Another fine example of the right person being there at the right time, GB 24hr runner James Stewart reflects on supporting Dan Lawson at the end of his LeJOG record.
It’s approaching 7pm on Friday evening. We are somewhere north of the Cromarty Firth approaching Alness.
I’ve been with the team since 5pm the night before. Sleeping in car for a few broken hours in a deserted Aviemore car park, driving hundreds of miles to get there and get home. I dodged trucks, ticks and got sunburn on my neck and blisters on the tops of my toes.
All to run alongside Dan for about 75 or so miles, to try and help his relentless march to the signpost at John O’Groats.
And it was worth it, and more. For at that point, as the sun shone down beautifully across the Scottish Highlands, I witnessed a resurrection that makes me want to cover The Stone Roses classic but to change the chorus to Dan is the Resurrection.
I had goosebumps watching Dan slug out mile after mile. Just five hours earlier Dan had pleaded with his crew for a rest. He was breaking down. The incessant mileage and the madness of Scotland’s most dangerous road, the brutal A9, had begun to put Dan in a dark place in both body and mind.
A team effort
I got to witness an amazing balance of athlete care, record focus and excellent decision making in what was approaching the 9th day of continuous epic endeavour. The next steps at this point could make the difference between success and failure. Too reckless at this stage could make for regrets. Not bold enough could make for regrets. The balance was delicate.
Make no mistake, this is not only physically and mentally demanding undertaking for the runner, but for their crew it is as brutal and demanding in its own way for so many different reasons.
But, where are my manners? You may have no idea what the hell I am yapping about here.
In short order. Dan Lawson set a new record running from Lands End to John O’Groats. He bested Richard Brown’s 10 days and 2 hours mark, taking it to 9 days and 21 hours (+change) and in the process beat the 10 hour mark. This is LEJOG’s 4 minute mile.
And I had a ringside seat for a small part of it.
The community has a front row seat
Ultrarunning is well known for its accessibility and community. I mean, you can’t just rock up and run with Laura Muir as she attempts a record run. But the average runner can spend a mile or two with Dan as he undertakes this LEJOG mission.
In fact, it is encouraged. From Penzance to Perth it was happening every day. It has the twin benefits of giving a fillip to the runner, the record chaser, whilst at the same time helping reinforce that sense of camaraderie that makes this facet of the long distance two-legged propulsion game so unique.
Meanwhile, Dan has a level of generosity of spirit – an attitude of gratitude – that makes people gravitate towards him like metal to a magnet.
Running alongside Dan for the short time I did (relative to his overall charge) was a lesson in determination and drive. His crew are exceptional. Charlotte is as focused and tough and caring as you could wish for in a partner. Always striking the balance of compassion and competition.
Robbie Britton is someone I have experience with in the GB24 team, but this is a different level, needing different decisions for different cares and concerns. As Dan began to wobble midway through Day 8, I watched Robbie and Charlotte get smart quickly. They understand the inner workings of their runner. Charlotte knows the man and the athlete, and Robbie the athlete and the man. That balance showed up so importantly in that moment.
Fresh plans late in the day
A new plan was hatched. A eye on how to best maintain the forward momentum needed to ensure that John O’Groats would be reached before 7am on Sunday. That was what was required to make the record happen.
I watched people come and go and give over anything that Dan needed, that the team needed, in selfless shows of support and it warmed my heart. I got to meet long time social media friends Jim Mann and Ally Beaven. Ambulance drivers shouting encouragement.
Random people with cameras rocking up in lay-bys and passing places to snatch blurred images or wobbly videos of Dan as he pushed north. Him always thanking them. Always.
Then there was Alan Rankin – the physio from the GB squad – who must have driven well over 1,500 miles to meet Dan in various locations at the end of many days just to rub some life back into his aching legs. And, of course, the indefatigable encouragement machine that is Mick Seymour. He’s my Mick Seymour on GB duty. But for 10 days he was Dan’s and Dan’s alone. Except when I needed coke and Clif bar.
As if to make the point about the way this sport is about the community, the previous record holder, Richard Brown, had used planes, bikes and automobiles to be there for the last few days and to help push Dan on. HIs interest was in seeing the record go down. His record. His mark. By his friend.
More than just the runner, a whole community
On social media all you see are pictures of a runner. A bit of drama in the face at the smartly snapped shot, or a moment in time that cannot do the hours and days of toil, effort and emotion justice. It’s a snippet that can be positioned anyway the taker prefers it to. When you are inside the ropes as I had the honour of being for a couple of days, you see the inner workings of ambition, talent and team all combine to create legend and greatness. Which is exactly what happened here.
To see that was inspiring. It was humbling. It was something I am proud to have witnessed. It also has me google mapping. If that is a verb…
They say you should never meet your heroes. Frankly, if my experience of meeting Dan, a hero of mine, is anything to go by, I’d encourage you all to meet them and more. He is, quite frankly, amazing.
EPILOGUE: Dan and I passed an hour or so chatting as we created our dream teams for a West Ham v Celtic all star match. A nice example of how you pass time on a journey that lasts just shy of 240 hours. I have noted down both teams and may put them together for a simulated game, maybe Fast Running will post the match report one day. Jinky v Roberto Carlos (one of Dan’s wildcards) would be up there with LEJOG.
If you want to be one of the first to see the full film this autumn then the best plan of action is to follow @davemacfarlane on Instagram and join Dan and Charlotte @rerunclothing. We at Fast Running will keep you updated too.