Last updated: 06-Nov-18
By Luke Jarmey
Andrew Murray is both an ultra-runner, and a sports and exercise medicine doctor working with the SportScotland Institute of Sport and the Scottish Running Clinic. On Feb 1st, with fellow international runner Donnie Campbell, they will attempt to be the first to traverse 550 km of the Namib Desert on foot, running through the uninhabited desert that boasts the highest dunes, and the driest climate on earth. In 10 days. This has never been completed before.
Your experience of ultra running
Q. How long have you been doing ultras?
A. 7 years.
Q. How did you first get started doing ultras?
A. One of my mates entered the Marathon des Sables, a 250km multi-stage race in and around the Sahara desert. I hadn’t really done a great deal of running but we’d done a load of biking and climbing together.
Q. What motivated you to start running?
A. I played plenty of sport, but never really ran. But when I set off backpacking for a few years, it was a great way of exploring. You see a lot more on foot than from a truck, and running is faster than walking.
Q. When did you do your first ultra race?
A. In 2007, the Marathon des Sables. I didn’t have much of a clue. I turned up in a football shirt, surf shorts, no sand gaiters, and the food from the local market I bought was supplemented with a box of carbohydrate powder. It was great picking up tips from the other runners – fantastic atmosphere.
Q. Why do you keep running ultras?
A. It’s a great way of seeing the world, and the camaraderie is great. You are pretty much always running with people rather than against them.
Photo credit: Colin Henderson
Q. What are the essential ingredients to being successful in ultras?
A. Science tells us that ultra-running is a balance between the physical and mental aspects. Physically, do the training, eat well and sleep well. Mentally, have a clear focus, and look positively at any situation. Breaking a race into small chunks can be helpful also.
Q. What tips would you give to someone doing their first ultra?
A. Find a race you would really like to do, and speak with runners that have done the race before.
Q. What type of kit do you feel is essential for an ultra?
A. I think THE most important thing is a good pair of shoes. I’m lucky to be supported by Merrell, which is lucky because I wore their shoes anyway. I mostly go with their “All Out Rush”. Have some energy gels you can stomach also.
Q. What is the one thing you never travel without?
A. Mobile phone. I’d be totally screwed without it.
The good times
Q. What is your proudest achievement to date?
A. I think one thing I’ve really enjoyed is trying to be a part of helping get more people into sport and physical activity. Scotland is one of very few countries worldwide where exercise levels are going up, and I enjoyed doing some work for the Scottish Government, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, and the Ramblers on this.
I guess running wise I’ve enjoyed pulling on a Scotland international vest, winning a few races in different places like the North Pole Marathon, Antarctic Ice Marathon, the Sahara Race, and running 2659 miles from John O’Groats to the Sahara.
Q. What has been your favourite ultra to date?
A. I do enjoy organised races, but also wee challenges. A particular favourite was running an ultra on each of the 7 continents in a week. Like seeing the world in fast forward.
Q. Which type of ultras do you like best?
A. Ones in extreme environments and where the sights numb any pain.
The rough times
Q. What has been the most challenging ultra to date for you?
A. The 6633 Ultra. I’d cracked a bone in my leg so it was a pretty uncomfortable race; especially given it was -40º odd.
Q. What aspect of ultra running is the hardest for you?
A. Fitting in the training. My wife Jennie and I have a gorgeous wee girl Nina, and work is pretty full on.
Andrew Murray and Donnie Campbell. Photo credit: Colin Henderson
Q. Who or what has been your biggest help in doing ultras?
A. So many people. My wife, and family in general are incredible. I’ve had a load of great help trying to raise money for charities I’m passionate about from the great people at 5×50.com, Tribesports, the Balmoral, Arnaud Le Marie, Ross Lawrie, Mike Adams, the RCPSG, Running Across Borders, Footworks, and a load more. We’re fortunate to have raised over £150k for the Yamaa Trust, SAMH, and APCA. If you are feeling generous then details of how to donate are on my website.
From a logistical perspective, Sandbaggers and Lyprinol help make the challenges possible, whilst Merrell are not only amazing for supporting me with kit etc., but are very generous in donating gear to community projects we support. I’ve had great guys to run with like Donnie Campbell, and Joe Symonds. A special shout to Race Director Richard Donovan who is also an amazingly helpful guy.
Q. Have you made any significant sacrifices to complete ultras?
A. Not really. I like running, and get to see plenty of my family so I’m happy.
Q. What have you learned by doing ultras?
A. Experience is the best teacher. Once you have done a few races, you can look back on previous experience and find a way to get out of the hurt locker.
Q. Any helpful sayings or beliefs that have helped your running?
A. “Good is the enemy of better”.
Q. How do you get motivated to do the training?
A. Yeah that’s hard. I usually just select a challenge I really want to do which makes the training easier.
Q. What race are you doing next?
A. We’re aiming to be the first to traverse the Namib Desert on foot. The Namib Desert for me is hands down the most beautiful, and perhaps one of the most savage places on earth. We’ve a sat tracker and lots more info about the challenges at www.namib550.com and www.docandrewmurray.com (there are blogs on there about it).
Q. What do you hope to achieve with your ultra running in the future?
A. Have fun, enjoy with my family, see the sights. Raise some cash for charities I’m passionate about. Plus there are a couple things out there that I think may raise the bar for me. Real moon-shots. Could be fun.
Thank you and run well!