unning an ultra marathon is hard enough, but Steve competes whilst managing two life threatening conditions. University of St. Andrews Professor Steve Murdoch completed the 36.5 mile Speyside Way Ultra marathon on August 25th finishing 28 out of 97 in a time of 5:59:53. He did so despite suffering from both type-2 diabetes and asthma while also overcoming a serious anterior cruciate ligament injury which not only required surgery but also came with a doctors' warning that he would never run again.

Having been a lifelong asthma sufferer, Steve was not unconditioned in managing his health carefully. Whilst in school, sports were prohibited as the chest condition was so severe that he sometimes missed school for weeks at a time. However, despite having asthma he took up rugby, enjoying the role of loose head prop before, while at university, his love of sport grew and he began playing shinty; a Scottish sport bearing resemblance to an eclectic mix of rugby, football and hockey.

Not long after the turn on the millennium, Steve was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, a condition that affects your blood sugar levels and can be life threatening if not managed properly. It was in 2004 that Steve began using the gym and, despite swearing that he would never run, the journey towards ultra marathons began. He found that although running induced short-term asthma it led to more restful nights.

Even despite having these two conditions to contend with he continued to play shinty and began to coach the university team while he also took his running from the treadmill to the outdoors, thanks to his friend, mentor and ultra runner, Jim Groark. They completed the Loch Ness Marathon together in 2006 in a well-paced time of 3:59:01. This was Steve's first race over any distance and all looked well for future events. It was not to be. In 2007, while playing with the St Andrews University shinty team he managed to damage his anterior cruciate ligament, an important ligament around the knee, ruling him out of sports for what would become an entire year.

The injury left Steve dejected, not only because he realised he wouldn't be playing shinty again, but it also removed all races from his running calendar. The doctors were slow in diagnosing the severity of his ACL injury, so Steve decided to begin running again as nearly half a year had passed, but then he was unexpectedly called in for a tidy up operation. At this 'tidy up' the doctors informed Steve that his knee was in such a bad condition that they couldn't reconstruct his ACL and so they would clean out his cartilage instead and also informed him that he would never be able to run again.

Steve spiralled into a state of mild depression, due to inactivity, that saw him lose control of his diabetes and asthma resulting in his breathing suffering significantly. His rising blood sugars led to blood clots forming in the back of his left eye which resulted in laser surgery to remove them. He was put onto new medication regimes to counter the decline in his health and was gaining weight until he made the decision to go against the advice of his surgeon and get back on the treadmill. This was not an uninformed choice; the threat to the mechanics of his bad knee seemed insignificant to the threat to his eyesight and potential of losing limbs to amputation if he failed to be proactive in confronting his conditions. Taking it very slowly he began to walk on the treadmill before building up to a hobble. He steadily built up his endurance and pace over the next 18 months, recalling that every session he did over that period was painful.

In 2010, Steve entered and completed his first post-injury marathon, over two years after his surgery, beating his pre-operation marathon time by some 17 minutes. From that point he has continued to build up to completing numerous ultra marathon events; some 7 in the last 12 months including distances of 50 miles plus.


He has now gone from mentee to mentor by inspiring others to take up sports, encouraging his graduate students to undertake running, teasing them that failure to comply might lead to academic failure. He has also taken on the mantle of introducing foster son, Max, into the world of sport  - he now plays shinty in Glenurquhart and completed his first run in Sweden in 2011 aged just 6. Steve has recognised the importance sport can play in life and is imparting that value to the people who are fortunate enough to be around him, joking that through them he is living a missed youth by proxy. Sport has provided the platform and structure to manage his health, without which he has proven to struggle to cope. His asthma is very well controlled and his blood sugar levels stable for the last two years. For the record the injured knee continues to improve, with less aggravation in evidence at each event. He also claims that despite already having a fantastic, close relationship with his wife, that sport has enhanced their relationship by offering them the opportunity to set goals together, work together and to challenge, encourage and support one another in staying healthy and to develop further; a claim backed by his wife Alexia.

Apr 16, 2016

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