Michael Williams runs the South Downs Way 100 Mile challenge on behalf of the Variety Children’s Hospital, which saved his son’s life
Five-year-old George Williams was born with a serious egg, peanut and horse allergy, a discovery his parents Michael And Alexie only made when they introduced him to solid food at six months. After his first mouthful of scrambled egg, George’s face swelled up and he became worryingly short of breath. The couple dialled 999 and raced to get him emergency support. Thankfully, he was treated swiftly and with great care by the fantastic specialists at the Variety Children’s Hospital, which is part of King’s College Hospital in London. Since that terrifying day, the Variety Children’s Hospital team has continued to carefully monitor George’s allergies and provide him with expert care.
Feeling deeply indebted to the Variety Children’s Hospital team for the excellent support they offered George, as well as for the world-class interventions they provide for many children and young people every year, Michael decided to take part in the South Downs Way (SDW) 100 Mile race on 12 June 2021, to raise funds for Variety. Here, in his own words, Michael describes his experience of running the race.
“Last week I found out that running a 100-mile off-road race, especially one involving a climb of over 11,000 feet, is a big undertaking. Temperatures of around 30 degrees for most of the day created an additional challenge, exacerbated by the minimal tree cover along the route and the wide, white chalky paths reflecting the sunlight back at you.
However, I was lucky enough to have the support of my fabulous wife Alexie Shaw and her brother Simon, who refuelled and paced me for the last 50 miles. Although they’re also both runners, having them alongside me for nearly 25 miles each whilst still attending to my needs was a lot to ask.
The relentless heat took its toll on the rest of the field too. Out of the 433 contestants who started in Winchester, 125 dropped out or failed to complete the race in the 30-hour time limit.
I had a few wobbles myself during the day. The first came after 30 miles as my legs and feet were hurting and the rising heat was making me flake. With only a third of the distance done, I seriously doubted whether I could ever make it to the finish.
However, with suffering comes enlightenment. I managed to dig myself out of my negative mood with a bit of help from the music on my mp3 player. Before I knew it, I was flying down the next hill with a huge smile on my face; the leg pain had vanished, and I was on cloud nine. Alas, the high didn’t last long, but it allowed me to tackle the race with renewed vigour.
Later on in the race, we saw the most incredible sunset when climbing from the southeast near Newhaven. I needed to turn my head torch went on for the descent into Alfriston, and with only one climb left from Jevington, I knew the finish line wasn’t far away. By this point, I had already broken several pain barriers and I was praying for the race to be over.
I reasoned there was only one way for the suffering to stop, and that was to get to Eastbourne as soon as possible. There was no way I was going to quit. I crawled over the finish line at East Sussex College track at 11:40 pm, having completed the race in a time of 18hrs 37mins 11th place overall.
The last 30 or so miles had been an even bigger effort than the 30 before that, or even the other 40 way back in the morning (it felt like a lifetime ago). My whole body screamed at me every second to stop this lunatic activity, and to just lie down on a lovely patch of grass.
I am very grateful for all the generous donations made in aid of Variety. This support gave me the extra kick I needed to push on to the finish line and to tick one more challenge off my bucket list. Also a massive thank you to my friends and family who came out on the day at various places along the route. Running may seem like a solitary activity to most, but events like these are very hard to do with no support. I simply wouldn’t have been able to run as well as I did without it.”
It’s not too late to support Variety’s work with vulnerable children by making a donation on Michael’s fundraising page: