Firefighter to run across Scotland for charity

A Cambridgeshire firefighter is taking on the biggest physical challenge of his life so far – taking part in a 214-mile Ultra Marathon across Scotland, covering remote and mountainous terrain non-stop over several days.

Paul Oliver, Watch Commander with Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Tactical Delivery Group (TDG) which provides crewing across the county at nine strategic stations, has been picked as one of only 100 people to take part in next year’s (2018) Race Across Scotland.

Technically a non-stop event, the race has a 100-hour cut off point with runners expected to carry their own food and drink.

With 7648m of ascent, the route is Scotland’s only official Coast-to-Coast, from Portpatrick to Cockburnspath, and is Paul’s hardest race to date.

Paul will be running the Ultra with his brother, David, and says he will only stop for short sleeps of no more than an hour each time, stopping at local village halls which will open up as checkpoints along the route.

Paul will carry his own food in a rucksack – so will have to survive on small packages of food totalling around 800 calories a day. The recommended daily calorie intake for a man is 2,500.

Paul first got into Ultra running nine years ago, when he ran the Marathon des Sables which takes place in Southern Morocco in the Sahara Desert. He faced real extremes in temperature – ranging from 120 Fahrenheit at midday to minus degrees at night. He suffered severe dehydration during the race and was put on an IV-drip overnight before going on to race the next day.

An Ultra is any race over the length of a marathon and Paul and his brother, David, ran their first Ultra together to raise money for charity after David was diagnosed with skin cancer.

Since his first Ultra in 2008, Paul has taken part in several of the events, winning the Adidas Thunder Run in Catton Park, Staffordshire. Normally, teams of five or eight work together to attempt to run as many 10K laps of the course as possible within 24 hours. Paul, however, ran the race solo and still came in first, clocking up a total of 124 miles in 24 hours.

This year, Paul, who is set to take on a temporary role as Station Commander within the On-Call support team as of next month (March), also plans to run the London Marathon, having won an instant place in the Good for Age category, based on his extreme fitness level just below the elite runners.

In addition to the London Marathon, Paul will also be running other Ultras throughout 2017, including one in Transylvania which starts and finishes at Count Dracula’s castle.

Paul says the appeal of an Ultra is the challenge of completing it.  

“Once I’d seen an Ultra on TV and had a go, I just got hooked. I’m not sure if it is the pain you have to go through or the sense of achievement you feel once you’ve completed it or if it’s doing something that most people wouldn’t do.

“Lots of people ask me how I get through and I always say it is 20 per cent physical, and 80 per cent mental. When you hit the wall it is all about how you pick yourself up and carry on, rather than giving up.”

Paul says his wife, Natasha, is really supportive but describes him as a “grumpy runner” as he won’t talk when he is exhausted and says one time she got up at 3am and waited at a checkpoint for him for six hours to give him some food, only to see him run off without saying goodbye!

Paul will carry a bivvy bag to sleep in during the Race Across Scotland and will also have to carry his own packets of food.

“It won’t be nice stuff!”

Paul says he normally eats really healthily but the first thing he wants to eat after completing an Ultra is a pizza or a burger.

Despite all his running experience, Paul says he’s feeling daunted about the Race Across Scotland.  

“I am a little bit apprehensive because I have never run that distance before. I plan to do 114 miles then rest, then break it into two 50-mile stints. But I know the state I was in when I did 105 miles so to do this and stop when I know I will only be half way through is daunting.”

Paul has been a member of the Riverside Runners in St Neots where he lives since the age of 12. As a child he competed at school finals and was County, East Anglian and East of England Champion over 800 metres. He also did cross country as a child.

For the Race Across Scotland, Paul is raising money for The Fire Fighters Charity, MacMillan Cancer Support and the children’s cancer charity, CLIC Sargent.

If you would like to donate money to one or all of Paul’s causes, please click here.