Ahead of the Pyllon Endeavour, an event that raises awareness and funds for mental health, James Stewart reflects on the improvements and growth he has made through running.

Rewind to 2011, September is the month. I am fat. There’s no other way to put it. I am weighing in at close to 15 stone, that’s nearly 210lbs. My second kid, Caelan, is a few weeks old. There’s a picture of us. I look unwell. I am out of shape. But I am smiling and I am happy.

Well, or so I thought.

Let’s qualify happiness at the time. I am happy. I have a cracking wife, two boys who are vibrant and healthy and work isn’t a drain on my life. But the travelling was. My diet was horrific. My habits sedentary. I hadn’t played football for five years and I’d given up running completely. Prior to this I was nothing more than a hobby runner, 100 miles per month kind of level of effort.

Life was good. Health was bad. I hated the sight of myself in pictures or videos. But I’d always find a way to put off dealing with it. I’d been busy. A way to ignore the growing shame that was growing with me in both a physically real and an internal way.

Then something sparked. I got into running, big time. I had no idea of the journey I would go on. Prior to 2011 I had never heard of ultrarunning. I found the more I ran, the fitter I got and the more content I became in myself. I began to realise that running was a great thing for my physical and mental well-being.

My stress levels dropped, my focus improved and I stopped looking at myself as being obese (+30 BMI after all) but instead I saw myself improving all the time. I had scope for improvement and I started to enjoy exploring the limits of my potential.

I wasn’t suffering from depression, far from it. I was really happy with life. This isn’t some story about how running saved me. Rather it helped me find my true self. And that’s the point, doing something you love a lot, a lot of times, can only mean you are spending more of your time on this spinning rock being happy.

Just because I was happy didn’t mean I couldn’t be happier.

Pyllon Endeavour

It’s this kind of sentiment and experience that has myself lucky to be part of a team of 8 class runners and people who will attempt an epic challenge on November 16 to raise awareness and funds for mental health, and specifically the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH).

The #PyllonEndeavour was dreamt up by Paul Giblin. 3x Top 10 Western States finisher and 3x West Highland Way winner. In simple terms, we will run as a relay team on the classic West Highland Way route from Milngavie to Fort William and then back again. That’s 192 miles. We start at 4pm. The run will be in the dark for 75% of it and we will double up on more remote and technical sections to ensure runner safety.

We will be attempting to complete the run in under 24 hours. That’s 192 miles, close to 30,000 feet of ascent, mostly in the dark, across some of the remotest parts of Scotland and from the lowlands to the highlands and back again. Each runner will complete a distance greater than a marathon in the endeavour.

The goal

Our underlying aim is in promoting the benefits of exercise, camaraderie and team work in respect to your own wellbeing, and especially when it comes to mental health.

Yes, we will raise funds too as that is a nice bolt on but if we make one person think more about themselves, if we spur one person into asking for help or finding a solution to their current challenges then we will have made the difference we are truly aiming for.

I am really excited about running with these guys, they are all exceptional athletes in their own right and being part of this team is an honour.

Will we complete the run in under 24 hours?

I’d say it is 50:50. There are so many variables that we cannot control such as the weather, injuries on the day, logistical mishaps, a runner getting lost. It’s what makes the challenge so daunting and thrilling. How we react is as important as how we plan.

Running has been hugely beneficial to my mental health and self-actualisation. I wasn’t unhappy at all, but I didn’t realise just how much growth and opportunity I had physically and mentally.

It has been life altering for me. Getting into the sport has made me fitter, happier and more successful. Just imagine what it can do for you, no matter your own current position.

But it doesn’t have to be running, I would suggest almost any form of physical exercise would likely afford similar benefits. For me, running just works on so many levels. The old maxim about “love what you do, do what you love” applies ten-fold here for me.

Updates and further information about the #PyllonEndeavour can be found here. We’d love to hear from you, and if you can help with goodwill, support and promoting awareness over the weekend we’d be eternally grateful.

James Stewart features in the ‘Fast 10: class of 2018’ and over the course of the year will share his running journey. You can read James’ previous posts here and further information about the ‘class of 2018’ can be found here.

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