From tough-tackling defender to long-distance runner, Francis Benali’s journey is a remarkable one. And it’s about to start a new chapter when the former Southampton man attempts to run 1,000 miles in three weeks – an average of 40 miles a day. Benali’s Big Run will see him run to each of the 22 Premier League stadiums, starting at St James’s Park and finishing at St Mary’s, aiming to raise £1million for Cancer Research UK in the process. As many a Premiership striker would warrant, Francis loves a challenge – but this is extreme even by his standards. MR caught up with him to find out more…
Hello, Francis. What made you want to sign up to do this challenge?
A couple of things, really. Since retiring from football, I’ve missed the being involved in physical activity on a day-to-day basis. I’ve kept myself in fairly good shape so I wanted to test myself with a physical challenge. The second thing was the opportunity to raise a large amount of money for a terrific charity such as Cancer Research UK.
Running 1,000 miles in three weeks is a huge undertaking. Have you done a lot of distance running previously?
I have to be honest, this type of mileage is new to me. I ran the London Marathon back in 2006 and got a real buzz from it. In the past couple of years, it’s been in the back of my mind to have a go at something even more challenging. I read Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes and was inspired to have a go at an ultra distance.
How have you been training for it?
At the start, I was just winging it. But in the run-up to the event, I’ve built up the mileage and stuck to a more structured plan. The furthest I’ve run in one day is 40 miles – 20 in the morning, 20 in the afternoon. The only unknown for me is what it will feel like having to run 40 miles day after day. In a strange way, though, I’m looking forward to it.
Are any of your old football pals joining you for a leg of the journey?
Well, Alan Shearer is going to be there when we set off from St James’s Park. Matt le Tissier has also said he’d like to run from Anfield to Goodison Park, which is about a mile! Actually, Matt’s started to get quite into running. It’s just a shame he didn’t do more of it when we played together!
How does long distance running compare to playing football?
They’re worlds apart, really. As a footballer, you’re only running around for 90 minutes, albeit at quite a quick pace. During this challenge, I’ll be on my feet for six to eight hours a day. From a physical and mental strength perspective, that’s going to be a huge challenge.
Why are you choosing to support Cancer Research UK?
It’s a charity that’s close to my heart. My mother had a full hysterectomy and both my wife’s grandfathers died of cancer. But almost everyone in the UK is affected by cancer, either directly or indirectly. There are so many good causes out there, but this is the one that felt most special to me.
Follow Benali’s progress online at www.benalisbigrun.co.uk
He’ll also be tweeting about his challenge @benalisbigrun
Help Benali raise money for Cancer Research UK here