There is no doubt that ultra-running medic Andrew Murray is up for a challenge. The doctor has completed an ultra-marathon on each continent in seven days; ran from Scotland to the Sahara desert; and climbed the UK's 10 highest mountains in 24 hours.
So, although the persuasive powers of Mongolia's honorary consul in Murray's native Scotland, David Scott, don't quite match those of warrior Genghis Khan, he still managed to talk the medic into a 100km run in Mongolia. Apparently it wasn't that hard.
In fact, Murray was delighted when Scott suggested he might like to run 100km "in the hoofprints of Genghis Khan". And that's after finishing the inaugural Genghis Khan Ice Marathon on January 27th, organised by Scott through his expedition company Sandbaggers.
“The Ice Marathon kicks off at the Genghis Khan statue in the plains east of Mongolia’s capital Ulan Bataar, and includes running down the frozen River Tul in anticipated temperatures of minus 40 degrees to finish at a nomad’s camp, where we’ll drink warming fermented mare’s milk,” Murray says.
Then, with equine sustenance galloping through his veins, and after a 24-hour rest and preparation period, Murray heads back upriver.
“I’ll begin running towards Ulan Bataar, in the hoofprints of Genghis Khan, going past sites of historical significance. As with the marathon, much of the terrain is impassable by vehicle, but 60 huskies will resupply me.”
Almost in passing he mentions some of the hazards of the terrain. “There are bears and local wolf populations, so the huskies will help ensure the local wildlife don’t come too near.” Right . . . bears and wolves.
“The run exceeds 100km but distance depends on route-finding and prevailing underfoot conditions. Heavy snow would make it a long affair,” he says.
To list his previous runs in more detail, back in February 2015, Murray and running partner
were the first to run more than 500km across the harsh Namib Desert; in July 2014 they ran the 10 peaks in less than 24 hours; and in 2011 Murray ran 2,659 miles from John O’Groats to the Sahara in 78 days.
It’s a surprise to learn that in 1999 he struggled to finish a 10km run.
So, why run punishingly long distances now? Murray eschews the enigmatic George Mallory-type explanation for attempting Mount Everest – “because it’s there”.
"I like seeing the world and testing my own limits," he says. "Actually, there may be an Irish man to thank. Richard Donovan is one of the real pioneers of running in amazing and slightly wacky places. Richard's not only a great runner, having won the first race at the North Pole, the South Pole, and many others, but he's a top man for helping people realise their ambitions and what they are capable of.
“I had done a few races before, but catching up with Richard a couple of times has been a great catalyst to taking on ever more logistically tricky, and thus intriguing, challenges.”
Murray, who is a Merrell brand ambassador, is also a GP, but much of his work centres on the University of Edinburgh, where he researches ways of improving health, investigates issues relating to sport and is lead doctor at the University’s Scottish Running Clinic.
These commitments, plus a busy family life with wife, Jennie, and baby Nina, demand a disciplined approach to training.
“I run to and from work, and get out when I can. I’ll do a long run on a Saturday before anyone else is up. But Jennie is really understanding. To be honest, she quite likes visiting some of the places with me, although minus 40 is a bit cold for our one year old.”
No off switch
And how does Jennie view life with an adventure-seeking ultra-runner? “Andrew doesn’t have an off switch,” she says. “He’s always up to something. He’s been to cold places before and he’s with
, so I’m confident he’ll return with a full complement of fingers and toes. The one thing that most people don’t realise is how much ultra-runners consume. Andrew can easily eat a meal for six in one sitting.”
In his professional life, Murray’s blend of humour and intellectual rigour make him a popular lecturer, and his zeal for promoting the health benefits conferred by physical activity is evident.
“It’s amazing how far we’ve come. Two hundred years ago the average life expectancy worldwide was 25-30 years, and now it’s well over 70. As a GP, and a guy who’s spent a bit of time working on health issues for the Scottish government, I’m certain that we need to work on preventing problems rather than just treating them when they arise.
“Even if we shifted just a little bit towards doing regular exercise; eating less salt and sugar, and more fruit and veg; and drinking a bit less, we’d be healthier for sure, and probably happier.”
Reassuringly, Murray’s evidence-based approach to medicine is tempered with a simple, clear-eyed philosophy. “My view is that we can be our own best friend or our own worst enemy.
“The best doctors in life might just be regular sleep, fresh air, exercise and eating well. If we do these, the need for fancy clot-busting drugs and expensive operations is smaller.
“Exercise puts a big fat smile on my face, whether it’s walking with my girls or running across the frozen tundra.”
Andrew Murray's run across the frozen tundra can be followed on www. docandrewmurray.com where footage of the event will be available.