Burnley ultra-marathon man taking on 3000-mile challenge for charity

Scott Cunliffe - Copyright: timbradleyphotography

It’s been two years since Scott Cunliffe suffered a nervous breakdown.

It wasn’t the first one he’s had – the 44-year-old – has endured mental health difficulties throughout most of his life.

He spent over 20 years working for charities in Southeast Asia that were affected by serious crime and poverty.

His experiences left him suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression.

“I figured out pretty quickly that I was developing these issues, I worked with a lot of people within conflict zones that developed the same mental health problems,” he told The Match.

One of the biggest challenges for the Burnley fan was accepting these problems and being able to share them with someone else.

“Coming to terms with it from private to public was quite a process – once I did start talking about it, became a lot easier it was a big step but because of that I didn’t suffer in silence,” he admitted.

But Cunliffe, from Burnley, has found a unique if exhausting way to overcome his problems.

“Some people think it was a drunken bet, most of my family run but even they think it’s a bit crazy,” he told The Match.

“My last breakdown was about two years ago, since the start of this year I’ve been feeling good, I’ve been off my medication, sleeping a lot better and I believe running is a massive part of this process I’ve been through.”

He believes in the power of running to promote positive health and wellbeing, and after learning to deal with his mental health problems through running, he decided it was time to give something back.

Cunliffe continued: “I wanted to set myself a big challenge that combined my love of away days with my passion for running and for my hometown club of Burnley FC, from this, the idea for RunAway took shape.”

The RunAway challenge sees Cunliffe attempting to complete 19 ultra-marathons from Turf Moor to every Premier League stadium this season

An Ultra-marathon is anything that’s additional to 26.2 miles, the traditional marathon length.

They can also be completed in the form of a 24-hour endurance run, a fringe sport that’s rising in popularity.

Credit: Kieron Dunn
Road map of the RunAway challenge

Having already completed four of the 19 challenges, running to Southampton, Fulham, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Cardiff City, the marathon man has already amassed an impressive 823 miles.

The total raised for the challenge already stands at just under £4,000 – just short of halfway of his £10,000 target.

Competing in several ultra-marathons over the last 18 months, he felt ‘physically well prepared’, but admitted the gruelling multi-day running could take its toll on his body.

“From day one, I was stepping into the unknown. I had no idea how my body would react, mentally you have to keep your head in the game,” added the Lancastrian.

“The first day I had a dodgy knee, I’ve never in my life had a knee problem. I was fearful of it turning into a serious injury, so I walked instead of ran for a few days.

“Luckily, my knee clicked out and it was though there was nothing wrong the following day.”

“I speak to my psychologist before and after each race and he has taught me some mind exercises to help me during the long-distance running.”

However, he has already had some comical encounters with members of the public, revealing it’s these moments that can give you the motivation to carry on.

Cunliffe added: “I enjoy the personal stories. I was running out of Brecon, in Wales, a taxi driver pulled to the side of me who is a season ticket holder at Wolves – he recognised me and stopped to give me a donation – it’s a massive boost when that happens.

“Running on the way to Fulham, a young lad started running with me through the streets. We got talking and it turned out he was a parkour runner and local DJ who was also a recovering drug addict.

“Obviously, I asked him to show me a parkour move, he ran ahead of me, jumped over a bollard and did a front flip.

“It was incredible, he stopped at the next bus stop informing me this is where he would’ve got off the bus, it’s moments like that you take with you through every other run.”

After his latest run to Cardiff City, Cunliffe’s next destination is the Etihad Stadium this weekend, were Burnley make the short-distance trip to take on Premier League champions, Manchester City.

“It’s a completely different dynamic when you take on shorter distances. I will have a team of people running with me so it should be fun and relaxed,” he insisted.

“Long-distance, you have to think about logistics as well as be mentally strong. Giving myself more time for them is important as things can go wrong and it’s also about getting comfortable with the routes.

“It’s physically and mentally draining as you’re running on your own for several hours in potentially bad conditions, I do like the shorter trips they are a lot more fun and you get a lot of local interactions.”

All the money raised will go to Burnley FC in the Community, the official charity of the club.

Half of the proceeds will be going to local charities in Burnley, while the other half will be split amongst the community trusts at each of the Premier League clubs.

The final ultra-marathon will be completed relatively short-distance, travelling 51 miles from Turf Moor to Everton’s Goodison Park on May 4.

“I’m looking forward to that final run, to finish off at such a well-supported club at a ground full of history, it looks set to be a great finale to the challenge,” he said.

When Cunliffe completes his challenge, he will have covered over 3000 miles, which is the equivalent of running from Burnley to Paris- and back – seven times.

The Personal Battle with Mental Health

Cunliffe wants people to speak out about mental illness. Copyright: timbradleyphotography

“At some point in your life you’re going to face adversity and pain whether that’s the loss of a loved one or a breaking your arm.

“Pain is inevitable whether that be mental pain through anxiety, stress or depression – or whether it’s physical pain.”

“For me it was learning to be resilient to that, I don’t think mental health is something that ever goes away, ultra-running helps me become hardened and better at managing the stress.”

Because of his own battle with mental health, Cunliffe wants his challenge to hopefully inspire people going through the same problem, to speak out about their problems and not suffer in silence.

“Awareness is the main thing for me, the money is amazing don’t get me wrong, seeing that total rise with each challenge is why I’m doing it after all. However, the amount of people you can influence to get through dark places is far more rewarding for me,” he admitted.

“I could raise £100 million, which would be amazing, but if I can change just one person’s life that’s more satisfactory for me.

“Some have already reached out to me and I’ve started conversations with them and made sure they know my door is open, if you’re in a dark place that can be the hardest part, it’s about overcoming that and becoming stronger by doing so.”

Scott Cunliffe’s fundraising page can be found at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/therunawaychallenge

People wanting to donate by text – Text AWAY19 followed by £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 to 70070 to donate to RunAway.