The Fundraiser: Mark Allison
A feat of superhuman endurance raised huge sums for charity.
After a final check of his watch, Mark Allison turned his back to the Pacific Ocean on California’s Huntington Beach and headed east. What lay ahead of him in May last year puts long runs into perspective: 3,100 miles across the US in 100 days.
“As I stood at the start, at over 18st, I probably looked more like an overweight Geordie who loves his pies than a runner,” says Mark, 40, from Shotley Bridge, County Durham.
What brought Mark to the start line was personal heartbreak. He lost both parents to cancer and his brother David to a brain haemorrhage all in the space of 10 years. The care his mum received at St Benedict’s Hospice in Sunderland set him on a mission to repay a debt of gratitude. So he began to run.
After finishing the Great North Run several times, he moved on to full marathons to fundraise. Then, 10 years ago, he realised that if he wanted to raise bigger sums, he’d need to raise the stakes.
He completed the 134-mile Coast-to-Coast route across northern England three times before running the 874 miles from John O’Groats to Land’s End five years ago. But that still wasn’t enough. Before he’d even reached the Cornish coastline, he’d come up with the idea of running across the States.
With the backing of his wife Katy and son Jack, he began a gruelling 110-mile-a-week training schedule. He got sponsors on board and gained a huge following on social network sites. His ‘Run Geordie Run’ self-branding raised his profile further. As well as fundraising for St Benedict’s, he was also supporting The Children’s Foundation charity in the north-east of England.
On day two, as the Californian coast slipped behind him, the size of the task hit him. “I began to think of all the miles I still had to go,” says Mark. “But that feeling disappeared and I broke the distances down into the chunks I needed to do each day.”
He slipped into a routine. After a bowl of porridge, he’d be running by 7am. Friends came out to support for a week or two, driving the back-up vehicle. Running mostly on the hard shoulder of freeways, Mark would clock 20 miles before lunch. After pasta, energy bars and a snooze, he’d be pounding the freeway again by the afternoon. This pattern took him across 14 states, through the intense heat of the Mojave Desert and the steep climbs of the Rockies.
On day 51, in Kansas, a heatwave hit, beating down on him for the entire second half of the challenge. Some days, he was running in 46C. “I didn’t need to remind myself why I was running. If my efforts could make a small difference to someone’s life, that was all the motivation I needed.”
When he finally reached the finish at Coney Island, he was five stone lighter, nine pairs of running shoes down, and his feet needed three months of professional TLC. He’d also raised £105k. “It was a total relief,” he says. “And I was very emotional when I spoke to my wife live on radio.”
But that’s not the end for Mark. In October next year he’ll set out to cross Australia – 2,600 miles from Perth to Sydney in 70 days.
“I learned a lot about myself while crossing America. I realised I can run long distances and recover enough to do it again the next day, and the day after that,” he says, with the understatement of a man whose actions take care of the superlatives.
To support, sponsor or find out more about Mark, visit rungeordierun.com
Words: Adrian Monti