Marathon World Record Attempt Comes To Town

A former Teesside student returns to Middlesbrough tomorrow in a mind-boggling mega marathon challenge – and the town’s runners are being urged to get involved.

Ben Smith is currently running 401 marathons on 401 consecutive days, and he’s looking for company and fund-raising support along the way.

Middlesbrough will be the setting for his 177th 26.2-mile challenge, tomorrow (Wednesday February 24) Ben attempts to break a world record. He starts this stage at 9.30am in the morning at Middlesbrough Town Hall, please drop down and support him in his incredible challenge.

ben smithThe 33-year-old set out on his mammoth quest on September 1 last year, and his journey will see him run in more than 300 different locations around the UK mainland, covering more than 10,500 miles in all.

Along the way he’s raising awareness of the issue of bullying while hoping to meet a £250,000 fund-raising target for two charities dedicated to tackling the problem, Stonewall and Kidscape.

Ben’s Middlesbrough route was drawn up by local Swift-tees and NYMAC runner Iona Leigh-Jones who will be joining him on the day with local runners invited to join him along some or all of the course. Iona tells me, “Ben is raising funds for Kidscape an anti bullying charity and we will be joined by local school children from Acklam Whin, Captain Cook and Nunthorpe Primary school on some of the route.”

“Ben is also raising funds for Stonewall an anti hate charity and his ethos is about making the world a kinder, positive place.”

Full details of the run and approximate timings are available at the bottom of the page. Ben is expected to start from the Town Hall at around 9.30am, before visiting local landmarks including the Riverside Stadium, Temenos, the Tees Transporter Bridge and Teesside University.

He’ll be running at a steady 11- to 12-minute-mile pace so runners of all abilities will be able join in – meet at the Town Hall at 9.15am for a 9.30am start, and stops are planned after around 10 miles at the Habinteg Centre in Hemlington and then at around 19/20 miles at Henry’s café in Stewart Park.

Organisers also hope to work with local schools and businesses along the route to spread his anti-bullying message. Acklam Whin, Captain Cook and Nunthorpe primary have already come forward.

Mum of two Iona said: “When I heard about Ben’s extraordinary challenge from a fellow Parkrunner and fund-raiser, I just had to get involved and do my bit.

“We have some great running clubs in Middlesbrough and lots of wonderful people who will be keen to help him reach his goal.

“It’s not just a mind-boggling world record – it’s a chance to make a real difference with some fantastic charities.

“I hope as many people as possible will sign up and keep Ben company – he can look forward to a very warm welcome from Middlesbrough.”

Iona told me that she has recently met up with Ben, when he was running in Yorkshire. She said, “I met Ben at Harrogate parkrun 2 weeks ago, he was extremely upbeat and cheerful. Ben used to be a student in Teesside and has spent sometime working in the town. He said he was looking forward to revisiting and especially running around Albert Park.”

Ben Smith will get to see at first hand just what an enthusiastic sporty and indeed running town Middlesbrough has become. I asked Iona about this.

“We are extremely lucky to have two parkruns in our town and the positivity that brings is infectious.”

“What is important to me is running is about being fit for life,” she added. “The running community of Middlesbrough has just grown and grown thanks to local running groups and parkrun.”

I know Iona from training together at swift-tees, a community running group that meet every Wednesday tea time in Hemlington at the Habinteg Centre (behind the shops) after 6pm. The group welcomes all, any age or ability can run, jog or walk around Hemlington lake and then enjoy a cup of tea and a chat afterwards. If you are lucky there are home made cakes as well as biscuits to munch on.

Iona says: “All are welcome to join in/support – it’s great to be part of it in a great running town.”

To find out more about Ben Smith’s 401 Challenge, visit or follow his progress via Facebook.

Details of his proposed Middlesbrough route can be found here:

Local runners hoping to join the run are asked to contact Iona at

Route details – we are due to start at 0930 hours at Middlesbrough Town Hall, so we hope to congregate at 0915 hours onwards.

11 Min mile pace.
Riverside Stadium- Mile 1 @ 0941 hours
Newport Bridge- Mile 5@ 1025 hours
Bluebell Hotel – Mile 9 @1105 hours
Habinteg Centre- Mile 10 and half 1120 hours – 30 mins break
Marton Shops -Mile 15 ish – 1244 hours
Nunthorpe Squash Club- Mile 16 -1300 hours
Henrys Cafe (Stewart Park for a 20 min break) 1335 hours
Albert Park-23 miles -1430 hours
Finish at Town Hall – 1500 hours ( ish)

12 Min mile pace.
Riverside Stadium- Mile 1 @ 0942 hours
Newport Bridge- Mile 5@ 1030 hours
Bluebell Hotel – Mile 9 @1115 hours
Habinteg Centre- Mile 10 and half 1135 hours – 30 mins break
Marton Shops -Mile 15 ish – 1257 hours
Nunthorpe Squash Club- Mile 16 -1312 hours
Henrys Cafe (Stewart Park for a 20 min break) 1350 hours
Albert Park-23 miles -1456 hours
Finish at Town Hall – 1530 hours ( ish)



Middlesbrough’s England Physio Alan Smith

If you managed to get down to mima’s Localism exhibition you might have noticed some interesting footballing mementos as you stepped into the first gallery. In a cabinet to one side there were photos of England football teams and even a silver England cap. These items belong to Middlesbrough born England football team physiotherapist, Alan Smith.

Alan is seated in the photos alongside players like Shearer, Lineker and Gazza and managers from El Tel to Sven. Alan Smith was physiotherapist to the England team appointed in 1986 by Bobby Robson, having first worked in the international set-up for Dave Sexton’s Under 21s. Initially a part time role, Alan was appointed on a full time basis by Terry Venables in 1994 a post which he held for a further eight years, working under seven different managers.
That incredible experience of working in top tournaments with so many England managers was the source of so many of the stories Alan recounted when a recent guest speaker at mima. Stories that included many Gazza tales, of how he was a constant menace with a bucket of water. Or more seriously how Kevin Keegan’s resignation after defeat to Germany at the final game at old Wembley was so out of the blue that the players, the officials and even his assistant, Arthur Cox were caught out by the shock announcement.
Alan now has a private practice but it was an illustrious career that took him from Darlington, Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday to England. Alan took out his football physio bag one last time for the manager that first employed him for England, Sir Bobby Robson. Sir Bobby selected him as physio to the England team taking part in the 2009 charity match in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. An emotional event.

alan smithAlan Smith spent some time commending the man that first realised that he might have some potential to become a physiotherapist, the young Middlesbrough physio, Jimmy Headridge. Jimmy has recently been posthumously honoured by the Football Medical Association. Gavin Blackwell, of the FMA, recounted the story of Jimmy’s career in the Fly Me To The Moon and on this blog last year. Jimmy died tragically young and just into the first weeks of his dream job at Manchester United back in 1982. Yet his legacy has been in safe hands with all those he trained on diplomas at Lilleshall and the future England physio, Alan Smith, Jimmy’s very first apprentice. Alan himself now acts as mentor to the next generation of physiotherapists.
After the talk I had a brief chat with Alan about Middlesbrough and England. I started by asking him about Jim Headridge.

alan smith 2Q: As a 17 year old at Middlesbrough you had a broken leg and your career looked over before it had really begun. That must have been a real crisis. But Boro’s physio Jimmy Headridge gave you a second chance didn’t he?
AS: The influence that Jimmy had on me was immeasurable and somehow he could see the potential in me to become a physiotherapist. In a young lad. He invited me to the treatment room where I watched him work and looked, listened and learned. My career developed from there. But without Jimmy’s influence it wouldn’t have happened. So I am eternally grateful to Jimmy. I still keep in touch with his family, even today. Fantastic man, great physio, great person.
Q: Jimmy was at Middlesbrough many years wasn’t he?
AS: Yes I think he did 11 years.
Q: Which is the same as you at Sheffield Wednesday.
AS: That is true.
Fly: That says something about both of you; managers come and go and they all want to retain you, they have faith in your ability.
AS: Yes it helps, particularly those England managers, they kept me on time after time and I was very grateful for it.
Q: Obviously your experience in one tournament must have been very important for another England manager to tap into for the next.
AS: Correct but getting Alan Shearer fit for Euro 96 was a massive boost for Alan Shearer because he was the tournament’s leading goal scorer and won the golden boot award. But from a professional and my point of view it was a massive boost for me as well because it gave people the realisation that I could work at that level and produce good results at that level.
Q: Shearer proved you right when you told Terry Venables he was fit as he was one of the stars of Euro 96.
AS: Yes. But Terry asked me. That was his commitment to me.
Q: You were physio for England in Japan in 2002. I don’t think people realised the big swings in the weather conditions in that tournament. I went to all England games in Japan and from being wet and cold against Denmark it was incredibly hot in the games against Nigeria and later Brazil.
AS: Red hot. I thought the players were wonderful and did very very well.
Q: Another Middlesbrough man, Harold Shepherdson, was involved in taking the food out for the players in Mexico 1970. Were you involved in meticulous planning for big tournaments?
AS: Oh yes from a medical point of view. I would do the packing of the medical equipment. You have got to take a lot of gear when you are going away for 6 to 8 weeks.
Q: I suppose it as much about rest between games in a tournament?
AS: The recovery from a game is so vitally important, particularly when you are playing in those conditions. They are extreme for our players. Playing at a very high standard.

Alan’s is an incredible and inspirational story. A young man whose career appeared in tatters with a broken leg, he changed course to become England physiotherapist and be respected enough to work with a whole succession of managers and players.

alan smith 3