The inspiring story behind an incredible journey that saw one Burnley fan run to every Premier League away game
It is easy to condense Scott Cunliffe’s RunAway Challenge into a short series of numerical milestones and sit there marvelling at the feat accomplished.
Nineteen Premier League grounds run to. 3,092 miles. 734 hours, 16 minutes, 53 seconds across 100 days of running. The equivalent of 118 marathons. 5.6 million trainer-wrecking steps. Fifteen pairs of trainers. More than £50,000 raised for charity.
Read it. Again.
This has been a superhuman effort on the most monumental of scales and deserves all the recognition it has and will go on on to receive.
What’s not as easy to break down is the motivation behind a challenge that, for many, lies nowhere near comprehension.
Scott speaks candidly about his issues with mental health; about how the atrocities he witnessed while working in the human rights field during a time of intense conflict in Indonesia left him with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
It was during these dark periods he discovered a love for running. And so began a global 'bucket list' journey that eventually culminated in a return to his hometown and a challenge of a lifetime.
“2005/06 was when I started seeing a lot of bad stuff out there,” said Scott, who studied politics and development with a focus on Southeast Asia at University College London. “It was in 2008/09 when I started getting a little bit of depression. I had my first breakdown or really low point in 2009 and actually came back home when Burnley got first promoted to the Premier League. I wanted a break from that scene and so I went to watch Burnley all season. That was when I started training and signed up for the London Marathon.”
Scott went back out to Indonesia in 2010 after the season ended. However, his symptoms returned and in 2016 he sold up and set off travelling around the world.
“2016 was really bad but by that time I was doing a lot of running. Running was really helping me a lot then and it was around that time I started doing longer runs and really connecting with nature. For me it was always a combination of getting outside, getting close to nature and moving fast through beautiful places. So I decided I was going to travel and run."
His adventures took him to New Zealand, Chile and America. All the while he continued to look for a new place to call home but it was back in Worsthorne where his heart finally settled.
"I just felt at peace when I came back to Burnley. I had an amazing time running in some of the most beautiful places but I felt more at peace running on the moors over Hurstwood than I did anywhere else. Everything came full circle.”
And so 10 years on from that first Burnley Premier League promotion, Scott decided he would become the first person to run to every single Premier League away game.
He adopted Burnley boss Sean Dyche’s ‘Legs, Hearts, Minds’ mantra midway through the challenge. As fitting a slogan as you're ever likely to see.
Obviously, it was always going to be physically demanding; his body ached liked never before during the first two runs to Southampton and Fulham. But the mental fortitude exhibited – the majority of Scott's miles were completed alone – in many ways is even more impressive. Not to mention the logistics behind it all.
The RunAway Challenge to this point has raised £55,000. The JustGiving page – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/therunawaychallenge – is still open and Scott continues to be blown away by the generosity of people.
In the coming weeks he will sit down with BFC in the Community and between them they will work out how half of the final total will be be distributed to local causes. The other half will be split evenly between the rest of the Premier League clubs' charities.
These thousands of pounds raised and the thousands of miles he has clocked up running understandably grab most of the headlines but Scott’s legacy is defined by much more than that.
When he spoke to me back in July he said he was doing this because he knows how "running is a powerful tool to achieve positive mental and physical well-being".
He wanted people of all ages, young and old, to get up, get out and start exercising.
After completing his final run at Everton’s Goodison Park, he received this message from a 14-year-old fan who had been following his journey throughout the season.
'Congrats mate it’s good what you did when I’m old I’m going to carry on your footsteps and I’m going to do it.'
“That’s worth it," said Scott. "It’s worth it for moments like that, it really is.
"I had a 20-year-old Burnley fan who came up to me at half-time at Bournemouth. He said he’d had a bit of a drug problem but I'd inspired him to clean himself up and get out. A young fan came up to me after the Arsenal game who told me he wasn’t going out drinking as much anymore and was focusing on himself more because of how I'd inspired him. I've had numerous messages similar.
“As soon as you put yourself out there and talk about your mental heath problems people begin messaging you. You end up with a closer circle of individuals who are going through similar things and you end up helping each other. That's what it's all about."
It’s hard to know whether the enormity of what Scott has done has sunk in yet.
He said he feels a real sense of pride in the way everything has gone this season but you always get the sense with Scott he doesn't quite know what all the fuss is about.
It is this self-effacing nature combined with his infectious personality that has made him a community champion worth cheering and one the whole town can take pride in celebrating.
At half-time during the Arsenal game he was brought out to a rapturous ovation in front of the Tour Moor faithful. It was a fitting finale; a moment he will never forget and another highlight in a year chock-full of them.
So many in fact, he struggled picking out one particular moment.
"I think the run to Man United really underlined what the whole thing was about because I had a lot of people running with me that day, people achieving their own dreams.
"It was snowing, it was cold, it was the worst weather day we had. It was one of the shorter runs but definitely one of the most meaningful."
Is he going to miss it?
“I’m going to massively miss it. I’ve met so many cool people, I’ve got so many new friends and I’ve strengthened relationships with old friends from doing this. So yeah I’ll miss that. But I’m just looking forward, I don’t want to reminisce and get too emotional or dwell on it. I want to look at what’s next.”
That next right now includes setting up his own RunAway Foundation, enrolling on a sport psychology degree programme and of course, thinking about running to the World Cup in Qatar.
“There are a lot of pieces to that jigsaw. Firstly, England have to qualify. Secondly, the date and the time of the World Cup needs to be secured because we don’t quite know that yet. There’d have to be a risk assessment security wise which probably can’t happen until nearer the time because politics can change. And more than anything I'll need a big sponsor. The BBC had it at 4,350 miles so 30 miles a day would be 145 days maybe. That's the rough ballpark.
"That’s a few grand needed to pay for all that. It is manageable though and it is something I'm definitely looking at.”
Wherever Scott’s path may take him next, this season's journey has undoubtedly earned him a place in Burnley folklore.