SCOTLAND, says Jim Mee, is the best place in the world for adventure races. You would expect him to be keen on the country: his business started here, with a groundbreaking event in Edinburgh, the Rat Race, in 2004. Participants abseiled, ran, cycled and canoed around the city, turning it into an urban adventure playground.

Since then his life has been centred on adventure events such as the Mighty Deerstalker – 16km of hills, scree, bogs and river crossings in the Borders – and the Coast to Coast, a run, cycle and paddle across 105 miles of rugged Highland terrain from Nairn to Glencoe.

The Scottish-registered company, which started life as Detail Events, is now called simply Rat Race, and runs half of all its events north of the Border. Mee is managing director.

It’s Britain’s biggest adventure events firm and has a reputation for providing the kind of tests Mee, now 41, describes as tough-but-doable. They’re not what he calls a “sufferfest”, despite tongue-in-cheek marketing hype, but they will test the “punter” – ordinary sporty enthusiasts, a group he says includes him.

He should, though, be able to speak about Scotland’s value for adventure sports from an objective, academic perspective too: he is halfway through a PhD in the subject, comparing this country with Outer Mongolia as a venue for the type of organised adventures he sells.

Ask him why he’s made a move into academia and he first sounds a little unsure, but it provides the key to Mee: he likes to push himself into areas which are not comfortable, just like those taking part in his events.

Brought up in an air force family, he was born in Malta and sent to boarding school alongside other military “brats” in York, where he now lives with his wife Dannii – who also works in the business – and two young children.

University followed, and from his own account he was heading comfortably into pilot training and a career in the RAF, like his father and later his younger sister.

He was an enthusiastic member of the university air squadron but ironically, that was what diverted him from an RAF career.

Already a hillwalker who enjoyed outdoor pursuits, including sailing with his dad, the squadron gave him repeated tastes of adventure travel and reinforced the idea that excitement was there for the taking.

A group cycle ride across the US brought the revelation that it was adventures he loved, rather than military life. He describes acres of maps pinned on a hangar wall to gaze at as they pondered the route: “The planning was as exciting as the actual doing,” he says. “Then having done the trip was massively rewarding.”

So after he graduated he went to work for Red Bull, then trying to establish itself as a youthful, fun brand. His role in marketing in Scotland for four years consisted almost exclusively of organising events: competitions, all-night raves and publicity stunts.

Mee describes it as a young graduate’s dream, with a credit card, a car and a carte blanche. It included an illegal base-jump by two parachutists off the Forth Bridge. No-one was hurt, and to the relief of Mee (and no doubt the company) no-one was arrested.

Living in Glasgow, his love of mountaineering grew, and he next spent a year as a “mountain bum” in places such as Chamonix and Alaska and Peru, until he decided running a business would be the ideal way to fuel his lifestyle.

“In my impressionable and naive youth I figured that if I could start a business I would have loads of money and could go on all these climbing adventures and someone else would run the business for me.” He says. “That was my vision. I thought: How hard can it be?”

He sketched out a concept for an original event, based on what he had done at Red Bull, taking adventures sports onto the streets of a city. The first Edinburgh Rat Race was in 2004, and stages included mountain biking down the steep steps of the wynds off the Royal Mile.

Sponsorship by Volvo and a Channel 4 tie-up gave it a high profile, and the event expanded the next year to Manchester, then Bristol, London, Australia and South America. It continued until 2012 when he and his growing team decided the idea of multi-discipline city adventure had run its course.

His events had already started to head back into their natural environment, the great outdoors. Scotland proved the best possible place, with the Deerstalker, at Innerleithen near Peebles, starting in 2006. It still runs each March.

Other Rat Race events now include the Ultra tour of Arran, a 100km weekend running event, and the Ultra Tour of Edinburgh, a 50km run starting on the Royal Mile with a Braveheart charge down to Holyrood, taking in the Pentlands and city sights via the its green spaces.

Two more events are in the pipeline in the Outer Hebrides, one a multi-sport idea and the other a rugged run. The Rat Race Coast to Coast in the Highlands is now the biggest multi-sport adventure event in the world, with 1500 people taking part each year.

“We’ve always done a lot of activity in Scotland,” says Mee. “One of the main reasons for that is the geography. If you’re an outdoor and adventure sports company in the UK you’re going to head for the pointy, jagged fringes, and it happens that Scotland has the most jagged and pointy bits: that’s where we feel most at home and do a lot of our activity.”

The country combines wild spaces with good access; there are supportive government agencies and infrastructure; and the commercial climate is attuned to his business’s needs. It all helps.

Like many tourist operators, he’s proud of the economic benefits his company brings to the areas where it operates: “The Coast to Coast introduces a hell of a lot of people to Scotland,” he says.

“Our bread-and-butter participant is typically someone from the south-east of England, and many of them have not visited Scotland before or have only been once or twice. They get an amazing introduction to the Highlands, through classic sites and an event that’s tough but doable.”

But he’s also interested in the difference such events make to people and the environment, and that’s the theme of his bid for a doctorate, through the Leeds Beckett University.

The connection to Mongolia comes through his search for ever more challenging and exotic events. He took on the distinctly uncomfortable task of skating the entire 100-mile length of the Khövsgöl Nuur lake in Outer Mongolia to see if it would be possible to race there.

Temperatures were down as low as minus 47 degC, and the test group – some on bikes, some running, and Jim skating – had to have an armed guard to protect them from wolves.

Now the journey forms part of his firm’s new Bucket List challenge, which takes in an eight-day crossing of the Panama isthmus through dense jungle, and a trek through the biggest sand dunes in the world in the Namibian desert. The idea is to be “epic but achievable”, and as with all Rat Race events, there’s an infrastructure to make it safe.

It’s the difference between this kind of events and what might be termed cruise-liner tourism that provides the meat to his effort to become a Doctor of Adventure.

“There’s a lot been written about tourism impacts – economic impacts and so on, but for me when you go to these places for an adventure there’s a lot more going on.

“When you go to a place like Mongolia to do something like the skating trip you are fusing two entirely different cultures, and therefore the social impacts and the environmental impacts are the interesting things that I’m looking at.

“It’s a comparison between a very new event in Mongolia and a fairly established regimen in Scotland, and it’s about engaging with the place on a deeper level than just being a tourist.

“The memories and experiences you take back from such adventures really are quite different to more conventional tourism.

“The type of thing we are doing in Mongolia really is a team affair, so while it’s an event and people go with individual expectations, they return having made international friendships and there are some very unexpected consequences. There really are some life-changing experiences.”

As well as providing the Mongolians with work though the normally idle winter months, Mee is observing other consequences: “There are getting to laugh and joke with people across a language barrier, with people they would never have otherwise met, different cultures coming together, and it shows the best of humanity.

“The visitors are very much not in a bubble and the most interesting thing is how people engage with each other.”

His university years first time around were, he admits, not strong on academic endeavour and he came out with a 2:2, “a solid drinkers’ degree”, as he calls it.

“I did law but I didn’t really engage with it,” he says. “I had a good time and they were formative years but in terms of what I was studying I could have taken it or left it. I was a bit of a dosser – I loved the experience of university, it did a lot for me, but the subject didn’t.”

So why then, as a successful entrepreneur who’s doing something he loves, in a field which is all about hands-on experiences, and with no great track-record as an academic, would you take on something as cerebral as a PhD?

There’s a moment’s pause, as if he’s just thinking about it for the first time. Then he says: “Perhaps I don’t have the answer yet – but I think it’s something more tangible.

“We give people fantastic experiences, but an event is a snapshot in time. Once an event is gone it’s gone, whereas something like this is more permanent. It’s a mark in the sand that says I have used what I have learned to actually physically write something about this industry.

“I’m not used to that level of permanence in my work and it’s quite cathartic to be writing and reading about this.

“There’re still a few dog-ate-my-homework excuses that I can wheel out from 20 years ago but the studying is one of those things, it definitely takes me out of my comfort zone.”


What is your best character trait?


And your worst?


What is the best advice you ever received?

Remember you will always regret the things in life you didn’t do rather than those you did.

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

Alaska for adventure; Cornwall for family time

What is your favourite cuisine?

Thai food. And anything with bacon in it.

What is the last book you read, and the last film you watched?

Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (on a plane)

Who is/are your favourite musician(s) ?

Elton john, Guns N’ Roses

Who, dead or alive, would be your ideal dinner-party guests?

Shackleton, Elizabeth Banks, Eddy Izzard