The Pyllon Endeavour — an unmissable story of strength and vulnerability
Eight men. Twenty four hours. One hundred and ninety-two miles.
If you’d been walking through an underpass, on the edge of a shopping precinct in Milngavie, just after 4.00pm on Saturday, you might have caught a glimpse of those eight men. Heads bowed, in a group hug, surrounded by a small crowd of well-wishers.
A sweaty spent huddle in the fading light of an autumn afternoon. You could have been forgiven for thinking it was nothing much. Just a few runners — who’d done something or other, as they do.
One of those niche private moments that seep into the public realm from time time.
You know the trope — ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
And in one sense you’d have been right. There was nothing showy about it. Rather a quiet modesty which belied the magnitude of what they’d just achieved.
They had run the West Highland Way, out and back — 192 miles — in 24 hours. In November.
‘I feel we did something quite special and I am honoured to have been part of it’ one of them told me later. He’s right about the special bit. But the honour was ours — just to have been there.
And here’s the thing. They didn’t do it to make a demonstration of their physical prowess. They did it to talk about mental fragility — theirs, ours, anyone who wanted to join in the conversation.
In the process, they’ve raised thousands of pounds for the charity I chair, SAMH — the Scottish Association for Mental Health. We’re incredibly grateful for that and will spend it wisely — with respect for its intended purpose.
But as another of them said, it wasn’t really about the money, it was about the cause. As I took the opportunity to congratulate them and thank them for their generosity, each said a version of the same thing — ‘I’ve been there.’
There was nothing declaratory about this. But there was no escaping its intention. Their mission, in doing something they take for granted but which those of us who aren’t ultra runners can only marvel at, had been to get us to talk.
‘We are trying to encourage people to open up and talk about their feelings. So please talk more, and be prepared to listen to those that need to be heard. Remember people often say that they are ok as an automatic reaction — they may not be!’
There was a beautiful contradiction at the heart of their endeavour — of the relationship between strength and vulnerability — physical and mental.
The level of risk-taking involved in their feat was phenomenal. While most of us were tucked up in bed, they were running through the darkness across the remote terrain of Rannoch Moor and the Devil’s Staircase. Anything could have happened.
The West Highland Way isn’t for the faint-hearted — even amongst walkers — but to run it, overnight, in mid-November. That’s putting yourself on the line. And they did.
That, extraordinarily, was the bit these men knew was doable. Not because they were complacent or disrespectful of the scale of the physical challenge and the hazard involved. But because they’re ultra runners — it’s what they do.
The bit that was different for them — in an explicit sense — was that they chose it as a vehicle to wear their hearts on their running sleeves. Each of them gets the symbiotic relationship between physical and mental health. It’s part of the reason they run.
But this time they chose to talk about it — personally, directly — to lay their emotional selves bare too. Hearts in mouths — bodies on the line.
I’d come prepared to say a few words to them, and to the assembled supporters, on behalf of SAMH. In the event I didn’t — not because I wasn’t in awe or indebted. Their achievement was nothing short of astonishing.
But because it was their moment — and theirs alone.
Not for the first time this week I was reminded that there is, in fact, no contradiction between strength and vulnerability.
We are at our strongest when we are prepared to be vulnerable. And these eight men showed us how.
You can find out more about the Pyllon Endeavour here.