SOME people go to extraordinary lengths to raise money for HEAL and police officer Paul Harris went from pounding the beat to an “epic adventure” when he recently took part in – and completed – a gruelling ultra-endurance event called The Wall.
Whittlesey Police Sergeant Paul, who had never even run a marathon previously, trained for almost a year to be able to take on the 69-mile run along Hadrian’s wall, spanning from Carlisle Castle to the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.
Inspired by the marathon-running exploits of actor and comedian Eddie Izzard, Paul completed his mission in just under 22 and a half hours and here he tells in his own words the story of his life-changing journey on behalf of HEAL…
“My journey began through a simple conversation with HEAL founder Dr Prasad’s good friend and gardener. It got me thinking at a time when I had already been inspired by Eddie Izzard, as I am a great fan of his and how he adapted his mind and body to complete 57 marathons for Comic Relief.
“I quickly found that HEAL stood for something I believed in and, for the first time in my life, I developed a real belief that I had found a cause that was worthwhile.
“Perhaps at the time I felt that through my employment as a police officer I was helping people every day and that was enough. But, deep down, it wasn’t enough. I realised that I wanted to do more to make a bigger difference, but until HEAL came along I had never found the right cause that sparked my passion.
“So through conversations with friends I searched for a challenge and found The Wall. It seemed fitting – a challenge that really pushed me beyond the limits of a marathon into one of the UK’s longest ultra-marathons. Along with a friend of mine in the Metropolitan Police, who was overweight and had his own personal desire to complete the race, I entered… and then the training began.
“I totally devoted myself to time on my feet. I had never run more than six miles so I had much to learn and muscles to develop. I paid for a personal trainer for a month and ran over 900 miles in the next 10 months, completing marathon distances from my own front door in harsh winter weather.
“As the race approached I felt ready and strongly believed that I knew, whatever happened, I would finish the race. I ambitiously pushed and hoped for a finish time of 16 hours, but this turned out to be a massive under-estimation of the scale of this run.
“On race day I was nervous, yet so excited my heart was pounding and the atmosphere at the line was electric. All manner of athletes stood in the expert category I was entered in. I stood there ready to go but felt like the new kid at school!
“As the start gun went we ran off steady and calm and paced ourselves well. I soon came to realise, however, that the terrain was hilly – more hilly than I imagined. At mile 10 I hit ‘the wall’.
“I had never during my training had this feeling before. It was one of major doubt and disbelief that this journey was possible. My friend later told me I just zoned out and I remember him asking, ‘Paul, are you ok?’, but I couldn’t answer.
“After 45 minutes of battle with my own mind, I thought of many things – family, loved ones and HEAL, what it stood for and the task I had set out to complete. Something somewhere clicked in my mind and I finally settled into the run and became enlightened by the experience. Instead of fighting it, I embraced it and remembered why I was there – to complete my personal goal and to raise money that so many people had kindly given.
“The rest of the race was hard on the body. My feet took an endless beating and hill climbs on my altimeter watch showed 1,000ft, which was repeated throughout the course – remembering what climbs up must climb down!
“We navigated through the night, crossing streams, pushing through thick wood in terrible weather. I saw and witnessed people hallucinating through exhaustion. The sweeper vehicle was busy picking up injured persons or people whose minds simply would not let them continue.
“Looking back, it was life changing.
“Through times of toughness I found myself chanting “Eddie Izzard” over and over and the phrase that became well used and famous with me and my team-mate was “Movement is life” – fitting, I felt, for the charity HEAL, and something I will never forget.
“We ran through the night, stopping only for 30 minutes at the checkpoint to drink hot soup and re-stock on running gels. We maintained our mission and put blisters and sores out of our mind and crossed the line in 22hrs and 27mins.
“We were rewarded with a fine medal at the finish, but quite honestly the experience has left me changed because I now know that you don’t have to be super-human to make the impossible possible – you just have to have great belief and drive for something you believe in.”
“I am now working hard on a charity dinner auction night for HEAL. This will be held in Whittlesey, Peterborough, with dinner, auction and guest speaker. I have already got some great donations from local businesses and contributions from great sporting venues and celebrities/sporting heroes too. I am committed to HEAL and I have planned with the Doctor to go to India and see how the money is spent and visit children of India.
“I am delighted to be part of HEAL and I will continue to push my mind and body to raise funds and awareness for this great charity. I am a changed man but, proud to say, for the better!”
Anyone wishing to make a donation to Paul’s HEAL fundraising effort can do so by visiting his online page at: www.justgiving.com/Paul-Harris26