Recent victor of the ‘UK’s most brutal running race’, Jack Scott credits the sport with helping him overcome a six-year gambling addiction
Battered feet pounding the sandstone ridges of the Brecon Beacons, Jack Scott was running not for his life, but from it. From the lies, from the betrayal, from the hiding in the loo at 2am as he blew another pay packet betting on football, horses, greyhounds – anything.
Back then, six years ago, running was both self-punishment and a mask for Scott’s all-consuming gambling addiction.
It had taken hold in his late teens during rowdy weekends bouncing between the pubs of his hometown – Stone, in Staffordshire – and the terraces of nearby Stoke City FC. By his early 20s he was uncontrollably hooked, and any effort to self-exclude from local betting shops had been rendered futile by his discovery of round-the-clock online gambling.
“That’s when I really started hurting myself,” he recalls, grimly. “It wasn’t even about the money: it was the sorrow, and the anguish I was putting myself through.”
Gambling almost his entire weekly wage within hours of getting paid, Scott would limp along until the next payday rolled around, and promptly do it all again. “I was just demolishing my future – it was a fucking whirlwind,” he says. “I couldn’t see past 50 years old, I thought I’d be in prison or dead.”
As a once-promising centre-midfielder, Scott’s frantic pace on the football pitch had earned him the nickname Duracell Bunny’ and at 23 years old, on a whim, he turned that energy to racing a half marathon, finishing in an impressive 90 minutes.
Within months he was progressing through marathons to 50 and 100-mile ultras, but any sense of success was always overshadowed by the crushing reality of his addiction.
Even buying a house with-long term partner, Jess – now his wife – failed to curb his compulsion. “I’d told myself as soon as we got our own four walls and a roof I wasn’t going to gamble. This was my chance,” he says. “But I couldn’t do it. I probably lasted three weeks.”
Scott’s Road to Damascus moment came almost five years ago on the 180-mile Offa’s Dyke Path, the long-distance trail along the Welsh-English border, when he won and broke the record for the King Offa’s Dyke Race.
It’s a life-changing app. I’d absolutely recommend it. It cut the head off the snake
“I realised I’d got a chance, that I did want to change,” he says. “And whenever there’s a chance, just like with gambling, you fucking take it.”
12 weeks later, in December 2019, Scott registered with Gamstop, the free self-exclusion service, which bars members from online gambling sites. “It’s a life-changing app. I’d absolutely recommend it,” he says. “It cut the head off the snake.”
Since then, Scott, who is now 29, has landed a sponsorship deal with British all-terrain sports brand Inov-8, and has worked closely with a psychologist to turn the dark force he once fed with betting slips into a running super fuel.
“I’ve a black spot in me, an area of the brain or the soul, which is ruthless, selfish, unrealistic, and dangerous,” he says. “All I’ve done is taken that out of the bookmakers’ hands, nourished it, got fitter and released it in running.”
That black spot was pressed into service last month when Scott obliterated by an incredible 10 hours a record many in the endurance-running world thought unbeatable, finishing the 268-mile Montane Winter Spine in a history-making 72 hours and 55 minutes.
Running the Pennine Way from Derbyshire to the Scottish borders in brutal winter conditions, Scott slept for a total of 54 minutes over the three days, surviving on power naps. At times, hallucinating through sleep-deprivation, he convinced himself his closest rival was breathing down his neck, despite having opened a 17-mile gap between them.
I’ve a black spot in me. All I’ve done is taken that out of the bookmakers’ hands, nourished it, and released it in running
“I can’t be harmed by anything that running can throw at me,” he says. “The places I’ve been and the things I’ve done, the mental turmoil and psychological warfare I’ve been through – all for no outcome – running can’t put me anywhere near that.”
To anyone else struggling to break free of an addiction, Scott recommends they close in their social circle, and rely on the people closest to them. That might mean, as in Scott’s case, leaving harmful friendships behind. “Be kind to yourself, and don’t be afraid to fail,” he says. “I went on Gamstop maybe 10 times before I clicked the button – and that was that.”
And while his Spine race has secured him a place in the endurance running hall of fame, he insists he’s still just plain old Jack Scott from Stone. “I never used to be the person you could trust,” he says. “I never used to be the person who was a shining light. I never used to be the one who you could rely on.
“Now, I’m all that and more to people – and that’s the most important thing in my life right now.”
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