The long journey back from a stroke to ultra-running

Andy Dobinson shares his inspiring tale of how he refused to give in to a life-changing medical condition

Andy Dobinson

by Andy Dobinson |

Life is a beautiful adventure. Enjoy the journey. And what an adventure, what a journey! Although it’s one I wouldn’t have chosen, now I’m on this path, I embrace it with everything I have.

Let me explain.

February 9 2017 at 4.45pm – sitting in my office at home on a conference call and boom! The weirdest and scariest feeling I have ever had. Imagine a blow torch suddenly getting fired into the back of your skull along with every pin in the world being pressed into your head. It was a cryptogenic stroke the size of a plum, sudden onset left-sided paraesthesia, posterior medullary acute infarcts. What does all that mean?

Well, it means you go from being active – and, when I say active, I mean an endurance cyclist who competes in 24-hour events and thinks nothing of riding 250 miles for a cup of tea with your mother in Alnwick (I’m in Glasgow), a runner and a hugely active individual – to someone who cant walk and needs to be carried to the toilet!

What to do? Feel sorry for yourself and let this new-found condition consume you or fight back with everything you have? I chose the second option and, believe me, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my life. I've been through dark times, a kind of darkness that I can't explain and actually don’t ever want to!

As a runner, you visit dark places. You know – that place when you think you can't go on; you are cold, hungry, wet feet, at the bottom of that 30% climb. Well, this darkness of a stroke makes that look like a warm and sunny day.

A stroke is a funny thing, in a way. It strips you of everything you have, everything you were. But it allows you to come back stronger than ever if you work hard. I was lucky. Mine was a good stroke; I’m back with a vengeance.

On August 21 2021, I stood on the start line of Hardmoors 55 – a 55-mile ultra trail run across the North Yorkshire Moors. That was my 12th ultra and my 15th trail running event (I love a medal!).

Andy Dobinson
Whatever your challenge, tackle it head on and get to the top, says Andy

Hours and hours of tortuous rehab has got me to this point. Bosu balls, wobble boards, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, counselling, tablets, pills and the unwavering support of my wife Nicola. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am.

There have been tears, tantrums, success, and abject failure, but with one goal in mind: to stand tall and strong beside my wife once again. And here I am.

I’m nothing special, I just had an attitude that I will never hide behind my stroke nor use it as an excuse. I am a better version of myself now and, for that, I’m grateful of my stroke.

Was it hard? Yes. Is it hard? Yes. Do I live with it every day? Yes. Does it define me? Absolutely not!

Whatever your challenge may be, look at it square in the face and treat it as your 30% hill. You will get to the top!

If you believe you can, you probably will. If you say you can’t, you definitely won’t.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us