The Winter Racer – Lee Peyton

I sat in Starbucks waiting for Lee Peyton to arrive. I was nervous, who was I but a little girl carrying a Dictaphone that I didn’t know how to use, and pages of questions to ask the endurance racer. What gave me the right to probe him for information, what did he get out of this, his name mentioned on a little blog on the internet? He didn’t even get a free coffee because he beat me to the chase.

It may not of been worth his while to meet me, but he was kind and after a small amount of persistence on my part, he agreed. But I got something out of it, I got to hear his story and now you get to too.

It’s not just his modesty that strikes you when you meet him, it’s his raw and ill disguised ambition. It’s what he has the ability to do on a whim. He organised and ran the Sally Challenge, Epic 2012, Outer Hebrides Sub 60, Arrowhead 135, the national three peaks challenge three time, The Drambuie Pursuit, the Yukon Arctic Ultra, and several marathons.

What Epic 2012 entailed was a 430 mile mixed bike, run and kayak the length of Scotland.  Broken down, the mileage consists of a 140 mile cycle, running the West Highland Way, climbing Ben Nevis and paddling the Great Glen from Fort William to Inverness, and a final cycle to John O Groat’s.

The money raised went to Yorkhill Children’s Foundation.The orthopaedic department which deals with cases of limb lengthening and straightening, reconstructive surgery for congenital disabilities, cerebral palsy related conditions and trauma. He did it with two friend’s; Garry Mackay and Greg McEwan.  McEwan hadn’t kayaked before and when asked, Peyton said of himself and Mackay; “We still can’t roll but we can self rescue.”

My impressions: he endures despite injury, he’s walked through the night, he’s hallucinated seeing chickens with sunglasses, the grim reaper, animal prints the size of dinner plates. He lifts weights, he lugs tyres along Gullane beach and all he wants is for people to get outside. Where’s good to train in Scotland I asked; “Anywhere, just get out! A lot of the time it’s just getting out the front door. That’s the hardest part.”

His career in the fire service means he gets annual leave, which in turn allows him to race. It was the fire service that prompted his entry into endurance events. “The fire service culture promotes you to do charity work, so in 2002 – 2003, we ran the Glasgow 10km in firekit and breathing apparatus sets, which combined is the weight of like 20 kilos. Then we did the three peaks challenge in under 24hrs.”

Peyton is a cold weather racer because he says it narrow’s the field as he’s not a runner; “I’m a plodder I can just finish the races, I’m not moving quickly. I did the Yukon race two years ago, where the weather went down to minus forty two, so you have got all these super endurance athletes but if they can’t manage the extremes then it’s no good.” Let the facts speak for themselves; out of the 56 competitors who started the Arrowhead 135 on foot in February 2012 only 28 finished.

He doesn’t talk about fear, only frustration; “Because of the extreme cold the pulk attachment shattered, it was a hard plastic and when I grabbed it with my hand it took heat from my hand. It was cramping, I needed to go stand by the fire and sort it out but to me that is a waste of race time. We were about a mile further on from the checkpoint and I looked at Garry and said I’m in the shitter here, It’s probably the most honest I’ve ever been.  I tried to put a heat pack in my glove, I bit my finger and felt nothing. It’s a bit shit, a bit scary. It all comes down to how well you manage yourself, if you don’t sort the logistics out or forget a glove well then that’s you gone.”

Up next on Peyton’s list is a 150km race in northern Finland in February. One which has never been completed before by someone on foot. “They clear the trails with snowmobiles but by the time the competitors get there, enough snow has fallen to cover them up again.” He is using the Original Mountain Marathon and Glenogle 33 to train for it; “It’s that adrenaline fuelled event that gets you focused again, Like life in the fire brigade, the day to day checks, go to a school, talk to the kids maybe go to an old folks home, do some training, do paperwork and computer work but then you get those peaks where you go to a fire, a traffic collision or a technical rescue, it’s so adrenaline fuelled.”

There’s no mention of possible failure; just excitement and advice;”You can always do that 10 percent more, but it’s your head that has to get you through.” Again, his frustration shines through his words. I attempt to complement all his achievements but he shields it away. “It’s all quite controlled though, because they are races. It’s no different from running the Edinburgh marathon, it’s just a different level but if you’ve trained and you are used to working in those conditions, then it’s just a race. I want to do something a bit wilder without the safety net. Everest was going to be a retirement thing and I’m doing Kilimanjaro next year for kids charity.”

Everyone give’s out about the tendency of writers/journalists for building up someone too much, for making them out to be better than they are. That annoys me because maybe, just maybe they are better than they or you think they are, and I’ve met Lee Peyton and I think he is accomplishing feats that are incredible, so he hasn’t climbed Everest, yet…. but for a seemingly ordinary man with a cool but traditional job, that he manages to do cold weather endurance events and create challenges to raise money for charity on the side. To me, that’s pretty impressive.

Follow Lee on Twitter @leepeyton or via his website Breaking Strain.

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