‘Memories of mum keep me going’

120232-6517 MARATHON MAN (SF) MRW 20/1/2012''// + also a batch of 'collects' //''Peter Alton (46) from Catherington''Peter is intending to run 25 marathons in 2012  in memory of his late mum Peggy Alton who died on 8/8/208 at the age of 76 years''Picture: Malcolm Wells (120232-6517)
120232-6517 MARATHON MAN (SF) MRW 20/1/2012''// + also a batch of 'collects' //''Peter Alton (46) from Catherington''Peter is intending to run 25 marathons in 2012 in memory of his late mum Peggy Alton who died on 8/8/208 at the age of 76 years''Picture: Malcolm Wells (120232-6517)
Picture: Shutterstock

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Peter Alton is under no illusions. He knows he’s not blessed with the body of your typical runner.

After years of playing rugby and football, he’s not got the whippet-thin physique that other long-distance athletes take for granted.

As a result, marathon running certainly doesn’t come easy for him.

Yet by the end of next year he will have completed 25 of these gruelling events.

For most people, running just one marathon is a lifetime ambition.

But whenever Peter thinks he can’t possibly run any further, he knows that thoughts of his mum Peggy will pull him through.

When she died from breast cancer he was devastated.

Now he’s decided to run marathons as a way to honour her memory and raise money to help other families going through the same thing.

‘After my mum died I was in pieces,’ says Peter.

‘I didn’t really know what I was doing or where my life was going. It takes time but I knew I wanted to do something and make my mum proud.’

Single mum Peggy sacrificed a lot to give her only child a good start in life.

Peter remembers her as a strong and loving woman who knew the importance of good family values.

Sadly, his own son Christian was only six months old when she died.

‘Initially she was diagnosed with bowel cancer and she fought and beat that,’ explains Peter, 46.

‘Then she developed breast cancer and had a mastectomy but she just generally got worse and worse.

‘She was cheery all the way through, even when she was having the mastectomy.

‘That was quite typical of her. Even right up until the end, she was thinking about other people.

‘I know my mum was scared inside but she didn’t show it.’

He adds: ‘My son was born in February and she had only just become a grandma. She was over the moon.

‘It’s such a shame now that he’s at the age where he’s talking and really good fun to be with because she would have loved to be with him.

‘That’s the saddest part for me. It’s sad losing your own mum but I’ve got such good memories of my own grandma and my son won’t have that.’

Peggy passed away on August 8 2008 and Peter remembers that it was the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

Despite the fact that he’d always hated cross-country running at school, seeing the athletes on the TV stirred something in him.

And when he saw a documentary about comedian Eddie Izzard running 43 marathons for Sport Relief, he was inspired to give it a go for himself.

‘Eddie Izzard was not a runner at all,’ explains Peter. ‘He hated everything to do with running. When he went for his medical check-up and they said “What running have you done?” He said “I think I ran for a bus in 1986”.

‘That summed me up.’

He adds: ‘I saw him doing it. I’m fairly fit. I was overweight but used to play football and rugby. I was always good at short distance running but not very good at long distances.

‘If I was going to do something I wanted something that would cause me a certain amount of suffering and that would be my way of working through it.’

So Peter started out by running a 10k charity race and progressed to a half-marathon. After being surprised about what he could achieve, he pushed himself to complete his first 26-mile marathon in December 2010.

And over the course of 2011 he ran four more – taking his tally up to five.

Earlier this month he decided to extend his challenge and now plans to run 10 marathons this year and the same number again in 2013.

‘If you do another marathon when you’ve done one already, people don’t really see it as a big thing so they might not put their hands in their pockets,’ he explains.

‘But to do 25 is a big challenge.’

Peter will be raising money for Breakthrough Breast Cancer and the Bobby Moore Fund (see panel).

His marathon mission will take him all around the country and he plans to run in Brighton, north Dorset, Edinburgh, Wales, Wolverhampton, Liverpool and Portsmouth this year.

He’s purposefully tried to pick some of the UK’s biggest events so that the number of entrants will be higher, giving him a better chance of finishing somewhere other than at the back.

But despite entering a ballot to run the biggest of them all – the London Marathon – he’s not managed to secure a place.

It usually takes him between five and seven hours to complete the full distance but he’s not bothered about racing against the clock.

‘I’m never going to beat any records,’ he adds.

‘I’m out there to raise awareness for charity and to do the best I can.

‘The bigger the marathon, the more chance I’ve got of not being at the back.

‘If you look at marathon runners they’re skinny. I’m over six foot tall and I weighed 16 stone when I started.

‘Now I’m about 14 and a half stone. It’s still quite a lot of weight to carry around.

‘For me, it’s a challenge to go running and I think that’s what matters.’

Peter tries to run every morning and hits the streets from around 6am.

While he enjoys the challenge of training, he doubts that anyone really relishes the actual experience of running a marathon, as it involves hour after gruelling hour of physical and mental exertion.

Peter says: ‘I can get to the half-way stage and it’s not too bad.

‘At the end I don’t care how difficult it is, at least I’ve done the marathon.

‘I tend to dedicate each mile to someone in my family and keep the last mile for my mum.

‘My mum is the main reason for doing this. I’m running for my mum. But I’ve also lost a couple of uncles from cancer and I had a good friend who died. So I’m running for a lot of people.

‘You get to the stage where you want to give up and that’s what pulls you through. You feel that you can’t go on but about 30 per cent of it is down to fitness and the remaining 70 per cent is psychological and it really is like that.

‘Your brain is telling you that you can’t do this and your legs get into a rhythm, breaking you though that barrier so you keep going.

‘You feel such a sense of personal achievement that you’ve done it.

‘You’re raising money and awareness and you’re giving something back. It’s making you fit and a better person.’

Breakthrough Breast Cancer has just made Peter its ‘man of the month’ and he’s updating people on his progress via the social networking site Twitter.

As a result, he’s built up quite a following. And other people’s feedback is spurring him on.

‘At times, when it’s pouring with rain, I don’t think I can do it,’ says Peter, who lives with Christian and his wife Eden in Catherington.

‘I feel like giving up. Then I get a letter through the door saying “I lost my wife from breast cancer, I think you’re fantastic” and that keeps me going.

‘Sometimes when I’m going out for a run in the morning I feel sorry for myself and then I remember the people who are suffering.

‘I’m not going though a quarter of what they’re going through. You’ve got to keep that in perspective.’