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‘It makes life feel a lot easier’: Why a Fraserburgh dad is running 167 miles non-stop for his son

Andrew Smith went through hell when his son was born with a rare genetic disorder, and will go through it again on his run from Glasgow to Aberdeen.

Andrew Smith, 29, from Fraserburgh will run from Glasgow to Aberdeen to raise money for The Archie Foundation and Ronald McDonald House Glasgow. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson
Andrew Smith, 29, from Fraserburgh will run from Glasgow to Aberdeen to raise money for The Archie Foundation and Ronald McDonald House Glasgow. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

It’s a beautiful evening on the outskirts of Mintlaw as Andrew Smith explains the attraction of ultra racing.

“It brings so much joy, so much clarity,” the genial 29-year-old from Fraserburgh says of the extreme running events in which participants cover distances that would make mere mortals tremble – 50 miles, 100 miles, more!

We are at Pitfour Lake, the idyllic Victorian water feature in Pitfour Estate. We were supposed to go on a training run, but Andrew is injured, so we are walking instead.

As he details with relish some of the more extreme races on the ultra racing circuit, I’m suddenly glad our run was cancelled. I might not have survived.

Andrew at Pitfour Lake near Mintlaw, where he has been training for his run. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

“There’s a race called the tunnel race,” Andrew is saying. “It is held in a pitch black, one-mile tunnel and you get a dim little headlamp. You run a mile out and then a mile back for 200 miles and all you can eat is Pot Noodles and all you can drink is Irn Bru.”

Wait, what?

“Yeah, it’s down south somewhere,” Andrew says as if that explains all.

So why Irn Bru?

“That’s just what the race director decided.”

It sounds insane, but Andrew defends it passionately. The randomness, he says, is part of the appeal. And then there is the pain, the struggle, the need for resilience and determination.

“I suppose in a weird way it makes life feel a lot easier, right?” he continues. “Because there’s not much more difficult in life than running 100 miles, right?”

How Andrew’s son Louie came into the world

It’s a surprising thing for Andrew to say, because Andrew HAS experienced something worse than running 100 miles. Something a lot worse.

On September 9 last year, Andrew’s son Louie was born 12 weeks prematurely.

At the time, Andrew and partner Nancie Mead were living in Israel, where Andrew was heading up the regional office for oil-and-gas group Score Israel Valve Services.

But they were back in the north-east of Scotland on a short holiday when Nancie’s back pain turned into something more serious than the urinary tract infection doctors initially thought it was. She had gone into labour.

Baby Louie was delivered at the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital (RACH) and rushed straight to the neonatal unit.

Baby Louie spent months in neonatal care with Andrew and Nancie. Image: Supplied by The Archie Foundation

Andrew and Nancie didn’t know it then, but it was the beginning of 150 days in that unit as Louie battled severe health complications.

First, there was his frequent apnoea episodes during which he would stop breathing for 20 seconds.

Countless times Andrew and Nancie watched on helplessly as Louie was resuscitated by the medical team, including one time where his lips and the skin around the eyes had turned blue from a lack of oxygen.

“I was thinking this is it,” recalls Andrew. “He’s going to die.”

Surgery in Glasgow and a shock discovery

Louie was put on a ventilator five times during his stay, but he continued to fight.

Eventually, he was flown to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow, for surgery on his windpipe to try to reduce his apnoea.

While there, doctors informed Andrew and Nancie that Louie had an ultra-rare genetic disorder, thought to affect fewer than 100 people in the world.

The shock was intense, and the couple found it difficult to process. They were told not to Google the disorder “because ultimately there’s not that much information and the information about it is quite bleak”, Andrew says.

Louie underwent surgery in Glasgow. Image: Supplied by The Archie Foundation

That’s one of the reasons that Andrew and Nancie — who are now back home in Fraserburgh with Louie after his successful operation (they never returned to Israel) — have chosen not to disclose what the disorder is. They don’t want it to define their son’s life.

“Regardless of what Louie’s got and how it may or may not affect him, Louie is Louie, right?” Andrew says, in an explanation that’s much better than his tunnel race one earlier.

Anyway, Andrew adds, there are reasons to be optimistic. Louie is doing pretty good right now, and doctors say that with childhood conditions, time and maturity can do wonders.

He will likely require more hospital visits and face additional challenges, but he has a lot to look forward to.

“As everything strengthens, as his airways strengthen, everything, hopefully, will get better,” Andrew says.

A run along the Clyde and the germ of an idea

Now comes the part of the story where baby Louie’s difficult introduction to the world meets his dad’s love of ultra running.

Because one day, when Andrew was still in Glasgow, he went for a run along the Clyde and cooked up the idea for a charity run.

It would be a chance to raise money for the Aberdeen children’s charity The Archie Foundation, who helped his family while at RACH as well as the Ronald McDonald House in Glasgow that housed Andrew and Nancie while Louie was awaiting surgery.

So, starting on Friday, May 31 Andrew will run the 167 miles from the Ronald McDonald House all the way to the children’s hospital in Aberdeen in an effort to raise £50,000.

Andrew came up with the idea for the run while jogging along the Clyde. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Never mind that it will take him an estimated 36 hours of nearly non-stop running and is the equivalent of six marathons back to back. And never mind that it’s a full 67 miles further than he’s ever run before.

This is what he is going to do.

Andrew running between Glasgow and Aberdeen after ‘hardest time in my life’

“I was just so overwhelmed with the support we had received from the neonatal unit, the Archie team, as well as The Ronald McDonald House,” Andrew says as we reach the backside of the lake and the early-evening sun lights up the water.

He says it’s especially important to let people know that Glasgow’s Ronald McDonald House is an independent charity that’s not connected to the fast-food chain, and as such needs funding to support it.

“I just couldn’t believe that this incredible place gave you everything free of charge and never asked for anything in return during probably what is the hardest time in your life.

“So I said, how can I raise money and give something back to Archie and Ronald McDonald? And the ultra runner in me said, surely you just run between them.”

A team effort, boosted by pastries

Andrew will be joined on the run by friend and fellow ultra runner Jamie Pallister, who will match him step-for-step. His training coach Meryl Cooper and family and friends will be cheering him on.

The route will take them through Stirling, Perth, Dundee, Montrose, Arbroath and Stonehaven. Andrew expects a few other friends to drop in for a few miles here and there and there will be refueling stops topped up by a few energy-boosting pastries in his backpack.

“I’m a big pain au chocolate guy,” he says with a smile.

Andrew talks to reporter Andy Morton, left, at Pitfour Lake. ‘You have to be scared of a challenge of this magnitude,’ Andrew says.

And though both Andrew and Jamie are experienced ultra runners, this will be by far their biggest challenge yet.

“You have to be scared of a challenge of this magnitude,” he says. “You would just be a total liar if you said you weren’t scared, right? Because of the unknown.

“But I’m looking forward to it, 100%. Make no mistake, I would do this for fun.”

He checks himself, and laughs.

“I DO do it for fun.”

How Andrew finds time as a new dad to fit in training

Nancie will be at the finish line offering her support, too, though Andrew admits that when he first told her about the run she barely glanced up from her phone, so used had she become to his extreme running plans.

Also, training to run 167 miles takes up quite a lot of time, especially considering Andrew is a new dad. Plus, the couple have just moved house from Mintlaw to Fraserburgh.

“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword at the minute,” he says, a slight ruefulness in his voice.

Andrew can’t wait to live a normal live with his family once the run is over. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

But once the run is over he promises he’ll be home more often. After all, during those 150 days in the neonatal ward, that’s all the couple thought about.

“All we wanted was to be home and sat on a Saturday morning watching Peppa Pig on TV and having breakfast,” he says. “We never really got to enjoy a lot of these moments. But now we are.”

To donate to Andrew and Louie, click here.