Ultra-runner Scott shares his extreme challenge to raise awareness and money for Operation Smile

Operation Smile speaks to Scott about his ultra running challenges and why he chooses to raise money for the charity.

Scott, from Cardiff, is an ultra-runner – a growing group of runners who cover distances longer than 26 miles.

He, together with his brother, has completed a number of extreme running challenges over the last 10 years. These have raised over £100,000 for a variety of charities in the UK and US.

Since 2015, Scott has focused his efforts on supporting and raising awareness for Operation Smile, an international medical charity that provides surgery for children with cleft lip and palate conditions.

This year, Scott takes the challenge to new levels – running over 750 miles over three events.

Taking on ultras

Scott started running over 10 years ago in south Wales.

‘I was working as a personal trainer with cardiac rehab patients at the time’, Scott explains. ‘I wanted to do something to support them. So I decided to raise money by running 75 marathons in 75 days, over 200 miles, from Boston, Massachusetts to Austin, Texas.

‘It really changed my philosophy in life. When we get older, what do we want to reflect on and remember?

‘I want to look back at the great adventures I had, and how I helped other people along the way. Those will be the things I remember, not the material, trivial things.’

From there, Scott resolved to take part in different challenges for charities he is passionate about.

‘I heard about Operation Smile, which helps children born with cleft lip and cleft palate, in 2013. And I instantly knew I wanted to help.

‘A smile is an international language, and something we all take for granted.’

ultra-runner scott

Breaking records

From running 135 miles across Death Valley, the hottest place on earth, in 53-degree heat, three times, to twice completing a 240-mile race in Moab, Utah, Scott relishes extreme challenges.

‘More people have climbed Mount Everest than run in the Death Valley race. It was tough going, but it was the 240-mile race in Utah in 2019 that really pushed me to my limits.

‘It took 92 hours to run, almost non-stop. I slept for three hours near the end because I was hallucinating and ran away from my pacer, who I was convinced was a witch. I thought the witch was trying to make me do the race for a second time. So I scrambled up a cliff and hid under a boulder.

‘The “witch” found me and started shouting at me. It was only then that I realised it was my pacer, who’s actually my wife!

‘In 2021 I actually returned to the same race to run it for Operation Smile again and got my approach right the second time round. I was able to knock 15 hours off my time in 2019 and actually set the British record for the course – finishing in 77 hours 02 minutes.’

Helping families

Scott explains the extreme challenges are a mental test as much as a physical one.

‘I have found you can’t get through a race without thinking about your motivation. That for me is how I can help Operation Smile.

‘Your mind gives up way before your body, so you have to find the thing that keeps you going.’

In 2015, Scott travelled to Ethiopia to meet some of the people his fundraising for Operation Smile was helping.

‘I met a small child called Mezarai, who had hiked across Ethiopia with her mother for five days to see if she was suitable for an operation to repair her cleft lip, not knowing if they would be able to receive help.

‘When they arrived at the aid station, they hoped her cleft lip could be treated, but there was no guarantee.

‘Fortunately, she was able to receive surgery. I got to know the pair and even carried Mezarai back to her mother from the operating theatre.

‘To watch someone see themselves smile for the first time and the sheer joy that accompanied it was amazing.

‘I hold on to that moment in the dark times during my runs. I feel very privileged to have played a small role in helping families.’

Upcoming challenges

Scott is training for his biggest challenge yet, two ultra-marathons in America in May and August 2022.

He will run the Cocodona 250-mile race in Arizona in May and also the Bigfoot 200 in August. Both of which have elevation inclines of over 42,000 feet.

To put that into context, the elevation gain for Mount Everest is only 27,000 feet.

In between the two races he will also run the length of Wales along the Cambrian way, 300 miles in total from Conway to Cardiff.

Scott’s events comprise:

  • Cocodona 250, May 2 2022, Arizona
  • Cambrian Way, Wales, July 2022
  • Bigfoot 200, August 12, 2022, Washington State.

Impact of a cleft diagnosis

In the UK, children are screened prenatally, with a cleft diagnosis made before the child is born.

The first operation is between eight-12 weeks, and the second at eight-10 months. Children are able to live a totally normal life.

If not treated, infants born with cleft conditions have nine times the risk of dying within the first year of life.

They may be rejected by their families or communities. They may be unable to feed or have problems speaking due to the hole in the roof of their mouth. Only £150 helps one child receive the help they need.

‘I don’t think I’ll ever stop fundraising’, says Scott.

‘I may have to tailor what I do as I get older, as I look at the toll ultra-marathons take on my body. But I want to keep going, keep having adventures as long as my body allows.

‘I want to make the most of the time I have, and therefore keep helping where I can.’


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