On one of the toughest of all ultra-marathons it helps to be a superhero, according to Ross Lawrie.
The West Highland Way Race, on the weekend of 20-21 June, is one of the toughest events on the calendar. Itâ€™s 95 miles of very hilly terrain between Milngavie and Fort William, and some would say youâ€™d have to be a superhero to attempt it.
It should be no problem, therefore, for Ross Lawrie, who is running the race dressed as â€œThe Ultra Amazing Spider-Manâ€ in order to raise sponsor money for CHAS, the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland.
In the past, he has donned the stretchy red and blue outfit to run, cycle, kayak and make personal appearances to help CHAS, the Make A Wish Foundation, SAMH and other charities. But his fund-raising has dipped a little in recent years as his love of ultra-running has grown. Now heâ€™s decided to combine the two.
As Spidey fans are well aware, â€œwith great power comes great responsibilityâ€, and Ross sees it as his role not only to raise cash for worthy causes but to highlight to younger children how exercise can benefit their physical and mental wellbeing.
We got the 38-year-old web designer (as in world wide web) from Falkirk to stand still long enough to answer a few questions about his planned feat.
Are you going to keep the head bit of your costume on the whole time, and if so won’t it get very hot?
Yes. The material is fairly breathable, and I intend to wear the mask for the whole duration of the race, only lifting it up when taking a drink or something to eat. The only concern I have is if it rains as this will possibly lend a certain level of ‘chill factor’ to my head, but I do have plans to wear a Gore skull cap if needed. This will keep most of the heat in and wind chill out. My main concern with the mask is that at the start of the race, as it’s a 1am start time, it will be fairly dark. Like all other runners, I’ll have a head torch but will need to test how my visibility is during these early hours. As the race is based on the longest day, summer solstice, it’s not long until dusk appear and the sun rises by the time we approach Conic Hill and Balmaha, on the bank of Loch Lomond.
What kind of time are you aiming for, or are you not really concerned about your time?
My previous times have been around the 24-hour mark, and normally I’d be looking for a similar time but with the suit playing an integral part in how my body maintains heat, this will be more of a case of “find out on the day”, due to various factors such as weather and pit-stop changes. I plan to have a spare suit for swapping into, if the weather is wet. I can be wearing one suit, as the other dries out in the camper van.
What were your times the last two occasions you ran the event?
In 2013 I did 23hrs 52mins and in 2014 25hrs 19mins.
What’s the run like to do?
There’s nothing that comes close to the sense of achievement and self-belief that comes from taking on a personal challenge like this. Although this is a race, many of the runners out there are battling and challenging themselves, more than vying for that podium spot. I’m not a competitive runner and never have been. My nature is more of a celebration of life, health and the great outdoors, mixed with a personal challenge or two. The West Highland Way covers such a diverse landscape across our beautiful country that all one has to do, when we hit those hard times, is stop, lift the head and realise where you are, what you have accomplished to get there and enjoy what time you have ahead of you on these stunning trails.
What are your favourite and least favourite sections?
My favourite section is finishing the gruelling long trail across Rannoch Moor and turning that last bend, before the ski centre, that then opens up the majestic views of Glencoe and the Devil’s Staircase. My least favourite section is between Bridge of Orchy and through Rannoch Moor. This is a stunning spot for scenery and the odd photo opportunity but here is where my body begins to fade. I think I need to focus on my fuelling more at this section. The only thing that keeps me going on the climb out of Bridge of Orchy and on towards the moor, is that Murdo McEwan, AKA The Jelly Baby Man, is waiting there, in all weather conditions, offering a smile and a sugary ‘pick me up’ from his selection of Jelly Babies.
Did you have any problems the two previous times?
In 2013, I got a niggle in my foot 53 miles in. My personal trainer and good friend Donnie Campbell, a former Royal Marine, was my support runner and he simply got me moving. Heâ€™s known for his tough love â€“ â€œMan up and move!â€
How do you train and how many miles a week do you do on average?
I take part in various races throughout the Scottish Ultra Marathon series and use these as training runs, to see how I’m faring. I’m fortunate enough to be living 10 miles from my work, so I run to and from work, getting in about 100 miles a week at my peak training periods, along with trail distances during the weekends. Specificity is key to anyone’s training so getting out and running on trail conditions that are similar to your intended race is important. At the weekends, I’ll focus my longer training runs on various sections of the West Highland Way as well as hill reps on my local hills, the Ochils.
Are you in a running club and/or cycling club?
No. Although I train to a schedule, I enjoy the freedom of running where and when I like. I am also a keen photographer and would annoy any club I joined, due to the number of stops I’d take, to take â€œanother cracking shotâ€. I’ve always found clubs to be focused more on the competitive side of running, which is fine by me and I love following some of my friends that compete this way and have now progressed to a national level. For me, though, itâ€™s more about connecting with nature and the great outdoors than worrying about personal bests, heart-rate monitors and the like.
Is Spider-Man better than Batman and Superman?
Ha! Of course! From my own personal feelings, as well as seeing how other kids respond, Spider-Man seems to maintain more of a personal rapport. He (Peter Parker) has characteristics that kids can relate to, unlike your other super heroes. Peter Parker can be seen, through the comics, as a teenager, struggling with his own personal battles and challenges in life, that he also has to juggle alongside his alter ego of Spider-Man and the responsibility that comes with that.
Have any kids said anything memorable to you while in Spiderman mode?
Lots! I’m part of a non-profit charitable costumed organisation, the UK Garrison, where we make various appearances as movie characters, mainly Star Wars based, but then, as individuals, we often look at other movie characters such as, in my case, Spider-Man. I have made appearances for Hamleys Glasgow, as well as Sick Kids events, some having us visit the children’s ward and entertain them there. One touching experience for me was when a young girl got out of her bed to give me a hug, only for me to see her parents looking upset with tears in their eyes. They went on to explain that she hadn’t had the energy to get out of bed for a week but there she was, straight up and out for a hug with Spidey! If this little girl and kids like her can muster up the energy to get up and out of bed, then I clearly can get up off my sofa and run a few miles for support.
At Hamleys store, one kid queued for over an hour to see me, and once he came over, he wasn’t interested in a high five, or to smile and chat. Instead, he stiffened up, like Frankenstein’s monster, glared at me and said that he was Electro, and proceeded to blast me with electricity from his hands. I was dumbfounded but decided to collapse to the floor, convulse and shake around for the wee fella. That day a kid went home having kicked Spidey’s butt!
CHAS is a great cause, but is there any particular reason why you support it?
Having taken part in numerous charitable events, I was invited to Rachel House, in Kinross, which really opened up a new world to me. Sadly some children don’t have the luxury of ‘choice’ in life and are often dealt a rough hand. This respite is a superb place for the children as well as the families and at the time, it was the only one offering support to the whole of our country. Thankfully, through funding, there are now two hospices in Scotland. A trip to CHAS will open up a reality that can be overlooked by some but the network of support that is there for young families needs to be highlighted and supported.