Blog by Aaron Taylor, Dundee University Triathlon Club Charities Organiser 2019/20

Off went the alarm and I dozily turned to check the time; 4:45am. Still achy from the waist down, and knowing that I had to get-up, brace the elements and continue our relay run for another hour, I was not exactly thrilled; but it was the last one, and I should probably toughen up a bit, we do call ourselves ‘athletes’ after all. At that point, for the last 23hours, pairs of runners from the Dundee University Triathlon club had been continuously running up and down the 2.25km Tay road bridge. We had started at 7am the previous morning and were running lengths of the bridge - through the night, in all weather conditions - until 7am the next day, a full 24hours. Each pair had been assigned a ‘sociable’ hour; from 7am to 7pm, and a ‘non-sociable’ hour; from 7pm to 7am. That morning I could empathise with those that had being going through the early hours, and I can attest to not feeling particularly ‘sociable’ when I painfully slipped on my running shoes at that obscenely early hour…

At the beginning of the year, the Dundee University Triathlon Club assigned a new role to its committee; a charities secretary. As our club grew, we thought it was important to grow a relationship with the city outside the confides of the west-end campus. As cliché as it sounds, we really did want to give back - in particular, supporting mental health work. Being students, we’re exposed more and more to problems with mental health; almost all of us know someone who suffers from a mental health disorder, and how damaging an effect it can have. That’s when we came across Support in Mind Scotland (SiMS). One of our committee members had already worked with the charity, raising money for them at another event, and they fitted perfectly. SiMS worked with people our age, locally in Dundee, and helped them do what we as students take for granted - things like resilience during stressful situations, juggling life’s demands and dealing with a large workload come (relatively) easy to us, but we know this isn’t the case for everyone. We were so excited to start working with SiMS, we just needed an idea to help with.

Triathletes are an odd bunch; we love the thought of doing things that are pretty physically demanding, and even more-so, we love the thought of doing these things for a very long time… Most of our events take hours to complete, during which time the only thing really on our mind is “when will this end?!”. This weird, almost masochistic, past-time we seem to have does have its upsides; it feel’s pretty good once the event is over, it’s a good excuse to eat a lot more than usual, and you do get the occasional admiration from onlookers (although it could just be disbelief – we really can’t tell at this point). Naturally, we wanted to help SiMS by doing something that fitted with that triathlon ethos, at which point we came up with the idea of running across one of Dundee’s most iconic landmarks for a full 24hours. The Tay Bridge was the ideal choice; iconic, constantly monitored, well lit and with a well-defined start and end point. From a running point of view, it presented a unique challenge; it had a killer gradient from one direction and gale force winds from the other – certainly not the easiest of routes. However, from a purely scenic point of view, although the city landscape is quite an impressive site, it doesn’t really change. It’s a weird sensation, as though you aren’t actually moving anywhere, while running the V&A becomes gradually into focus just as your legs begin to gradually hurt more.

As the weeks went on, we had finalised the timetable, managed to raise awareness through the local Dundee newspapers and had already raised a considerable amount towards our £1,000 fundraising

target. We were ready. On March 14th at 7:00am exactly, myself and another triathlete started running from the Dundee side of the Tay Bridge. The weather was a little wet, the sky pretty grey and the wind fairly gusty, but hey, it could be worse! We’d set ourselves a generous pace and got into a good rhythm, seamlessly changing direction as we reached Fife and back again. By the end of the hour we had completed 4 lengths and made it to the 50th lamppost (thankfully all marked) before turning back to meet the next pair, amounting to just over 13km in total.

Changeover at 08:00am

It was no walk in the park - quite literally. The constant impact is not kind on your hips and knees, and your joints made sure you knew about it. But nevertheless, it was an enjoyable run! The conversation was flowing for the first half, but as the cardio endurance really picked up the chat become ever more sparse - as full replies become single syllable words, eventually turning into the occasional “Uh huh” to show at least you were still listening.

On the hour, each hour we had personalised social media posts introducing our brave runners as they stepped up to the bridge. As well, we had a changeover photo to help keep everyone motivated and create a final collage of our runners once we all finished. You can often easily tell who’s finished and who’s starting based on the red cheeks, the dishevelled hair and the size of the smiles (with those who’ve just stopped gleaming with exhaustion).

Still smiling! Changeover 10:00

Runners wearing the SiMS t-shirts as we go, changeover 14:00

SiMS had kindly sent us a blue baton to pass on just for the occasion. It was carried by everyone throughout the 24hours, Olympic-torch style, sadly though there was no big, warm cauldron to huddle round at the end.

Changeover 18:00

Although we got lucky with the weather, the same can’t be said for some of the other pairs. At 6pm the heavens opened and drenched the bridge. The cotton t-shirts turned to sodden weights, making the already difficult run a serious test of physical, and spiritual, endurance! On top of that the sun had disappeared, leaving the bridge interspersed in the dim yellow glow from the streetlights. Not the most scenic view for running hours on end.

A very wet changeover, 20:00

As the night settled in - and the hours became gradually less and less humane – our runners, most of whom had only been out a few hours before, came back for their second shift. Some had napped throughout the day, some just tried to stay up, others had decided to rely on a triathlete’s best friend: coffee. One pair even came straight after ‘warming up’ at one of the local nightclubs - play-hard work-hard I suppose? But what’s more impressive is, no matter the time of day or conditions, everyone gave it their best effort.

Still going strong, changeover 00:00

Smiles and caffeiene, two of the best motivators, changeover 03:00am

So, rolling out of bed and realising that my struggles paled in comparison to my teammates, I hobbled down to the Tay Bridge in order to finish the relay… There I met the club captain who I was finishing the relay with. We both had knackered hips, she had barely slept and was still slightly traumatised from the rainy blitz of her last run, but we were determined to finish strong! As we came to the last 15minutes of the relay, the sky broke, the sun came out and the relay was all but

finished. What started as a run became more of a shuffle as we made it to the Dundee end of the bridge and mark the last stop. The clock turned 07:00. We had done it!

07:00 - the end of the relay!

Most of what we do in Triathlon is pouring over numbers; what time is our 5km run? How many watts can we crank out on a bike? How quick can we cover 30 pool lengths? This relay was no exception. In total over the weekend our team of 28 runners completed 111.75 lengths of the Tay bridge. That’s equivalent to 251.4km, or 5.96 marathons - in old money. That’s an incredible feat for the club! Many of our runners had never covered such a long distance before and were thrilled by how they got on – despite several environmental challenges, we all enjoyed the experience and as a team it’s brought us all a little closer together, maybe it’s just the shared joint pain, who knows…

But there is one more number we were interested in; and for us it’s the most important one. We managed to completely eclipse our fundraising target of £1,000, and our final total was an astronomical £1,525 - all donated to SiMS! We were so grateful to all those who donated (especially in the wee hours of the morning) and went a long way to keeping our running team going.

We started the year with the intention of building bridges – now we’ve ran over them too!

Dundee University Triathlon Club

Aaron Taylor

Charities Organiser 2019/20

A massive thank you and well done to the team for their outstanding efforts in the relay, smashing their fundraising target and all their support over the year. 

If you have a fundraising idea, we'd love to talk it over with you! Just visit our fundraising page.