Taking on a single half marathon or a full marathon in one year is a big enough challenge for most of us - unless your name is Graham Wilson, and you have signed up to complete an incomprehensible 120 marathons in 120 days.
Set to retire in October after a remarkable 30 years of service in the police force, Harrogate resident Graham, 52, is now becoming simply known as ‘Marathon Man.’
But despite the difference he has made to people’s lives over the last three decades in his day job, and the difference that he will make by completing this epic challenge for 15 local charities, Graham insists he is no superman, and that it is the charities themselves and the people who support them who deserve all of the recognition.
The marathons, which will be completed over a four-month period starting on March 21 next year, will see Graham travelling across eight different countries, joined by his wife Marion who will also be taking part, and his dog Tilly - with the latter being limited to doing a maximum of four miles a day.
They will also be joined at different stages by friends, family and well-wishers - the Mayor of the Borough of Harrogate, Coun Stuart Martin, is among those to pledge his support to join in.
Graham has organised a series of fundraisers in the build-up to the challenge, and one of his biggest yet will be held at Harrogate Town AFC’s CNG Stadium this Sunday - a free entry charity football match where Emmerdale stars will take on a team from North Yorkshire Police, with kick-off at 3pm.
It’s hoped that a bumper crowd will turn out to help raise funds for the 15 charities that Graham has chosen, including the likes of Saint Michael’s Hospice, Yorkshire Air Ambulance, the Harrogate Homeless Project, Macmillan Cancer Support, Harrogate Hospital and Community Charity, and the British Heart Foundation.
Graham said: “We would love to see as many people as possible coming along to show their support. There will be a number of charities we are supporting that people will have a personal affinity with due to personal circumstances, or through someone they know.”
When Graham finishes all of his marathons, which he will walk, he will have covered 3,180 miles - the equivalent of walking from Harrogate to New York.
He said: “I’ve had people coming up to me and asking if I’m ‘that mad guy’ doing all the marathons, and people have really been getting on board with it which is great. The support has been amazing.”
The marathons will push Graham to the limit both mentally and physically, but remembering what he is doing it all for will keep him fuelled throughout. And after 30 hectic years of life as a police officer, he is looking forward to spending well-deserved quality time with his wife, as she remains by his side throughout the incredible feat.
Graham said: “It will be lovely to spend that time with Marion, and it’ll also be a chance to reflect on my time in the police force - a chance to clear my head and get rid of all the horrible things that I’ve seen and been through over the last 30 years, but also a chance to remember and contemplate all of the nice things and the times I’ve been able to help people.
“We are not going to change the world with what we are doing, but what we are doing is going to change one person’s world. The money that is raised will help somebody along the line, and help them to be better off, which makes it all worthwhile.”
The training regime has been tough and rigorous for Graham and Marion - averaging now at around 100 miles per week, which is fitted around their day jobs and string of fundraising events.
Speaking about their plans for next year, Graham said: “The route is being planned to start and finish in Harrogate - taking in Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Scottish Isles, Scotland, Wales, each county in England, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Wight - then we move across to Europe to cover the full 850 miles of the Camino Way starting in France, then through Spain and into Portugal. The routes have been planned, so anyone wanting to join one of the marathons for the whole or part distance can do so.”
Graham’s fundraising target is £500,000, and Harrogate residents have already been giving generously at events such as quiz nights.
A JustGiving page has been set up to sponsor Graham and support his 15 charities: www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/120marathonman