Race lures man on a mission

The Blaydon Race prides itself on its eccentricity, just the challenge a banana-suit-wearing, pushchair-pushing, dog-racing runner needs for his 38th race of 2007.

The Blaydon Race prides itself on its eccentricity, just the challenge a banana-suit-wearing, pushchair-pushing, dog-racing runner needs for his 38th race of 2007.

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When Geordie Ridley's handbell rings out across Newcastle city centre at 6pm tomorrow evening it will signal the start of Dave King's 38th race in 2007. But still the 43-year-old views the Journal-sponsored Blaydon Race as one of the highlights of a year which will take him the length and breadth of the British Isles.

King's attempt to travel around Britain and Ireland in 80 races has seen him run at midnight, race with a friend's Labrador, dress as a banana, run through mountains, and push a pushchair through Battersea Park as the Royal Philharmonic played in the background. Nevertheless, the famous Geordie race stands out for the Hampshire runner.

"This has been two years in the planning and when I was mapping it out I looked at races I really had to do," explains King, a Southampton-based journalist who runs for Stubbington Green Runners. "Blaydon was one of the first I wanted to do because it has such character and culture. I've never done it before, but I'm really looking forward to it because it's got such a fantastic reputation.

"With the Great North Run, Brendan Foster and Nova have rekindled interest in running and spread it to a wider population.

"The races I'm doing represent so many different cultures and the Blaydon is one of the strongest in that respect. (Organiser) Bob Houston has been a great help, giving me information about the history of the race and a fantastic race programme written in Geordie.

"I'm a bit like Alan Whicker in running shoes. I want to meet people and find out about their culture as I travel to these races."

King plans to write a book about his experiences, due to be published in autumn 2008. But that is not his primary reason motivation.

"The main idea is to raise money and awareness for autism," he says. "My nine-year-old son, Ross, suffers from autism. It affects one in every 10,000 and has a huge impact on their lives. They don't have white sticks or wheelchairs and they have the faces of angels so people don't always notice."

He aims to raise £20,000 for Hampshire Autism Society, with seven fund-raisers to boost the coffers.

King has been running for five years and completed three London Marathons but there has been no shortage of new experiences.

"I spent New Year's Eve in Derby running a 3km race which started at three minutes to midnight so I was running into 2007," he recalls. "Then I hopped in a car to Cornwall, where I ran the Brown Willy - a 6.8-mile mountain race.

"I'm doing big races like the Great North Run and the London Marathon, famous ones like The Grizzly, The Terminator, the Braemar Highland Games and the downright silly, like the Neolithic Cani-Cross Run where I raced to Stonehenge with a dog! At the end of last month I did the Beat the Baton Race over 5km in Battersea Park, London. I ran with the Royal Philharmonic with Ross in a pushchair - not many people can say that.

"It will finish where it began when I go back to Derby on New Year's Eve for the Bryan Clifton Memorial Midnight Run. I've met some fabulous people in places I've never been to and probably never would have.

"I'm having to pace myself gently and rein myself in. My biggest worry is injury because if I pick one up, the whole thing's off. I'm number 448 and I'll be dressed all in green. I'll be the one with the smile on my face, but I suppose so will all of us."

Next stop after Blaydon will be Sunday's Asics Potters Arf in Stoke. To make a donation log on to www.justgiving.com/mugsgame.

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