Andrew seeks key to endurance success

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Endurance athletes Dr Andrew Murray and Donnie Campbell ran up and down Africa’s highest mountain in a day last week.

The fundraising duo completed the 5,895metres up and down in seven hours on day one of their 18-day expedition running through East Africa. Trekkers usually take five to seven days to summit, many suffering from high-altitude sickness.

The pair will be running ultramarathon distances every day to cover over 900km, through tropical rainforests, game reserves and up Mt Kenya, as former Borders doctor Andrew aims to find out the secrets of the success of Kenyan runners.

Andrew, who ran the Eildons five times as a training run the week before he left for Africa, told TheSouthern: “Mt Kilimanjaro was huge, imposing, but beautiful.

“It feels like my feet have been through a lawnmower, and we are pretty tired, but we took quite a scientific approach, with advice from colleagues at SportScotland helping us get there.

“What a phenomenal day, climbing through rainforest, montane scenery and finally glacier before topping out.”

The former Hawick and Galashiels GP, now also a sports medicine doctor with SportScotland Institute of Sport, took the Western Breach, the steepest route up the mountain, with his former Marine Commando running mate and current 100km Scottish champion.

Andrew’s objective is to discover the secrets to the success of East African athletes – home to 90 of the best 100 marathon runners in the world – and to use that information to help Scottish middle and long-distance runners ahead of next summer’s Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games in Rio.

He said: “We’ll see some incredible things, but the chance to spend time in the company of world-beating athletes and coaches will be a highlight. The area around Iten is the single greatest production line of world-class sporting talent on Earth. Is it the altitude, what they eat, genetics, role modelling, a lack of school buses, or other factors that make them so successful?”

Traditionally, endurance runners are lean and not too tall. They eat a diet heavy in carbohydrate and they have certain mental attributes such as persistence, a lack of fear about failure and they know how to psychologically face and overcome pain.

A study of successful Kenyan runners – all about 5’9” and weighing about 59kg (9 stone 4 lbs) – found nearly 90 per cent of their daily calories came from vegetable sources and that they took in about 600 grammes of carbohydrate every day.

“A very interesting observation was that each elite Kenyan spent just 1.2 hours per day running, with about 33 per cent of this consisting of “quality running”. This means that the elite-Kenyans’ daily “intake” of quality running was about 23 minutes, said Owen Anderson, Ph.D (www.active.com/running/Articles/Eating_practices_of_the_best_endurance_athletes_in_the_world)

“Sports-nutrition experts frequently recommend that athletes involved in strenuous training should consume about nine or more grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body mass per day, so you can see that the Kenyans were truly eating according to current scientific wisdom,” he continues.

Also as per most authorities, he found the athletes always ate within one hour of workouts which maximised glycogen synthesis (the body putting user-friendly glucose into muscles to use).

But Andrew brings to the quest his medical training and also his own phenomenal feats. The author of Running Beyond Limits has won numerous endurance races, including The Sahara Race (2009), The Gobi Challenge (2009, 2012), the 6633 Ultra (2009), the Indo Ultra (2010) and the Scottish Ultra (2009).

In 2011 he achieved wider fame when he ran 2,659 miles from John O’Groats to the Sahara desert. He won the North Pole Marathon in April last year, despite breaking his wrist 10 days before the event. And in November he ran seven ultra marathons in seven continents on seven consecutive days.