Meet Tim Pigott – the newest addition to the Scarpa Trail Run Team. Tim is an Ultra runner, physio and lecturer who this year set a new record on the Spine Challenger.
Read on to hear all about how he recovered from a life changing accident and how the secret to his success is 90s dance music…
Hi Tim, welcome to the Scarpa Team! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do!
I’m a husband, father, physiotherapist, academic, coach and endurance athlete (I wear many hats!). I lecture part time at Salford University as part of the post graduate team for advanced physiotherapy and the trauma and orthopaedics course. The majority of the rest of my work is coaching a range of endurance athletes (Team HP3). As an athlete I’ve competed in a range of sports, from sailing to martial arts, but I’m better known as a triathlete and ultra runner.
A big part of your story is the life changing accident you had in your youth. Can you tell us about what happened to you in the crash and the recovery after?
At the end of my first year of physiotherapy training (August 2000) I was back home with my parents working in a nursing home. Driving to work I was hit head on by another car on the wrong side of the road, it was a straight Roman road, but a blind summit. It took 2 hours to free me from the wreckage, during which time the air ambulance flew blood to the scene to keep me alive.
Initial surgery stabilised me; I had broken my left tibia and fibula (lower leg), right femur (thigh), both pubic rami and right ilium (pelvis into 3 parts), right radius (wrist), right mandible (jaw) and a few ribs, plus de-gloving my right elbow (all flesh torn away). Unfortunately I quickly developed ‘ARDS’ (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) which is where your lungs fill up with fluid, and the swelling in my left leg cut off blood supply to my foot. An emergency fasciotomy to cut open the leg and relieve the pressure saved that one, but the lungs were the worst.
An anxious five days of life support followed but miraculously I pulled round. The odds had not been in my favour, but my survival throughout can only be attributed to the very high level of fitness I had at the time; I was in the T.A. (Army Reserves) and had been due to start Special Forces selection a few weeks later, something I obviously never went on to do.
After two weeks in intensive care I was well enough to undergo more reconstructive surgery on my pelvis, elbow and jaw, then after 7 weeks I was able to be discharged home to the care of my parents (hospital bed installed at home). The head injury/jaw fracture also resulted in damage to my inner ear which has left me with balance problems (BPPV), hearing loss and tinnitus.
I spent six months in a wheelchair, underwent further surgeries on both my legs and slowly learned to walk again. However, due to the nature of the fractures and the challenge to stabilise me in the immediate aftermath, my right leg healed in a short and rotated position (my left leg also but to a lesser degree).
This resulted in me being unable to run or cycle due to severe hip pain. I was told to accept this fate, to give up my physiotherapy degree and find other activities to do instead of running or cycling. But I’m a little stubborn….
I found a surgeon to re-break my leg, stretch and rotate it into a better position then re-fix it. While this did require yet further bone grafting surgery as it didn’t heal again, eventually it did and I was able to cycle and then run. I trained up and ran a half marathon raising money for the air ambulance, then managed to complete the London marathon in 2007 raising money for the intensive care department; on the darkest night I made a promise to the nurse caring for me that if they kept me alive I’d run London to raise money for them, they kept their end of the bargain so I kept mine.
How do your injuries and recovery from the crash affect your running and training now?
I’m in some form of pain all the time. I have poor stability in my left ankle and the tendons tend to rub over the poorly aligned fracture site. I have very little ‘bounce’ in my right leg with very weak hip muscles from where they’ve been cut open so many times, plus I walk/run with a limp. My pelvis has fused itself on one side which gives me some back and pubic pain. Despite getting my right leg lengthened it is still nearly 2cm shorter. My balance is also affected due to the damage to my inner ear. But all of these things are worse if I don’t train.
What advice would you give to people recovering from injuries or overcoming setbacks in their progress?
Dealing with any form of injury or setback in life requires the same general approach.
Data gathering, what happened and why? Assemble a team of experts around you who can support you. I had a range of surgeons, physios (including a neuro physio who saw me in the orthopaedic gym and was convinced I’d had a stroke which led to using electrical muscle stimulation to get my hip muscles working again), massage therapists, nutritionists, and later coaches.
Set goals; short, medium and long term. Keep looking forward. For me the accident happened, but the only question I asked was ‘how do we fix this’.
5 Steps to help your approach to injuries
- It is OK to be angry and upset. Get angry, cry, then get on with the job of returning to full health again.
- Gather as much information as possible. Why did the injury happen? (and how can we stop it happening again)
- Find experts to help you. Work with your team of coaching staff, physios, doctors, nutritionists, dieticians, psychologists, biomechanists, whoever we need to help.
- Goal setting. Review and reset your goals and milestones, both for the recovery and for the macro plan.
- Fill in the space. The time you would normally be training needs to be actively filled. Develop you self identity and social links. Help out with your club / team, use the time on other hobbies, read and learn more about your sport (or other topics).
These things happen
Even with brilliant planning we can still suffer injuries and setbacks. They can often feel catastrophic but they are rarely as serious as we initially fear and can often be a valuable part of the process of growing and improving as an athlete.
Use mastery orientated thinking
By using mastery orientated thinking you can cope better with a setback as can expecting, preparing and planning for setbacks. Focus on the processes needed to learn and improve as an athlete, not simply the outcome goals of a specific race or event.
We can’t always control the situation, but we can control our response to it
There are a large number of factors that will impact how we respond to an injury and these include our belief systems, attitude to change, self-identity, support network, and personality traits. Take proactive action to help you deal with the situation.
While recovering ensure you use of technology is supportive and not an additional stress or pressure, such as social media. Don’t spend hours looking to see what your friends are doing on Strava.
For more on this check out Tim’s page – https://www.hp-3.co.uk/injuries-and-sebacks
You not only won the Spine Challenger this year, but also set a new course record. How was that race for you?
The race was just one of those perfect days where everything went to plan. I had put a lot of time into planning this and knew that given a good day the record was within my abilities. I had recced every inch of the course, the important sections multiple times. I had read numerous guide books and watched countless hours of YouTube videos from walkers and runners on the course.
I’d tested all my kit, eventually finding the perfect shoe in the newly released Golden Gate Kima. I’d tested my nutrition. I’d dialled in my race pace. On the day, conditions were good for me and it all went well. While I took the lead just at Stoodley Pike, Tim Bradley caught me again at the Craven Energy aid station and while I dropped him again I was being chased hard for the rest of the race. Him chasing me helped me push to my limit and achieve my potential, for that I am incredibly grateful to him. Tim’s own time would have broken the old record too, so he needs credit for running a great race himself.
Running long races like the challenger are tough not only physically but also mentally. How do you cope with the dark moments, when your body and mind are telling you to quit?
Don’t judge me…. 90’s dance music!
Amazingly my headphones battery lasted over 12 hours, way beyond what they are supposed to be capable of. I also break the race into chunks, so I’m only ever thinking about the next 5-10-15miles.
For many races you have a checkpoint on a regular basis which makes this easier, but for the Spine races you are more self sufficient. I therefore created mini-checkpoints in my head; start to snake pass, then to Torside Res’, next was Nicky’s food van, then Stoodley pike, CP1, Craven energy aid station, Thornton-in-Craven, Gargrave, Asketh, Malham, Pen-y-Ghent, end of Cam high road, and finally the finish.
At each of these points I had a ‘change’ of nutrition package, something different to look forward to. Thankfully in this race I never had any ‘dark’ moments. I have had in the past though, and from experience these moments are usually related to low blood sugar. I’m a firm believer that if you get your nutrition right for an ultra then everything else will fall into place.
As a coach and an accomplished trail runner, what do you look for in a pair of trail shoes? Is there anything in the Scarpa range which stands out to you?
Everyone is an individual, and what might work for one does not necessarily work for another person. Therefore you have to go and try on shoes and find the ones that are most comfortable for you. I’ve got a great local shop (Castleberg Outdoors) who stock Scarpa and they managed to order a pair of the Golden Gate Kima’s in for me to try and I was immediately sold. They just felt like slippers they were so comfortable! So support your local shop and go and try shoes on.
My advice is understand your foot shape and preference for style of shoe.
Do you like very cushioned shoes or more minimalist? Do you like to have ground feel, or more protection? Do you need a wide toe box or a more snug precision fit? What surfaces are you running on? (Let’s be honest, we need many many shoes for all the different types of surface we run on).
Personally I need a fair bit of cushioning, a bit of a rocker, a wide toe box, around 4mm of heel-toe drop, and sufficient grip for the ground I’m on. With the Pennine way being a mix of hard trail, paving slabs, road, open fell, peat bog, and fields the grip on the ‘Kimas’ was perfect.
I’ve got a pair of the standard Golden Gate which is marketed more at the beginner trail runner, but I find is great for the road to hard packed trail / canal towpath I often use for easy runs. The Spin infinity is a superb training shoe for me, with the higher level of cushioning and solid grip for long days in the mountains.
You’ve already accomplished a lot in your running career, what are your goals for the future? Do you have any races or challenges you would like to complete?
I’m working on a project to run the GR221 in Mallorca then after than planning to run the Haute route over 5 days with a group from my Team. The Haute route is one of the classic Alpine hiking routes from Zermatt to Chamonix which people normally do over 10-14 days. Racing wise I’m running Lakes in a Day in October, longer term the goal is UTMB.
As a running coach, what would be your advice for runners aspiring to run ultra-races?
You are capable of more than you realise, dream big!
Find a mentor you trust, this doesn’t necessarily need to be a coach but talk to people who have learned along the way and can impart their wisdom. I did a series of vlogs for Wild Ginger Runner on running your first ultra which help answer a lot of the key questions.
The first advice is to find a race which will challenge you, but is achievable with the right training. Build up gradually with trail marathons, then 50k, 100k and then beyond.
You’ll learn lessons along the way and enjoy the journey more than if you jump straight into a 100 miler. Planning is key to your success; research the terrain, environment, aid station support, kit requirements and use this to help identify what you need to achieve in training.
Whatever the distance is, an ultramarathon is a long way! Sounds obvious, but this gives it a unique character (which is quite nice really!) in that you are not expected to run all of it (unlike perhaps a road marathon). Even the fastest runners will be walking.
For example at the 100km Race to the Stones which is pretty flat and very runnable the whole way, I purposefully walked every incline and still won the race. So once you realise that you will be walking a fair percentage of the event, you will realise that walking needs to become a key part of your training. Make your walking purposeful and you can make your slowest speed more efficient and thus faster. I have trained to be able to walk up hill faster and with less effort than many people will run up hill! Therefore build more walking into your everyday life, walk to work, the shops, get a dog! go hiking at the weekend, it all helps.
Where is your favourite place to run?
The Alps are a magical place for me, especially the Mecca that is the Chamonix valley. Locally I have a few loops on the Yorkshire moors which always make me smile no matter the weather.
I grew up on the Ridgeway in Wiltshire and whenever back home I like to run along Britain’s oldest path, visiting some of the iron age forts and Neolithic burial mounds. The Ridgeway is also special as that’s where I won my first big race – Race to the Stones 100k.
Finally, who or what inspires you? Especially in the moments when motivation is lacking?
Anyone who is out there pushing themselves to learn and grow. I’m inspired by many of the athletes I coach who maybe training for their first ever race, through to the elites I’ve played a small part in supporting their journey to the Olympic Games.
One of the key values of my coaching team is we’ve got to be having fun on this journey, so as inspiration I’d say an athlete such as Courtney Dauwalter would embody that.