Going the extra mile

Gazette Editor David Helliwell joins Andy Jackson for the Blackpool stage of his 1000 mile run. Both are raising money for the  Children with Leukaemia charity.
Gazette Editor David Helliwell joins Andy Jackson for the Blackpool stage of his 1000 mile run. Both are raising money for the Children with Leukaemia charity.

IT’S always a bit tricky trying to set up a meeting in a crowded public place with someone you’ve never met before.

But on this occasion there was no need to carry a copy of The Gazette under one arm or add a pink carnation to my attire.

I’d got a pretty good idea who I’d be looking for as I’d followed Andy Jackson’s progress, as he runs in full fancy dress costume from John O’Groats to Land’s End via London to raise money for charity.

“I’ll be wearing my CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA running vest and I might be a bit sweaty as I’m coming in on a training run,” I explained to Alan, Andy’s dad and part of his back up team.

“Yeah, well I don’t think you’ll have much trouble spotting us either,” he said.

Sure enough, among the hordes heading into Blackpool Pleasure Beach on a bright Saturday morning, there was definitely only one dressed in a full size Mr Happy costume. Among the many colourful sights normally found in this corner of Blackpool, Andy still managed to stand out.

But standing out is what he needs to do as he undertakes his, more than, marathon effort to complete 1,061 miles in nine weeks.

Andy was just 19 when he ran his first London marathon, seven months after being diagnosed with leukaemia and two weeks before he underwent a life-saving bone marrow transplant.

His bravery and determination to show that cancer treatments weren’t to be feared was filmed for a BBC documentary, and this year he decided he wanted to do something that would really get him noticed. Hence the seven kilo, metre-wide Mr Happy suit.

After a day off, sampling the delights of Blackpool, it was back to his 22-miles a day slog. Today he’ll head out of Preston and on to Bolton.

When we met up he’d already covered more than 400 miles and was on his way to a staggering £30,000 in his attempt to raise £250,000 for the charity.

Andy said: “The support from people has been fantastic and there’s no way you could attempt something like this without that backing.

“There are highs and lows but I’ve had a tremendous buzz out of this. When I get low I think about the donations and that will hopefully keep spurring me on.”

As if the north to south challenge wasn’t enough, Andy also hopes to break four hours for the London course and set a fastest time record for a runner in character costume.

That’s about the time I’m hoping – minus comedy costume – to plod round in.

A vision pops into my head of a personal battle royal down to the finish on The Mall, but then decide being pipped on the line by someone who’s been on the road for the best part of two months while wearing fancy dress is not one that’ll sit well with my athletic ego. (Plus, the kids can be tough at times, seeing their dad lagging behind a cartoon character may extinguish any last shreds of credibility.)

The London Marathon has raised more than £450m for charity since 1981, and holds the Guinness world record as the largest annual fund raising event in the world, with the 2009 participants raising more than £47m for charity.

Around three quarters of all runners raise money, many for charities that hold deeply personal ties. Others, myself included, wanting to test themselves and do their bit hook up with national charities that have reserved places each year.

The event is synonymous with the extrovert, fancy dress fund-raiser. None more so than former Blackpool goalkeeper Lloyd Scott who, among his many charitable achievements, completed the 2002 marathon wearing a deep sea diving suit that weighed a total of 110lb and each shoe 11kg.

London is a major opportunity for charities to raise awareness of their aims and, crucially, the money to fund them.

In 2006, Olympic hero Sir Steve Redgrave set a new record for money raised through a marathon by collecting £1.8m in sponsorship.

Mr Happy is part of the Mr Men and Little Miss team used by national charity CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA to give a fun face to the serious business of raising cash.

Only a few decades back, a diagnosis of leukaemia was a virtual death sentence for a child. Now four out of five children affected survive but the intense treatments can cause their own problems. Thanks to public support, work continues towards the development of more effective, less punishing treatments that will ultimately help more children survive.

There are so many worthy causes it can be hard to narrow down your choice – but just knowing your efforts will, in some small way, help those who need it is a pretty strong motivational tool. And believe me, when it’s pitch black with a withering gale blowing off the Irish Sea you need something to get you out of bed for a training run.

And after all those weeks of running, eating the right diet and foregoing a night down the pub, you come to the big day itself.

According to Andy there is nothing like the support that runners of all talents, shapes, ages, times and fund-raising allegiances get from those lining the route from Greenwich.

“The crowd definitely spur you. There’s just so many people all along the route and everyone wants you to do well.”

To follow Andy’s progress and to support David’s fund-raising efforts click on the links at the top right of the page.

Text to give: Text HAPPY to 70003. Texts costs £3 plus standard network charge with at least £2.67 going to charity.