Leeds running mates take on seven marathons in seven days

Neil Jones, left, and Chris Lawrence, of BUPA, who are going to run seven marathons in seven days.
Neil Jones, left, and Chris Lawrence, of BUPA, who are going to run seven marathons in seven days.
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Running the equivalent of seven marathons in seven days from Leeds to London would be enough for most people.

And while Neil Jones admits it was one of the hardest things he has ever done, the champion fund-raiser and his running partner Chris Lawrence are back.

It is three years since the pair undertook the marathon effort which raised more than £44,000 for Cancer Research UK.

“It was horrendous,” admit Neil. “By day three you have blisters on blisters and by the end I had pretty lost all the skin on the bottom of my feet. But the feeling you get when reach the end and all the enormous support we received means you soon forget all that.”

Neil, 44, was greeted in London by his mum Carol one of the inspirations for the challenge as she was being treated for breast cancer at the time. Sadly in May last year after a four year fight Carol died aged 67.

“Initially mum was given 12 months to live but thanks to advances in treatment we had her for four years and that wouldn’t have happened without charities like Cancer Research UK.”

It spurred Neil, Chris and colleagues at Bupa Property in Leeds to come up with another plan to raise more funds for CRUK.

“There were quite a lot of people last time who wanted to take part but didn’t feel up to running but said they would have cycled it. I then got the idea of kayaking part of the journey along the Grand Union Canal and so Rock (Run, Cycle, Kayak) 2London was born.

“We looked into it and couldn’t see that anyone had ever successfully kayaked the Grand Union Canal before.”

The 220 mile challenge will start in Leeds on Friday when Neil and Chris will run the 107 miles to Birmingham which will involve running around 35 miles a day including crossing the Pennines.

Meanwhile a team of 25 cyclists will set off from Leeds to cross the Pennines to Salford Keys before cycling back the next day to meet the runners before cycling to London.

Chris, Neil and a team of eight will get in to two man 18ft kayaks and spend the next four days paddling along the country’s longest canal.

It will involve negotiating more than 160 locks as they travel the 137 miles to Brentford before running the remaining 16k across London reaching the finish line at Bupa Property’s corporate head office on Friday.

“It will be very physically demanding,” says Neil.

“The kayaks are very light an we aren’t allowed to go through the locks to every time we get to one we have to get out of them and then lift them the metre or so out of the canal, walk round and then drop it back into the water before getting in again.”

The team plan to spend between ten and 12 hours a day in the kayaks and they have spent the last year training on the canal around Ripon.

But just weeks ago Neil feared he may not be able to take part in the challenge that is so close to his heard.

At the end of April he was rushed into hospital for an emergency operation.

“I’d had my appendix out when I was 16 then 10 weeks ago I went to work in the morning and didn’t feel too good and ended up in ambulance being taken to hospital.”

It turned out that the scar tissue from Neil’s appendix operation had grown round his lower bowel and caused his stomach to go into shock and twist.

“They had to take out my lower bowel, unravel it like a hose to resection it and then put it back in,” explains Neil.

“I had 65 internal stitches and it has left me with a nice scar. The doctors said I wouldn’t be able to do exercise for ten week and we were all very concerned that I might have to pull out, but I was actually back training within three weeks.”

Over the last year around 100 people have joined the challenge in one way or another.

Some will just do the initial run, some are cycling the entire route and others will just join the final 16k in London.

“People’s support has been amazing,” says Neil.

“We have already raised £30,000 of our target which is incredible.”

Neil knows the week-long challenge will be emotional as was as physically exhausting but he has the inspiration to continue.

“All of us have been touched by cancer one way or another. I have lost a number of my family to the disease including my step mum at 60, my mum at 67 and my uncle at 59,” says Neil.

“My mum underwent more than 50 sessions of chemotherapy and had muscle taken from her back which needed 160 stitches and yet she was still holding charity barbecues just months before she died. So whatever we are going to experience is nothing to what these brave people under going cancer treatment are experiencing.

“When I start to struggle I will just think of mum and the other people battling cancer.”

For more information on the Rock2London challenge visit www.cancerresearchukcentre.leeds.ac.uk/rock2london