Justin Montague Mount to Coast running

Mind, Body, Spirit: Justin Montague, the Ultrarunning Vicar

The champion's journey in faith and endurance.

There’s an ancient Greek ideal, often encapsulated in the term Kalos Kagathos, that translates to "beautiful and good." It’s a concept that emphasizes the quest to become well-rounded in various aspects of life, being intellectually curious, physically fit and morally good: mind, body, spirit.

It’s no coincidence that the culture that gave us Pheidippides and the concept of the marathon, that celebrated Olympians as role models and made heroes of philosophers such as Socrates for their relentless pursuit of truth should hold such values, but it’s an ideal that is difficult to live by in the modern world. We live in an era where we’re encouraged to specialize, to commit and pursue our goals without succumbing to distractions. And yet, we mostly know deep down that the development of mind, body and spirit in unison would bring us more joy and make us better friends, partners and community members…

Justin Montague Mount to Coast running

On the south coast of England, a man who lives the ideal of well-roundedness and personal excellence is Justin Montague. Montague is 43, a record-breaking ultrarunner, a full-time vicar in the Church of England and a former Marine, who, between 2005 and 2016 served with the British Army in Afghanistan.

“I was a passionate, sports-mad child,” he says. Growing up on an estate in Swindon, 2 hours west of London, he played soccer and ran with a local running club. “Every sport the school had, me and my twin brother played – basketball, hockey, whatever was going, we put our hands to it.”

His love of sport influenced his education, and unlike many young people who go into the armed forces, Montague studied for a degree in Sport and Exercise Science in Wales before joining the Marines aged 24.

Justin Montague Mount to Coast running

Having grown up in Swindon, the military were never far away, with the huge ranges of Salisbury Plain close by and RAF bases in Gloucestershire to the north. “The military always fascinated me because I really desired a vocation and that kind of physical life really appealed to me,” says Montague. “I joined the Marines in 2005 and I had some life experience behind me. I was more mature in some senses.”

Not only was he mentally ready to commit to life in the Army, he was also physically fit and ready to take on the longest basic training of any military group in the world. “I wanted to push myself to be my best,” he says. “Straight away, day one, you’re hit with this culture shock. It’s very team-focused, all-in with high standards. As a 24-year-old I was able to adapt very quickly, but it’s a great spread of people going in, anything from 16-year-olds coming straight from school to 30-year-olds. There were 60 of us that started and 13 passed out (completed).”

The fitness requirements for the Marines are the highest in the British military but hinting at his future potential in ultrarunning, Montague found his true strength lied in his ability to keep going: “Most people can attune themselves to getting the standards to go in and start week one,” he says, “but it’s being able to do those things when you’re cold, wet hungry and tired that’s key.”

Through his time in the army, Montague continued to train and began to run longer events, representing the Marines and Navy. “I used to love my long runs,” he says. “Distance was a growing passion.” After running 2:45 for the marathon representing a Navy team, he moved up to a 40-mile ultra in 2011. “From there I was just pushing the boundaries each time.”

Justin Montague Mount to Coast running

In the spring of 2024 Justin took part in the Ultra Running Limited JOGLE, from John O'Groats at the northernmost point of mainland Scotland, to Land's End, the southernmost tip of England. A 17-day stage race, he broke the record for every individual stage and broke the overall record by 40 hours. What’s more, he ran all 854 miles in one pair of Mount to Coast R1s. “I’m quite fussy about shoes because of a historic injury,” he says, “so trying a new pair of shoes was a big thing. But I tried them and my foot was good in them, so I wore them from minute one, mile one, all the way to the final mile coming into Land's End. It was a great ride, and I was really surprised by my recovery: I got the usual muscle soreness from pounding 50+ miles of concrete each day, but by the end, I felt surprisingly good!”

When he’s not running, Montague’s post-military career is as a vicar in the Church of England. “Internationally, most people would term my job as a pastor, or a minister, or even a priest. I provide spiritual care and so much more across two communities in East Devon, so obvious stuff like leading service on a Sunday and conducting weddings and funerals, but it’s not just for people within the church, but for every single person in the parish. For instance, most youth groups and food banks in the UK are run by churches.”

Montague had always had Christian faith, but it was in the military that that faith really cemented itself. “My faith was really nurtured and supported by the chaplains in the Marines, and in the churches I visited on Civvy Street as well,” he explains.

Many people find spiritual significance in the discipline of running and Montague is the same. “Being outdoors and seeing the natural beauty of the world, really draws me closer to the divine,” he says. “I know that prayer or appreciation while I’m running feeds my soul – that silence and solitude, that’s when you are attuned with it. I know when I did the JOGLE, how much lighter my soul was when I’d finished, despite the physical output. It was remarkable.”


Words by Andy Waterman


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