The Welsh Rugby team may have come up agonisingly short in their quest for World Cup glory, but Welsh resilience and endurance runs deep through the nation. The country appears to be filled by individuals with strong athleticism and mental fortitude.
On 15th October 2019, a Welsh ultra endurance athlete from Penarth, Scott Jenkins, became the first Welsh person to complete one of the world’s longest and toughest ultramarathons: The Moab 240, a 244-mile non-stop footrace around the deserts and mountains of Utah, USA.
Despite towing the line with some incredible ultra-running athletes such as David Goggins, Catra Corbett and Michael McKnight, Scott finished 35th out of 121 starters, 94 finishers. He completed it in 93 hours 58 minutes, only sleeping for three hours during the entire race!
About the Moab 240
The Moab 240 is a 244-mile run where 121 competitors line up at the 3,000ft start line to scale over 29,000ft of vertical climb, and the same descent, non-stop over the course of several days. The terrain is difficult. Large parts are difficult to run due to large boulders, cliff edges and loose rock, coupled with huge inclines.
The course itself is a full circumnavigation of the Moab desert in Utah, which sees runners tackle and conquer two mountains ranges: Shay mountain and the La Sal Mountain ranges.
This year had an added challenge due to the cold front that entertained most of America, seeing temperatures range from mid-30 degrees in the day through to -8 degrees in the evenings, coupled with 12 hours of darkness, meaning all runners had to carry full kit all the time. This course is not for the faint-hearted nor for novices, evidenced by strong elite runners DNFing, such as ex Navy Seal, David Goggins. This is testament to the gruelling nature of the course.
The race itself is organised by Candice Burt, whose tagline is ‘200s are the new 100s’ – which really does highlight this growing shift in the population to try and push themselves further and harder.
To put it into perspective just how hard this race is, more people have climbed Everest (4,000 people) than completed one of Candice’s 200-miles event (circa 300-400), which is impressive in itself. Scott is the second British person to compete and finish, and the first Welshman to do so.
Motivation and inspiration
So what drove Scott to apply for such a gruelling race, and what actual toll does it take on the body to complete such a feat of endurance?
“For me, I genuinely believe that we each have a responsibility to help and support others where we can. Whether that be listening and helping a friend, through to raising money for charity. For me, over the years, I’ve found the way I am able to have the most impact is by pushing my body to extreme in order to raise money for charity. My brother Rhys and I, have found that the harder we push our bodies, the more people are willing to donate money to charities we care about and support. For me, that charity is Operation Smile, which I’m an ambassador for. It’s a charity that repairs children’s cleft lips and pallets so they can smile for the first time – it’s a pretty cool charity to be involved with.”
Pushing the human body is not new to Scott. He’s already got an impressive resume: from running 2,000 miles from Boston to Austin back in 2010; cycling point-to-point from Seattle to Jacksonville in a four-man non-stop relay; and unofficially ran the Badwater Ultramarathon course twice, one of which saw him hospitalised with rhabdomyolisis. Scott this year also took part in Britain’s three longest, non-stop, point-to-point towpath running races: the Grand Union Canal Race (145 miles from Birmingham to London); Kennet & Avon Canal Race (145 miles from Bristol to London); and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Race (130 miles from Liverpool to London), completing the illustrious ‘Canal Slam’ and finishing 6th. He used them as training runs so his coach, Lawrence Cronk of Enduraprep, could try to improve his plan and build a race plan fitting for Scott’s running progression to see him finish and maximise his finish position at Moab 240.
“Running for me is a passion, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Lawrence has made huge improvements in my running technique and speed through using VO2 max testing and training in heart rate zones, which was completely new to me this year. I’ll never be the fastest runner, but I’ll always try to complete what I set out to do. For me, Moab was no different, but the toll it took on me in the final 10miles of the race was like nothing I had ever experienced. Sleep deprivation was something I’ve experienced in other races, however what I experienced at Moab 240 was more like a parallel universe/alternative state – like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It sounds weird, but at one point I called my wife, who was also crewing me and asked her what she had been doing for the last week. When she replied with ‘Crewing you in the race’, I asked ‘What race?’ – I had no idea where I was and what I was doing.”
Teamwork to the end
His wife, Abby, who ran the last 16.5 miles with him says: “It was hell on earth that last section. He was delirious. He went from being loving and empathetic, to disoriented and delusional in split seconds. It got to a point where his body was moving fine, but his mind kept telling him to sleep and that he had finished the race. I eventually got him to move to lay under a rock for more warmth, but he couldn’t sleep because we had over-caffeinated him to get him to the end. It got to a point where his body wanted to sleep, but the caffeine fought it, and it created a limbo state for him. Thankfully another runner, Jason Wooden, talked sense into Scott and got him to move again and finish the race. Only another runner could have talked sense into him.”
“For me, everyone thinks running is a solo sport,” says Scott. “Which couldn’t be further from the truth. I often liken it to Tour de France, where one cyclist has a whole team competing on his behalf. For me, that is no different in ultra running. My crew, Jake Cooper (from Reno, Nevada) and Rhyd Morgan (from Penarth also) were unbelievable. They ran over 65 miles each with me, pushing me, popping my blisters and putting up with my diva requests and weird hallucinations. They were beyond unbelievable and this finish is as much theirs as it is mine. Without each of them and Abby, I genuinely believe I could not have finished this race. It’s by far the hardest race I’ve ever done and one of my proudest and most memorable experiences to date. I just hope it either inspires someone else to go for a run or to donate to Operation Smile. So far we’ve raised enough money for 14 children to be able to smile for the first time. It would be cool if we could help 20 kids – I like round numbers!”
So, what’s next?
“Eating lots – I’m 26,500 calories in deficit from the race, so lots of my favourite foods can be enjoyed guilt free for once,” says Scott. “I’ll also watch as my toenails progressively fall off, and sleep… sleep lots! However, I’m already thinking about what my ‘A’ goal is next year, as I need a goal to work towards and motivate myself. I do firmly have my sights on Badwater next year, and pray I get selected to compete as this has been a 10-year dream – it would be great to compete in the race the year I turn 40. I’m also keen to create one of my own challenges again – I’ve not done that for a year or so, – as well as competing in different races that I’ve yet to experience.”
If you want to donate to Operation Smile, which would be highly encouraged as no amount is too small, go to https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?pageId=1096817.
Scott, along with his brother Rhys, will be talking at next year’s National Running Show on the topic of ‘Running is not a solo sport’.
If you like this article, see more inspiring stories from runners around the world in our Interviews section.