It’s only the 11-mile point of a particularly challenging marathon when Richard May begins to feel the dreaded twinge in his leg.
Soon he’s experiencing the full-blown shooting pains of cramp in his calf, but with the sort of determination that would make Forrest Gump proud, he keeps on running.
Richard races through the pain to complete the remaining 15 miles of the hilly, uneven-surfaced South Downs Marathon.
But then, the 27-year-old is no stranger to the ups and downs of the organised running challenge.
He has achieved the rare triumph of being the first Bananaman to pass the post in the Brighton 10K Heroes Run, also beating off competition from the Flintstones and a robot.
And the marathon fan has even completed 26 miles of pavement-pounding pain while on a mate’s stag-do in the States.
Richard keeps going because he has a goal in mind – to take on as many running challenges (including ten marathons) as he can in a year and raise as much money as possible for charity.
But that’s not the only reason he’s clocking up the miles. His chief inspiration for his charity challenge is his eight-year-old niece Ellie, who has cerebral palsy.
It’s Ellie who he thinks of when he’s running through discomfort or pain. ‘Her condition is severe and she goes through such a lot. She recently had an 11-hour operation and is recovering from that,’ says Richard, who lives in Lee-on-the-Solent. ‘What she goes through on a daily basis is phenomenal but when I see her she always has a big beam on her face. She has so much character and she’s made such a massive impact on our family.’
So he thinks dealing with a touch of cramp is a doddle. ‘At 11 miles in you obviously have a long way to go and your instinct is telling you to stop. But if you’ve set yourself a target you don’t want to fail. Mentally I try to block it out or think ‘people go through a lot worse that this’, including Ellie.’
Cerebral palsy is a general term that describes a group of conditions that cause movement problems. The muscles can be stiff or rigid in one or more limbs. The condition is caused by damage or faulty development in part of the brain and can range from mild to severe.
Ellie, who lives in Leicestershire with her mum Joanne (Richard’s step-sister), dad Kevin and siblings, has had many operations. The recent 11-hour procedure was carried out to straighten her back as curvature of the spine was putting pressure on her organs.
Ellie’s dad Kevin Harris says: ‘She’s recovering really quickly but she’s very strong-willed. She couldn’t sit in a straight position before so this will make a big difference to her life.’
Richard is raising money through his runs for the Rainbows Hospice for children, which isn’t far from Ellie’s home. The hospice offers specialist respite care and support for children and their families. Ellie and her family haven’t used the hospice but they would be able to look for support there if they wished and Richard’s sister Alex is a nurse at Rainbows.
His other charity is Brighton-based Passing It On, which helps to build schools in Africa.
Richard says: ‘I’d done a few runs and was quite keen anyway. And I have a friend who’s running 52 marathons for charity this year. I enjoy the running, I like to give myself a challenge and I’ve been thinking for a while that I’d like to do something for charity so it seemed like a good idea.’
There was a period a few months ago when Richard was doing a marathon or run every week. But he now gives himself a rest period in between challenges. It doesn’t last for long though. Richard, who is starting teacher training this year, runs every day to stay in tip-top shape and is also keen on boxing.
It’s about personal achievement and he is hoping to beat his best time (three hours, 23 minutes in the Brighton Marathon).
But he loves the atmosphere of an organised event too. ‘The Heroes Run was great. It’s organised by the Passing It On charity and everyone dresses up. I went as Bananaman, which was a bit hot to be honest. But I was quite proud to be the fastest Bananaman – there were quite a few. It’s brilliant, people go to amazing effort. I saw the Flintstones who had made a car and were carrying it. And there was this guy dressed as a robot doing robotic moves all the way round.’
The stag do marathon took place in Orange County, California. But Richard wasn’t being a bad best man by breaking the Las Vegas revelries for a run. The groom and two other friends did it too.
The stag Kevin Betts is the friend who had taken on the 52-marathon challenge and he suggested the group drive from Vegas to California for the run.
‘He doesn’t drink so he was fine. But it was a bit more difficult than usual for the rest of us,’ laughs Richard. ‘We weren’t hungover or anything but obviously we hadn’t done the usual preparation. Usually you eat the right things and do the right things. But after four days in Vegas that wasn’t going to happen.
‘It was a bit different for a stag do and not the easiest or best run I’d ever done. But I’m really glad we did it together. It was a special day, something to look back on.’
Richard is now training for a marathon in Nottingham, the Great South Run and his biggest challenge – running the Great Glen Way in Scotland. He’ll be covering 70 miles in two days with another friend, James Wade, a marine who is currently serving in Afghanistan.
He already has a tangled collection of medals and by the end of the year should be adding a few more to the set. But for Richard they’re not the most important thing.
He keeps running because he loves it but also because he’s been so impressed by a little girl 180 miles away with just as much determination and a big smile.
Supporting Richard and the charities
Richard is being sponsored through a Just Giving account to raise money for the Rainbows Hospice in Leicestershire and Brighton-based aid charity Passing It On.
The hospice in Melton Mowbray, offers care and support to children with life-threatening and life-limiting conditions and their families. The team are dedicated to helping relieve symptoms, improve quality of life and support parents and siblings.
Passing It On helps build schools in Africa, The charity has grown steadily over the last few years from two guys with a bucket to a team of young volunteers who support the charity because they believe every child deserves an education.
Passing It On is currently funding the building of a school and orphanage in Ghana and has recently funded the buying of new equipment for a medical school in Zambia.
For Richard’s Just Giving accounts visit (for Rainbows) justgiving.com/richysrunningchallenge, (for Passing It On) justgiving.com/richysrunningchallenge1
To find out more about the charities visit rainbows.co.uk or passingiton.org.uk
So far Richard has completed:
Great South Run 2010
Gosport Half Marathon
Brighton Half Marathon
John Austin Half Marathon (New Forest)
Eastbourne Half Marathon (but run twice as a full 26.2-mile marathon)
Portsmouth Coastal Half Marathon
Orange County Marathon, California
South Downs Marathon
Worthing 20-mile Road Race
Chichester Challenge (marathon)
Heroes 10k Run