A natural high

We spoke to GB international Marcus Scotney about how trail running has helped him battle his demons

Marcus Scotney on Curbar Edge in the Peak District (pic: Tom Bailey)

Marcus Scotney on Curbar Edge in the Peak District (pic: Tom Bailey)

Meeting Marcus Scotney on his home turf, it’s not difficult to see why he’s a trail runner – and a very good one at that. Standing on Curbar Edge on the eastern side of the Peak District, from where he tries to point out his house, a 10-minute run away, we are in a trail runner’s paradise.

The 43-year-old part-time actor is a British international at 100k, and this year won the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race, a 315k multi-stage event in Wales. Yet he is a believer that the trails are for anyone and everyone, whatever your standard and wherever you live.

Marcus, who started out in orienteering before switching to trail running, says the latter has helped him battle depression. Furthermore, the former drug abuser has found a new addiction.

Marcus's first mountain marathon came in 1994. He did the Karrimor International Mountain Marathon (now known as the Original Mountain Marathon) with a broken jaw – more
on that later – and it ignited a spark.

However, he only took up ultra-running in 2008 after seeing two of his clubmates being selected for Scotland. “I regularly beat them in races,” he says. “I was thinking, if they can run for Scotland and I’ve got a fairly good amount of endurance, I’d quite like to have a go at it. I entered the Devil o’ the Highlands Footrace and absolutely loved it.”

He helped organise the Dragon’s Back in 2012, which inspired him to run it himself. When in 2017 he won the race down the spine of Wales, from the north to south with 15,500m ascent, in under 38 hours, he achieved something he never thought possible.

“I always thought that was way beyond me, that kind of event,” he says. He is now a coach to runners of all levels and believes anyone can feel that same sense of achievement. “To run 100 miles off-road is a huge challenge but people are finding, with the right approach, the right pace, that it’s achievable,” he says. “So they’re achieving what they thought was once beyond them in an environment which is nice to be in as well.”

Trail running has helped Marcus battle his demons. He is a reformed drug addict who has also suffered from depression. That broken jaw in his first mountain marathon was a result of being beaten up on a drug-fuelled night out on his 20th birthday. It was a moment of change for him
and now he admits he has possibly replaced one addiction with another, more positive one.

“There are so many of us in the sport that have got backgrounds of depression or some sort of addiction,” he says. “It is very much replacing one addiction with another. It is such a positive experience because you’re getting endorphins, you’re still getting a natural high from it.”

Certain personalities lend themselves more to ultra running, he ponders. “There are definitely addictive personalities, so you’re wired to become addicted to things,” he says. “To be addicted to trail running is far better than to be addicted to cocaine or heroin or anti-depressants.

“If you’re having some sort of depression, running just helps lift that black dot. It comes and goes – you have to be realistic and realise that you’ve had it and that you are prone to it.
But it’s one of the reasons why three weeks after Dragon’s Back I had to get back running.”

You don’t have to run 315k in five days like Marcus to reap the benefits from trail running. You don’t have to be as fast as him. You don’t even have to live in the countryside. Just put on your shoes, find a trail and run.

The above is an abbreviated version of a feature which appeared in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Trail Running