24 Park Runs in 24 Hours

25 May 2017

Local man Alan Ladd from Mallusk has set himself one heck of a challenge in memory of his mother who died from cancer aged 59 in August 2014. On Saturday 24th June, Alan, his brother Jonny and a team of 7 of his running clubmates from Mallusk Harriers will tackle all 24 of Northern Ireland’s 5k parkrun routes in 24 hours. Starting at Derry City at 9.30am, the team will work their way North, East, South and West of the country, all being well, concluding by 9.30am on Sunday 25th June at Lakeland Forum, Enniskillen.  You can support Alan in his quest of raising £10,000 through this challenge by sponsoring him at www.24in24.run.

Alan’s mother Catherine was a keen runner, taking on 5 marathons, with a personal best of 4.18. In 2001, Catherine completed her first marathon in Paris and, in 2007, she completed her final marathon in Perpignan. It was the combination of his mum’s love of running and Eddie Izzard’s 27 marathons in 27 days that inspired Alan to do something so adventurous.

“My mum loved a challenge; 9 months into her second stint of cancer treatment, my brother Jonny ran 100k for charity. My mum completed 15k alongside him. She was first diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in 2011. Following treatment, we believed the cancer had gone. Unfortunately, in February 2013, I received a heart-breaking call explaining that the cancer had returned and it was incurable. I suppose I was in a state of disbelief; she’d been through it all already, and now it was back and there was nothing we could do. My mum never let the cancer break her determined spirit; she remained upbeat and positive right to the very end. She is my inspiration.”

Alan, originally from Leeds, West Yorkshire, moved to Northern Ireland aged 19 to begin his studies in Music Technology at Queen’s University Belfast. In 2003 Alan completed his first marathon alongside his mum. 

“My mum had been talking about coming to Belfast to visit me at uni. Having got a taste for marathons in Paris she was keen to try Belfast Marathon. I didn’t really have any interest in running before then. I grew up with my mum running in her local running club, Abbey Runners, a few times a week. When she said she wanted to take on the Belfast Marathon, it took a lot of persuasion for me to sign up. Looking back now, it is something I am so glad that I did with her. My mum loved the Belfast Marathon; she came back in 2005 and completed it for a second time.”

Alan is a keen member of the Mallusk Harriers running club and has run several marathons; his most recent achievement was completing his first ultra marathon in the Connemarathon, during April of this year. “Running is my release; it helps my overall wellbeing. Looking back, through the diagnoses, treatment and ultimately my mum’s passing and its aftermath, I’d say my mental health probably was slightly affected. It’s always there somewhere in my thoughts but running helps to clear my mind. I’ll always be grateful that my mum introduced me to running, because it has helped me come to terms with losing her.”

Parkrun is a weekly 5k timed run and has become a phenomenon that encourages runners of all abilities to get out and improve their fitness and wellbeing. It arrived in Northern Ireland in 2010 under the guidance of veteran runner Matt Shields. The original event at Waterworks Belfast became so popular that it quickly spread. Being a weekly event, it would take 6 months to complete all of them, however Alan and his clubmates intend to achieve this in just 24 hours.

Matt Shields, parkrun ambassador for Ireland said; “Parkrun continues to flourish on an global scale. In Northern Ireland we now have 24 runs taking place every Saturday morning.  Alan and his team have undertaken a mammoth challenge in trying to run them all in 24 hours. On behalf of the parkrun teams in Northern Ireland we wish them all well as they tour our beautiful courses raising money for charity.”

Alan explains the personal significance of parkrun; “My mum had done several parkruns in Leeds where her PB was 24 minutes, when she alerted me to the inaugural Northern Ireland parkrun at Waterworks Belfast, which I completed with my wife Louise. Parkrun has been very important to me; it is such an accessible way for anyone to start running or to restart after a period out. It's also a great way to start the weekend. Logistically, doing 24 parkruns in 24 hours is a major undertaking. Travel, catering, weather, terrain, lighting and access are just some of the problems that we will encounter.  We will be helped by parkrun supporters at each of the venues who will be invaluable as local guides as well as friends from Mallusk Harriers and family.”

Alex Davidson, a member of Mallusk Harriers, explains the enormity of the task ahead; “The challenge that Alan and his fellow runners from the club have undertaken is immense. They will run the equivalent of 3 marathons in one day, challenging their minds and bodies like never before. It is a massive undertaking. They will travel from one end of Northern Ireland to the other and encompass every parkrun course in between. The start-stop nature of the running will pose the guys a massive challenge, making it much harder than a straight 80 mile run.

Although the concept is slightly mad, Alan’s clubmates were only too glad to support him with the idea. The guys have trained hard, are determined and remain focussed on raising money for Action Cancer. We would like the local community to get behind the event and show the runners their support by sponsoring them for Action Cancer.”

Action Cancer is the only charity in the UK and Ireland to offer free breast screening to asymptomatic women aged 40 – 49 and over 70, those who fall outside the NHS screening age range (50 – 70). The free screening is on offer at Action Cancer House in Belfast and on board the charity’s Big Bus.  “I wonder, if my mum had detected her cancer at an earlier stage, would this have made a difference to her cancer journey? This is why I am doing this challenge in aid of Action Cancer: to raise money to provide more women in the age category with a free breast screening.” Action Cancer’s big bus has visited the Antrim and Newtownabbey are 13 times between April 2016 and March 2017, providing up to 312 breast screenings for local women and 169 health checks.

“I know completing 24 parkruns in 24 hours will be hard, and some say, impossible. It’s the people who are telling me it can’t be done that are spurring me on the most. I want to use this as an inspiration for those going through their own challenge, to show that the ‘impossible’ can be achieved.”

Show your support for Alan and the rest of the team when he takes on the Valley Park, park run between 16:50 17:21 on 24th June 2017.