A 1,725 mile run to help Iraqi refugees return home

Published 20 November 2019  |  
Dr Mark Calder finishing his final ultramarathon at Fowlis Wester Church near St Andrews

Dr Mark Calder has just completed a 1,725-mile ultramarathon challenge across Scotland and northern England in aid of a project run by Embrace the Middle East to help refugees return home to war-torn Iraq and rebuild their livelihoods.

During his 'Running Home 2019' challenge, the 37-year-old ran 14 ultramarathons this year, criss-crossing ancient pilgrim routes.

His final stretch was completed on Saturday, when he ran the old pilgrim route between South Queensferry and St Andrews in Scotland, via the Fife Pilgrim Way.

The run coincided with the feast day of St Margaret, the 11th century queen who opened up the ferry route connecting South and North Queensferry on either side of the Firth of Forth, a route that was still in use until the Forth Road Bridge opened in 1964.

Running Home 2019 has been a gruelling challenge for Dr Calder, with the runs ranging from 45 miles to 340 miles at a time, with some spanning several days.

Dr Mark Calder on one of his 14 ultramarathons this year

"There have been some real struggles this year, running ultramarathons teaches you a huge amount," said Dr Calder, who works part-time for Christian charity Embrace the Middle East and Durham University.

"Running through the day into the night against a headwind, the physical pain or when it's rained for days can really sap your mood, it's intense on an emotional and mental level; it's during these times that make me reflect on what I'm doing and why."

Although Dr Calder is based in Scotland near Aberdeen, his passion lies in the Middle East and he has previously spent 18 months living in Palestine, as well as completing a PhD on the region. He now serves as Embrace's regional manager for Scotland.

A ceilidh and live music event will be taking place in St Peter's Scottish Episcopal Church in Edinburgh on November 23 at 6pm to celebrate the completion of his ultramarathon challenge.

Dr Mark Calder completed 14 ultramarathons in a year

He said he hoped the challenge would shed light on the plight of the people affected by conflict in Iraq and attract more support for the CAPNI project, which is helping Christians in areas like health, education, community infrastructure and employment.

"I've learned a huge amount from the challenges I've faced and have felt encouraged by people's support and engagement with the project," he said.

"With their support, I've been running in pursuit of a happier ending to a long, unhappy story in Iraq. It's now or never for the families returning home, seeking to rebuild their lives, and it's an enormous privilege for me to play a small role in supporting them.

"I'm inspired by the work the CAPNI project is doing in Iraq, it supports people who have endured a much longer, much more painful journey than mine. My hope is that from my small effort to shine a light on this cause that more people will be inspired and donate to help make a real difference to people's lives in Iraq."

To donate to the Running Home 2019 project, visit https://www.runninghome2019.co.uk.

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