Scots charity worker due to complete final ‘ultramarathon’ in bid to help Iraq refugees

A charity worker who is due to complete his 14th and final ultramarathon to help refugees in Iraq has described the highs and lows, including getting lost and running round Arbroath golf course and up the A 92 by mistake.

Dr Mark Calder is raising money for a project run by Embrace the Middle East, which supports refugees to return home and rebuild their lives in war-torn Iraq.
Dr Mark Calder is raising money for a project run by Embrace the Middle East, which supports refugees to return home and rebuild their lives in war-torn Iraq.

Dr Mark Calder, from Insch near Aberdeen, who works for the charity Embrace the Middle East, will have run 1,725 miles - representing the round distance between Baghdad to Damascus to Beirut to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv - when he arrives at St Andrews Cathedral in Fife tomorrow night.

Each run has ranged in length from 47 – 350 miles and has followed in the footstep of a different Celtic saint.

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The last ultra-marathon is retracing paths associated with St Margaret and cover 70 miles from South Queensferry to St Andrews.

Dr Calder, 37, who will be at St Margaret’s Chapel at Edinburgh Castle at 4pm today said that undertaking the ultramarathons has had its hilarious moments but was also giving him lots of “thinking time” to appreciate the freedom he enjoys that refugees are denied.

“I remember getting lost as I came out of Arbroath when trying to follow the coastal path to Dundee. So, I ended up doing a lap of Arbroath golf course and then I was running up the A92 and just kept going.

“While it can be funny recalling it, at the time I was feeling really intense despair, asking why the wind was always in my face and the rain and not knowing where I was going.

“But then I started thinking that all I’d really got was a small taste from the cup of despair while refugees were drinking from its vast well.

“At that point the whole thing stopped being a charity run and became more personal.

“It struck me that there were many people in the world who don’t have the freedom to run without coming across a mine-field. It was the whole thing about bodily and political freedom, me being able to move about freely that struck home.”

So far Dr Calder has raised more than £40,000 and is aiming for over £50,000.

Describing the situation in the Middle East and how money raised from the ultramarathons will be spent, Dr Calder, said: “It’s a bit of a now or never situation in northern Iraq. People there lived together quite well for 2,000 years but over the past few decades that has been under threat.

“What we want to do is to use the money as an economic investment to develop livelihoods for people. Those who have missed out on education and employment. For example, helping women and disabled people with the emphasis on skills training, skills which are immediately marketable.

“This can include barbering or bee-keeping. There is a real demand for people to begin providing honey again and we can also provide micro-loans for small enterprises.

His first run, the St Mungo’s route, was on 13 January and involved a 45-mile run from Dunfermline Abbey to the tomb of St Mungo in Glasgow Cathedral, via Culross and Falkirk. Other ultramarathons include the 340-mile St Ninian run from Carlisle to Edinburgh via Whithorn and Glasgow. between 13-19 September

Dr Calder is accompanied by Gareth Brocklebank, a former ambulance driver, who is driving a motor home and who is checksing up on him ever 12 miles.