A north-east lecturer is set to run 14 marathons spanning nearly 2,000 miles as part of a bid to help rebuild war-torn areas in the Middle East.
Dr Mark Calder, 36, will run the ultramarathons along some of the country’s ancient pilgrim routes.
Starting on Sunday, the anthropology lecturer will retrace the steps of Celtic saints and cover a total of 1,725 miles across Scotland and northern England over the next eight months.
Ultramarathons are any race longer than the classic distance of 26.2 miles. Each distance Dr Calder runs will range from 47 to 350 miles.
The routes he will cover include St Cuthbert’s Way and St Magnus’s Way, while others will travel through areas associated with saints.
Based in Insch, the father-of-two and Arabic speaker has a lifelong passion for the Middle East, which has included completing a PhD about the region, with 18 months living in Bethlehem, and meeting his wife Karen in Egypt while backpacking.
His first challenge will be running from Dunfermline Abbey via Culross, where St Mungo was born, to Glasgow Cathedral, where the saint is buried, on Sunday.
Dr Calder will run from Aberdeen to St Andrews on Friday March 8, which will take more than 20 hours to complete.
Money raised will go towards a project run by Embrace the Middle East, of which Dr Calder is the regional manager for Scotland and the north of England.
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The academic, who is currently teaching at Stirling and Durham Universities, explained the length of the challenge “is the distance from Baghdad to Damascus to Beirut to Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to Cairo and back to Baghdad – the capitals of the countries in which Embrace the Middle East works”.
He said: “The goal is to raise money for our new project for refugees returning to cities occupied by the Islamic State, particularly in Iraq.
“Our focus is enabling people to rebuild their livelihoods and offer skills training.
“It will also support intercommunal peace building.
“Embrace the Middle East is led by local partners and shows how changes big and small can make a difference,” he added.
Dr Calder, who has written worship material for the Church of Scotland, explained why he is taking the opportunity to add a spiritual element to the challenge.
“I have thought in the past there are similarities between pilgrimages and ultramarathons – they have these intense highs and lows,” he said.
“There’s this idea of journeys being transformative – it’s a chance to think about the actual saints whose footsteps I’ll be following in. It also ties in with the aspiration of homecoming for refugees in the Middle East who have been displaced by war.”
Mr Calder successfully ran his first 100-mile ultra course last year in Yorkshire – despite “starting to doze off” during the 26 hours it took.
“You begin to wonder what it’s like to run a bit further,” he said. “I want to take the pilgrimage seriously and use it for a time of reflection.”
The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Rev Susan Brown, said: “The distance Mark is running is not only matching the miles to the various places, it is linking us in Scotland to people whose lives have been shattered by the ugliness and brutality of war.”