Running the Cotswold Way in 24 hours for Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice

After his mum was cared for at Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice, Ryan Hearn decided to take on his own challenge - to run 102 miles in 24 hours and fundraise to show his support for the expert care his mum received.

Image of Ryan and some of his support team in a field along the Cotswold Way

Fundraising for mum

Two years ago, my mum, Rosie, got diagnosed with cancer. It was a massive shock for all of us, as it would be for any family. She battled through chemo, Coronavirus, being alone and surgery. She was genuinely the strongest woman I’ve ever met, but around Christmas 2020, I saw how it was affecting her and I was inspired to do something to show my support.

As the year progressed, things began to deteriorate for my mum and wasn’t helped by the lockdowns, but she was still the strong, determined and positive woman she always was. At the time, I didn’t realise that the training and the event that I decided to fundraise for would actually help me so much as a person. 

April came and as the sun began to shine, my lovely mum was struggling so much. Being that strong, sometimes stubborn woman that mum was, she played down her pain and brushed it off. On her birthday, 14 April, she decided she needed help as being on her own wasn’t satisfactory anymore. She discussed this with the hospital and it was decided that she would go into a hospice. 

Moving to Wheatfields Hospice

My initial thoughts were the worst; I’d seen hospices previously and just knew that the worst was going to happen there, but I stayed strong and positive just like my mum did for us. 

The next day she was in Wheatfields Hospice and settled in - probably demanding the world! She could not rate Wheatfields highly enough; if she wanted something and it wasn’t available, they would go out and get it for her. The care they gave to her was unbelievable. When we visited, everyone was so attentive and it was clear to see it was the right place for mum. 

Due to Covid, visiting was limited and she did think about going home so everyone could visit, but it wasn’t what was best for her at the time. All the staff from the hospice director, kitchen team, cleaners, nurses and doctors were amazing. They see patients at their lowest but still manage to bring joy to everyone who comes in. 

Sadly, my mum passed away a week later on 22 April.

102 miles (and a bit… ) in 24 hours

At this point I had raised just under £5,000 for Cancer Research and after mum’s experience at Wheatfields, I knew I had to match it! I decided on a big challenge - to run the 102 miles of the Cotswold Way in under 24 hours, but soon realised that Google had lied and it was actually 103.8 miles! 

With a bit of persuasion, I roped in my friend James (Dunny) to join me on Saturday 31 July. The training was hard; being in the military and currently training Officer Cadets at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst meant my work hours were very long, often waking up at 5am and finishing at 9pm, plus squeezing in a 17 mile run too.

I didn’t realise the impact I’d soon have as I was blogging about my story on Facebook and Instagram, and people I’d never met were telling friends and family about my story and my mum. It’s really inspired people to just get out, no excuses about the weather or time, and do some fitness or fundraising! 

Training and coping with grief

The training was a massive part of dealing with the death of my mum. On the weekend, I’d go out for a 4 hour-plus run and just reflect, meditate and think about everything. I was really happy that my mum was out of pain now, but I was obviously sad that the main woman who had supported me all of my life had passed away and was going to miss the important events in our families’ lives too.  

As part of my fundraising, I organised a charity event with raffle prizes, live music, amazing food and most importantly, amazing people. I charged everyone £5 entry, and there was a huge turnout.

The day of the challenge was looming and I had so much organisation to do - creating a running schedule, planning the stops, calorie intake and so much more.  Once that was finalised, I got the support teams together and gave them a ‘military-style’ set of orders of what was going to happen, which they really loved for some reason!

Still singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ at mile 67!

After a day of prep with food, equipment and plenty of sleep, we arrived at 6.45pm on Saturday 31 July at our starting point of Bath Cathedral. Due to traffic, we arrived 30 minutes later than our original plan, but this didn’t spoil our start. We knew it was only 24 hours of pain and it would be worth it for all the money we raised.

I planned for us to do 13 minute miles to meet our time and we were pretty strict - 11 minute miles on the flats and down hills, and 13 up. Coming out of Bath, the views were amazing and as we got to Bath Racecourse, we heard a festival and the song of the summer, “Sweet Caroline” playing. We were still singing that some 67 miles in! 

Singing was a big part of keeping our morale up during the challenge, but we also made up games as we went, like counting how many gates we went through - anything to keep us going until we hit a checkpoint and could get a boost from our support teams. 

All of our support teams along the way were crucial to getting us through. They were so well organised with keeping time, filling up our water bottles or giving us food, and finding any kit that we needed. Every single one of them went above all expectations. 

Towards Stroud, the terrain got steeper, but because of our prep day of rest, we had made sure that we were fresh enough to keep running through the night and we arrived at Woodchester viewpoint as the sun popped up. 

So many people joined us along the route including Will, my old Platoon Leader in the Yorkshire Regiment, and even my future father-in-law, who decided he was going to run a short distance with us, but definitely one of the best! He ran from Coopers Hill, famous for cheese rolling so you can imagine how steep it is, to the main stop at Brockwith village, where my fiancé had organised everyone to come and buy bacon rolls for £5 - always thinking about that fundraising!  

As we came closer to the stop, the noise was fantastic - we felt like local heroes! When we set off again, we got a great send off which gave us a boost of adrenaline. However, seven miles later, the real struggle for both of us started. 

Thinking about mum’s pain helped me push through

I got a pain in my ankle and shin, and Dunny just hit a massive wall and was in pain everywhere. We managed to get to the next checkpoint, but it was a quiet few miles together. On the way there, I remember having a mental battle in my head; I was thinking about the pain that my mum went through and all the money everyone had donated which really helped me focus and carry on. 

At the 70 mile stop, we were both in bad shape - I now had strapping on my ankle and I could see Dunny was contemplating whether he could carry on. He even said that he couldn’t do it, but I managed to say a couple of words to him and it gave him the motivation to carry on. The next leg was a big climb and I was really struggling, but I kept thinking about people coming from afar to support us and how I couldn’t let anyone down. 

‘Go on lads! You can do it!’

As we passed Cleeve Hill Golf Course, Dunny really had enough. The pace was so slow, but we were about four miles from the next checkpoint so we needed to get him there otherwise it would have been a nightmare for us all. Somehow he managed it, but he was on his last legs coming in. Griggy, the physio, looked after both of us and my sister surprised me by driving down from Leeds to support us. 

I also had two new runners - a work colleague, Will, and his mate, Alex, who I’d never met but was inspired to come and help me out. Will and Alex were huge in getting me going again as they’d both done a couple of ultra marathons, so when I set off, I seemed like a new person. 

The challenge now was to do another 20 miles, but over terrain that I hadn’t trained on. The views were fantastic and coming through Stanton was beautiful. People were hanging out of their windows saying, “Go on lads, you can do it! Not far now!” I still don’t know how they knew what we were doing, but it was amazing. 

'Marching on Together' as a team

Photo of Ryan Hearn and his team at the end of his Cotswold Challenge

We hit the next checkpoint at 90ish miles and I felt good, but looking back at pictures, I looked battered! The pace was the best I’d done throughout the run. We had a quick break before the last leg which had plenty of climbs and descents. 

Coming up to Broadway Tower was tough, but two lunatic supporters started singing Leeds United’s club song, ‘Marching On Together’. As I’m from the city, it was the perfect song and at the perfect time to really spur me on! 

The last three miles were the toughest; we could see the finish in Chipping Campden and we could hear them all, but the route took us on a massive dog leg! As we hit the centre, this quaint Cotswold village suddenly erupted into noise and we enjoyed a champagne finish with our families and friends. So many people had come to support us again and I had children coming up to ask for my picture. The parents have told me that their children now feel like they can do anything because of seeing me complete my challenge!

Supporting Wheatfields Hospice

I’ve now raised over £15,000 for charity in total and over £8,000 of this is for Wheatfields Hospice. I’m so happy that I ran to help support my own personal grief, that I’ve done my mum proud and that I’ve inspired others to take on a challenge themselves. 

Thank you to everyone who supported me from the checkpoint teams, to social media followers, the random people who embraced us along the way, my fiancé and family, and especially all the staff at Wheatfields for looking after my mum when she needed it the most. They do that day in, day out, unfazed and still with a smile on their face. 

Find out more about Ryan’s challenge

Follow Ryan's challenge on Instagram @FFTB_Running or make a donation via his JustGiving page.

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