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Exclusive: The gory details, sacrifices & surprise messages of support which all went into Martyn Clarke’s amazing seven in seven challenge for Rob Burrow

For most people, the weeks before Christmas are about relaxing and being with loved ones. There might be a bit of running as you hunt down your Christmas presents and the traditional turkey but you’re very unlikely to take on a half Ironman triathlon.

But from December 11th to the 17th Wigan Warriors fan Martyn Clarke gave up all the traditions that come with this time of year to take on seven half Ironman triathlons in seven days all in the name of Rob Burrow to raise money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association to combat the disease Burrow was diagnosed with two years ago as he heads into his third Christmas dealing with it.

This challenge meant Martyn would swim 1.2miles (1.9km), then cycle 56miles (90km) before finally running a 13.1mile (21km) half marathon every day for seven days, putting his body through hell to raise funds and awareness to battle the disease.

It’s certainly worked with his message even reaching South Africa before the challenge had even begun and with over £21,000 raised it’s safe to say it was a resounding success especially as he was able to complete every leg of this insane challenge in a truly inspiring feat.

But it wasn’t without its challenges, its ups and downs, its pain or its low points as Martyn revealed in an exclusive interview with Serious About Rugby League as he talked us through the gory details of the things he put his body through as well as the touching moments of triumph he felt after so many months of sacrifice.

“I’m sore, it’s a few days now but feeling sore, yeah,” Martyn said.

“I’ve gotten some nice messages from everywhere really even Dubai which is a bit bonkers. It’s taken off and I didn’t expect to do that. It was supposed to be a low key event but it seems to have touched a lot of people.”

Proud of how far reaching his challenge ended up being, Martyn was also keen to stress how difficult it was for him to complete: “People joined me for different legs and I think they realised just how difficult one leg was. A good friend of mine jumped on the bike with us and he was struggling 35 Miles in with the mist and the cold.

“The cold can get to you. A friend of mine did multiple bike legs because he’s a really good cyclist and had trained two months before the event to do four bike legs and three running legs and ended up with gastroenteritis and is really sick, literally at home and he can’t get anything down him. He was really gutted because he couldn’t be there at the end.

“I’m not bigging myself up here but I want people to understand just how hard one leg on one day was.

“I had to wear these cryogenic pants in the morning and evenings and always had to shove some calories down me, packing up all my own gear getting it all in a bag, all the logistics of that every morning before the swim. Then I’d do the swim and you feel better after that but then you have to prepare yourself mentally for four hours on the bike.

“You’ve got to be on it for fours and it drains you on the bike more than physically. We had a good team, we had Phil who was the main bike leader who did six of the seven days and treated it like the Tour De France sheltering me, protecting me all in single file using the aerodynamics of the wind. It’s not easy doing that for four hours every day and he’s an experienced cyclist but by day four he said he could really feel it.

“There were mechanical problems too, punctures and people dropping back off the pace. Then literally come back, have a hot chocolate, cookies and Jelly Babies and then start a half marathon 20 minutes later because we couldn’t leave it too late with it getting dark at 16:30. The first two days we finished with head torches on it was pitch black and that adds to the draining part of it does the dark, the cold, and the wet.”

As the days went on things got tougher for Martyn as the enormity of the challenge really began to hit him: “I got through the first few days and I backed myself those days because I’d done an Ironman in Bolton in July but I thought by day four I might be pushing it.

“Tuesday was probably the low point. We were on the bike, it was freezing and foggy and my food didn’t arrive at the end. When you’ve been out for eight hours and been dreaming of a chicken burger and that chicken burger ain’t there it was a real low point. I couldn’t feel my quads or the sides of my legs and that’s the day two toenails came off.

“After that I think I was in a bit of a trance. I can’t really explain it, I just don’t really remember much from there to the end, which is really weird. I just remember getting back in at night eating a few thousand calorie meals, going to sleep, waking up, packing my back and doing it all over again.

“Day six Liam Moore and Aaron Moore joined me because they’re good friends of mine and they ran with me and I think it was that day I almost passed out after the run.

“I think that day I went a bit too hard on the run. I just remember holding my wife’s hand and Liam and Aaron hovering over me with my legs in the air. The Super League Grand Final referee standing there with me on the floor was just totally crazy. Bonkers.”

But it was all worth it in the end with the money raised, the celebrations on day seven and of course Christmas waiting for him round the corner: “The ironic thing was the run finished 400 metres short of the gym so we got ourselves in a huddle before Derek Beaumont showered us in champagne and I’ve got to thank him he was an absolute superstar. He was there for five days, did the bike legs and the swim and donated huge amounts of money.

Derek Beaumont donated a grand to the cause to take them over their initial target of £7,777 and even participated in the event itself

“My mate had arranged a brass band to play Christmas carols for us and people from all over the rugby world were there to welcome us back and it was just surreal, jaw dropping really. I’m just a normal bloke from Wigan. I’ve just gone to walk the dog this morning and been shaking my head. It’s unbelievable.

“My eldest son said ‘Dad I’ll be happy if you can get to day two’ so I doubled it and wanted to get to day four. Never thought I’d get to day seven, 492 miles in seven days.”

He was perhaps proudest of how many people he’d been able to reach through it however: “It’s touched a lot of people. How do I explain that I’ve gotten videos from so many people even Game of Thrones actors, Greg Eden, Barrie McDermott and Kevin Sinfield himself and Annie Emmerson who drove hours from Surry to run with us and then drove home and she knows very little of Rob Burrow really but got involved. Never thought she’d drive four and a half hours to run with us.

“We also had Stephen Derby down as well the ex-Liverpool rightback who’s got MND and his brother ran with us.

“I’ve got no words, and the guy from Dubai topped it off. He’s a headteacher in Dubai in a secondary school and he wanted to talk about the story and the event to his school when his students come back in the new year so I’ve offered to go to Dubai.”

But it certainly was never easy and involved plenty of difficult sacrifices: “We’ve had to make so many sacrifices, we’ve been training since October so people have been taking my youngest son football training and all that because I’ve been running whilst he’s been training so I’ve missed him training and my wife’s not very well so getting back from runs and your wife’s not well makes it all tougher.”

It would be very easy to end it all now but, with the help of Leigh owner Derek Beaumont, Martyn is determined to raise even more money and has extended the fundraising period to March with a VIP sporting night at Leigh Sports Village called The Seven for Seven IM Night which will be complete with a disco and meal with all the ambassadors there.

The event will likely be held in January with videos of the seven in seven challenge displayed with Beaumont, Martyn and plenty of others in attendance in the hope of raising some more money for a cause we can all get behind.

Speaking of which, you can still donate here.

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