that pushes the limits of human endurance there’s no shame in failure

Hiding places are luxuries not afforded to the long-distance runner. Discomfort can be masked for a time, but eventually, inevitably, whispers of pain become injuries screaming for attention. Endurance runners must be easily distracted: capable of blocking out pain through the repetition of a mantra, the company of a fellow athlete, or the beauty of their surroundings.

Unfortunately, as he trudged along another, endless stretch of tarmac British, ultra runner Dan Lawson was finding distractions hard to come by. For the previous seven days, in an attempt to run the length of the UK in record time, he had covered an astonishing 640 miles – mainly along the verges of Britain’s A roads, a far cry from the deserts and wilderness he usually runs ultras across.

With two days to go, Dan had 190 miles left to run. Unthinkable for most, yet within reach of the man who once ran 162 miles in 24 hours. But a week of pavement pounding – running triple marathons every single day – had taken its toll. Battered, bruised, delirious, he called off the challenge. For Dan, though, success was the journey, not the destination.

My stomach had bloated, my fingers were sausages and my face was so swollen I could hardly see

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Q: The fastest ever run from John O’Groats to Land’s End was just over nine days – why did you want to beat that record?
A: ‘I’m motivated by a desire to push myself physically and mentally – to see how far I can go. I enjoy the feeling of apprehension that comes with testing my limits. With this challenge, I wanted to push myself more than I ever had before.The record is so tough. There is no room for any error – you have to have nine perfect days. Usually you dream of one perfect day, but you need to have nine in a row.’

‘Equally, it was a great chance to see more of the UK. I’m really lucky in that I get to race in some amazing places all over the world, but I haven’t really raced or done that much in my own country. So I was really looking forward to seeing the UK from top to bottom – that was one of the biggest draws.’

Q: After seven days, you had covered around 630 miles and were on track to break the record – what went wrong?
A: ‘In ultra running, the demises are always quite rapid and unexpected. One minute you can feel brilliant and the next you’re on your knees. Obviously each day was tougher than the last, but on the seventh day – a Sunday – it all went wrong.’

‘My body had started to retain fluid, so my stomach had bloated massively, my fingers had turned to sausages and my face was so swollen I could hardly see. I ran for about six miles, then convinced my crew a half hour’s sleep would sort me out, but nothing changed and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to cover enough ground. I covered another 26 miles or so, but it felt like a death march.’

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Q: That must have been crushing – how did you cope with the disappointment in that moment?
A: ‘I was obviously gutted to have to stop, but I was also comforted by the fact that I had given it my all. Often, if you drop out of a race, you’re left with regrets and you go through the race in your mind, thinking ‘if I had done this’ or ‘if I had done that’. I could have carried on, but I really think I was at my limit. Even now, when I visualise different scenarios, I still can’t get myself to Lands End!’

Q: Do you think it’s important, in life as well as sport, to set goals that may not be achievable?
A: ‘Absolutely. You grow from failure; you don’t learn anything from a race that goes well. When things go wrong, that’s when you become a better competitor. It makes you more hungry – it makes you want to train harder or try new things. I quite like the fact I didn’t finish, because it makes me want to do it again.’

Q: It’s often said success is a journey, not the destination – do you agree?
A: ‘Definitely. Before I set out, I wanted to break the record and I didn’t even think about not making it. But it became something different when I was doing it, because I was enjoying the journey so much. There were so many people who came out and ran with me – some for 10 minutes during their lunch break and others for six hours – and they made it so special.’

‘I never reached the outcome I desired, but I’m sure I enjoyed the journey more than I would have enjoyed the outcome. If I had two choices: to break the record, without any of the support I received; or to fall short, as I did, but having met some incredible people, I would honestly choose the latter, because it was such an incredible experience.’

Find out more about Dan Lawson at www.danlawson.life

Words: Issac Williams

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