“I’m an enthusiastic runner but not a particularly good one,” Dr Andrew Murray says, which prompts the question: how could he get any better..?
In the harsh world of ultra marathons run in the most pitiless conditions, the 37-year-old Edinburgh GP and father of a young family, is already a legend. He’s braved wolf-packs on the frozen rivers of Outer Mongolia. He’s run for 30 miles in Canada on a broken leg. “In the Sahara, my feet looked as though they’d gone through a lawnmower.”
A man who has turned self effacement into an art-form, Murray plays down the heroics. Describing himself as “just a sports consultant and a runner,” the man who was recently honoured by Prime Minister Theresa May with a Points of Light award, is a darned sight more than that.
In his other life, while still working when possible in general practice in Scotland, Murray spreads his talents far and wide as a sports and exercise specialist at Edinburgh University, the European golf tour, the Scottish Institute of Sport, Scottish Rugby and the Scottish government fitness campaigns.
An ambassador for leading sports footwear specialists Merrell UK, Murray also finds the time to provide voluntary medical services in Kenya, Outer Mongolia and Namibia. He has also raised over £170,000 for three charities: the Scottish Association for Mental Health, the African Palliative Care Association UK and the Yamaa Trust.
Murray runs not for personal glory but because it raises money for those in need, and because he hopes that what he does will inspire people to become more active and take better care of their health.
Running against the odds is what makes Murray tick and if there’s an extreme event teetering on the very brink of human endurance, he’s up for it. In 2012 he took on his first major challenge, running 4,300km from John O’Groats to the Sahara desert. That’s the equivalent of 100 marathons and he needed enough daily calories to power an 800kg crocodile.
He said: “It was 34 miles a day every day for two and a half months. Running through the Spanish mountains was pretty hard – I twice got overtaken by a donkey!”
This was followed by seven ultra marathons in seven continents in less than a week to promote the value of exercise for health. After competing 31-mile courses in countries including Antarctica, Patagonia and Egypt, he completed the job on Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Reaching the top of Britain’s ten highest peaks in one day was a prelude to wins in the North Pole ice marathon, a nine-day crossing of the Namib Desert and twice winning the Genghis Khan Ice Marathon in Outer Mongolia.
Countless other extreme and record-breaking runs – from the tropics to the poles – have benefited his charities and turned Murray, whether he likes it or not, into a spectacular example of the benefits of exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle.
When Murray swaps his running shoes for a GP’s stethoscope he sees his role as being as much about improving people’s quality of life as curing them when they get ill. He said: “Time and again people come back to me and say: ‘Since I’ve been doing a bit of activity or since I’ve lost a bit of weight, I’m a happier person’.”
A latecomer to competitive running, Murray played football and tennis at Aberdeen University but started serious running after meeting athletes training for the Everest marathon. “When I got into the world of ultra-running I was sold,” he remembers.
He says that having the right kit is essential and his links with Merrell UK have become a significant part of his success. “There are continual developments in shoe technology and I get to have an input which has been very valuable to me. “My feet are the tools of my trade so I need to look after them.”
Murray usually wears Merrell All-Out Rush but he was in Merrell All Out Terra Ice Waterproofs, which grip sheer ice with their tungstentipped spikes, when he won the Genghis Kahn Ice Marathon in Outer Mongolia for the second time in February this year.
“They’re perfect for ice-running” he says, adding that the quality of his Merrell equipment probably saved him from serious injury, or perhaps worse, during a scary moment crossing the frozen Tuul Gol river in temperatures of minus 32C.
Despite the cold, the sun was creating faults in the ice surface and his left foot plunged into the river. “Instinctively, I pulled it out, my heart racing. Wet feet at minus 32 is no joke. I waited to feel the wet and the cold but it never came. The gaiters on top of my Merrell All Out Terra Ice had stopped anything coming through.”
He had a lucky escape – he could have fallen through the ice and frozen to death. Wet feet could have resulted in frostbite leading to possible amputation or even life-threatening hypothermia.
“That was the worst thing that happened. The best thing was finishing the race and having a massive Burns Night supper with our Mongolian hosts. Nowhere can beat Mongolia for a sense of space and remoteness. And I enjoy the charm and culture more every time I come.”
Golf enthusiast Andrew Murray is raising money for mental health and dementia projects through a Ryder Cup Run, a combination of running and golf. For information and donations go to www. justgiving.com/crowdfunding/GolfAndMentalHealth