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Interview: Jeff Stelling's 10 Marathon Challenge

Mon 22nd Feb 2016 | Marketing & PR

He’s more accustom  to sitting behind a desk on a Saturday afternoon keeping us informed of all the action from around the UK’s football grounds, but for 10 days in March, Jeff Stelling will lace up his boots and embark on the trek of a lifetime.

Teaming up with leading men’s health organisation Prostate Cancer UK, the long-standing Soccer Saturday host will complete 10 walking marathons in 10 days, from boyhood club Hartlepool United to Wembley between March 21-30.

Clocking in at more than 250 miles, Jeff’s Men United March - menunitedmarch.org - will see the 60-year-old check in on 31 football clubs and he will be joined every step of the way by close friend, and Hartlepool United Chief Executive, Russ Green.

fcbusiness Editor, Aaron Gourley caught up with Jeff as he prepares for his ‘marathon’ challenge.

Are you a keen walker?

I wouldn’t say I’m a keen walker, I walk my dogs a couple of times a day. I run most days - I say run - more like a jog when you get to my age. I feel like I’m relatively physically fit but whether I enjoy walking or not, I suppose I’m going to find out. 

Why 10 marathons in 10 days?

I’ve known the guys at Prostate Cancer UK for a while and they were looking to get me involved in some sort of project. I climbed Killimanjaro a few years ago for another charity with Colin Cooper, the then Hartlepool manager and Craig Hignett, his assistant manager which was great.

Having done that the guys at Prostate Cancer UK thought I could do something similar for them. It was suggested the Great Wall of China or the Inca Trail [Peru] but I didn’t want to do something that could be percieved as a bit of a jolly [holiday]. I felt that it had to be something that was a proper challenge and not perceived as being fun.

Now I knew that Hartlepool had never played at Wembley, they’re one of the few football clubs that haven’t and it turned out it was around 260 miles from Hartlepool to Wembley. Within the next 10 years, Prostate Cancer UK believes they will find the answers to make this disease something men and their loved ones no longer fear, and I’ve got a 10 day window of opportunity so it all fits in nicely.

Walking in Hartlepool in March is certainly not much fun!

Nobody can claim it’s glamorous that’s for sure and that’s the way it should be. However, because so many different people are taking part across so many different legs it will have an element of fun about it.

There’s fantastic support from individuals and from football clubs up and down the country, even from some of those not on the route. The guys from Soccer Saturday are going to take part on various stages and the whole football community has really got behind it. It’s been fantastic and far exceeded the response that I thought we’d get and we’ve still got 4 weeks to go. 

It’s an inclusive challenge where so many people can get involved.

Anybody can come along and even if they don’t want to walk they can help along the way. Some of the backers like Sky Bet and Carlsberg have promised a mass turn out on the day when we go past their offices. Sometimes when you’re running, like during a marathon, you may need a lift and there’s nothing better than getting a bit of support from a clutch of people trying to encourage you and that’s the way I see this.

Even on the website [menunitedmarch.org.uk] some of the donations people are making are phenomenal. People may have given £3 and said ‘sorry that’s all I can afford’, but it doesn’t matter, that’s fantastic. And the number of different stories that come out from people who are either living with Prostate Cancer or know somebody who is or has passed away from the disease are inspiring. There are stories from mums, sisters, wifes or daughters of men who’ve suffered from Prostate Cancer getting in touch. It’s made me much more aware of the issues than I was when I first started out on this challenege.

Do you think men, and people in general understand enough about Prostate Cancer?

No, and I didn’t. You know what men are like, especially North Eastern men – we don’t do doctors -  and we certainly don’t do doctors if it involves anything below the waist! We just close our eyes and hope we never get affected by it. But if you look at the statistics, they’re scary. 

 

Regional Statistics: NHS Hartlepool & Stockton-on-Tees CCG (2011 – 2013)

177 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in Hartlepool & Stockton-on-Tees

42 men die from prostate cancer every year in Hartlepool & Stockton-on-Tees

National Statistics (UK)

44,775 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in the UK

10,954 men die every year from prostate cancer in the UK

 

Do you have any training tips for people taking part in the walk?

Russ Green, the Chief Executive of Hartlepool United is doing the whole walk with me and he’s lost 2 stone in weight. He’s going out on regular long walks and really putting the miles in. My only plan, and I say this to anybody thinking of tackling this type of distance, is don’t change your routines. Don’t try something that you’ve never tried before. So power drinks etc, just have the ones you’re used to having. For those joining the walk, whatever you have on your feet, make sure they’re worn in. I also tend to vasaline everywhere on my body so that nothing chaffs – I live or die by vasaline!

Is there any part of the route that you’re particularly looking forward to?

Yes, the start and the finish. I’m looking forward to Hartlepool because it’s my home town and the club has really thrown their weight behind it so hopefully there’ll be a good turn out of people to wave us off.  And that is when the reality will set in, that we really are doing this.

So I’m looking forward to that and obviously I’m looking forward to the walk up Wembley Way on the final day.

The principle behind this was to raise awareness, it’s raised my awareness certainly, but it was to raise awareness of what the issues are around the disease, the risk factors, the statistics, and what you should do if you are concerned but in actual fact, it looks like we’re also going to raise quite a substantial amount of money as well.

I’m really interested in finding out how you get from Hartlepool down to Marske. Do you know much about the route you’ll be taking?

I’ve suggested the scenic route. I don’t think it goes over the Transporter Bridge [Middlesbrough] and I did suggest they go through the glorious Port Clarence and Haverton Hill and walk along the least scenic coastal road in the world but is interesting because there’s so much industry around it. I know we are keeping away from main roads taking in tow paths and disused railway lines so they’re making the whole thing as scenic and as painless as is possible but it also has to fit with the mileage.

All the logistics are being done by somebody else, I will just turn up at Hartlepool on 21st March and put the right foot in front of the left foot and keep on moving for the next 10 days.

Are there any of the Soccer Saturday team that are not looking forward to it?

I think they’re all looking forward to it. Paul Merson is walking two stages. Charlie Nicholas is travelling down to join us in York for the second leg as is Chris Kamara. Tony Cottee is joining on the nineth leg, Matt Le Tissier will be walking one of the stages and Bianca Westwood who  is one of our match reporters will also be walking stage nine.

People are raising money to walk with me on various stages of the route and there’ll be huge numbers from various football clubs along the way so we’ll never be short of company that’s for sure.

Do you think your endeavour can inspire your beloved Hartlepool United to finish the season on a high?

We need too. We had the great escape last year, and the year before that we narrowly escaped and it looks like it’s going to be a close run this time too. Craig Hignett is a good friend of mine and I think he can get it right but it’s a dog fight down at the bottom. I’ve got a feeling that when I set off from Hartllepool on the 21st March, it won’t be the last time I’ll be in the town at the football club before the end of the season. There’ll be a few nail biting experiences before the end of the season.

Where and how do people donate or get involved?

There’s still time to walk with Jeff and raise funds. Go to prostatecanceruk.org/walkwithjeff to find out how and apply.

To donate visit menunitedmarch.org or ‘text Jeff to 70004’ to donate £3

 

fcbusiness Editor’s Challenge: North East United

Feeling inspired by Jeff, I will undertake my own personal challenge in support of Jeff’s walk. Setting off from outside St. James’ Park, home of Newcastle United, I will run to Hartlepool with the aim of meeting up with Jeff and Russ before embarking on the walk to Marske. My route will see me cross the Tyne Bridge before passing Gateshead FC’s home at the International Stadium. From there I will run to Sunderland and my next stop at the Stadium of Light before heading over the Wearmouth Bridge for the long run to Hartlepool United’s home at Victoria Park. The route will see me cover 31 miles, setting off at around 1am to reach the walkers in time for the 8am start. Upon completing the walk I will have covered over 57 miles visiting the region’s leading clubs stadiums and hope to raise £300 to add to the total raised for the challenge.

In Jeff’s words:  “We’ll have no reason to moan when we see you on that Monday morning that’s for sure!” 

To find out more about my challenge or to donate please visit my Just Giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/Aaron-Gourley1

 Posted by: Aaron Gourley

 

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