Grand Union Canal Solo – Mark Thornberry
Running ultras is Mark Thornberry’s way to raise funds for liver cancer research
A few months after his terminal liver cancer diagnosis Mark felt good enough to cover the 145 miles of the Grand Union Canal Race.
He had trained for the challenge but couldn’t join on race day because of his surgery, so he decided to run it some months later, individually! But he wasn’t on his own!
Mark wrote on his blog:
“I now intend to run the route as my own personal ‘race’ – but I don’t have the fitness to do this ‘in one’ (and can’t hang about for next year), so will break it up over 3 days…with 2 nights rest en route – the medics have told me that if my body is willing, I should go for it.”
“I will be heading off on Saturday 2nd September at 8am from Gas Street, Birmingham (the start of the Canal) and hopefully will get to the finish line sometime on the evening of Monday 4th. I am finalizing the logistics (though it is currently looking like I will split the days’ mileage into 47/53/45 mile chunks), but would be more than pleased if anyone would like to join me along the towpath during this time for a jog/hike – as much or as little as you like!”
After sharing his post on Facebook, he got an amazing amount of love and support from the ultrarunning community. Lots of people joined him during his personal three-day challenge from Birmingham to Paddington, cheered him on, supplied water and sandwiches, and helped him funding ca $68.000 for research into liver disease/cancer at Kings College Hospital (KHS) in London.
“I wasn’t sure I could do it, but when you get so many people joining your efforts, it goes a long way.”
Mark is unstoppable. October 2017 he completed the 100-mile race Javelina Jundred in the hot Arizona Desert.
Despite his diagnosis and knowing that there is currently nothing more that can be done for him, Mark was strong and fit enough to prepare and take part in the 16th edition of the Grand Union Canal Race on May 26, 2018.
Every year only 90 runners manage to get in Britain’s longest, toughest, non-stop running race from Birmingham to London. Competitors are required to complete the 145-mile distance within the time limit of 45 hours.
Most people don’t even know that any human is capable of doing this, and just a handful of runners has the guts to consider toeing the start line. Which makes Mark’s story even more incredible:
Life can be difficult, but having running goals and tying them to a greater purpose takes him away from those dark places.
“I didn’t think I’d make it last year…but I’m healthy enough to go back and run the ‘proper’ race (the GUCR)…on May 26th…Birmingham to Paddington. It’s been gnawing at me since I was fortunate enough to have some brilliant support that propelled me down that amazing waterway…as a ‘fun run’ last September. More than that, it has just been a positive focus during the ‘darker times’. No overnight stops this time…a continuous 145-mile foot race. I am being crewed by the brilliant gang from before with some great running mates also racing.
I can’t thank the medical and support team at KCH enough…they are world class. And frankly, they’ve kept me alive.
“All I want to do is pay it forward.
I want others to know that
a diagnosis like this doesn’t have to be all dark.”
“Monies raised via this page to date have been deployed to enable some original research into liver cancer detection…and that is just so uplifting. I’m just not accepting of the fact that liver cancer is currently only curable by transplant (and the vast majority of us are either detected too late for that or are qualified out by other criteria). More funds are required!“
“.. wouldn’t it be great if we could find more research dollars to deal with illness,” Mark says. “I don’t know how we can shift societally to do this.. but there are folks out there with far bigger intellectual and political capability who do.”
The Kings College Hospital has been caring for Mark as an outpatient since he got his liver disease 12 years ago, and they support and treat him for his liver cancer as well.“KCH Charity Fund is the fundraising arm of King’s College Hospital in South East London. The hospital receives central funding but still needs funds for those capital items/research projects that are subject to economic constraint. The monies I am raising are ring-fenced for the Institute of Liver Studies (part of KCH – and one of the most prominent hematology institutions globally)…”On his charity funding page Mark says:
“KCH is one of the great NHS teaching/research hospitals…and it is brilliant. Everyone I’ve met there, from porter to nursing support to Consultant have been off the chart with their dedication to patient care.They all know that liver cancer patients have a very poor prognosis.
Having spent some time as a patient on the wards there, you just sense how much more the team wants to do to fix you completely or to get you more time.
But in the majority of cases they can’t…the treatment options for liver cancer patients are very limited, the research £s aren’t there (and I’m not going to get political here), I get the sense that NHS funding for critical illness is still massively triaged, let alone is it enough in relative terms. The big Pharma companies have their own agendas and preferred target markets. So, I’m going to do my bit to help KCH Charity Fund, and thus am asking for your support. If you could sponsor me for these running challenges/races, that would be brilliant.”
Mark and I became friends after our roads crossed at Javelina Jundred 2017.
June 14, 2020 Mark’s race ended. Rest in peace my friend. You’ll always be an inspiration!
“At the end of June 2017 I was diagnosed with terminal primary liver cancer and given 6 to 9 months to live.
On January 30th 2019 I underwent major surgery to remove more than 50% of my liver. A procedure that had hitherto not been possible to prescribe given the disposition of my cancer and the complication of having underlying cirrhosis. The operation went as well as possible.
However, my tumour biology means that I am susceptible to recurrence, and at the beginning of May 2019 (and at the time of writing this update) scans have revealed secondary cancer outside of the liver.
I am coming to terms with this…but boy, it’s hard to take whilst still not 100% recovered from the previous surgery.
A treatment plan is being formulated and I am firmly resolved to uphold what I said after my initial diagnosis – I refuse, absolutely refuse, to go quietly into the night. I’ve undergone five procedures and am still jabbing away some two years later, though the medics are unsure as to why. This is the nature of liver cancer in many, many cases.
So, whilst and when I can, I’m going to use my passion for ultrarunning as a means to keep raising funds for research into my cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) at King’s College Hospital (KCH) in London – who have been caring for me as an outpatient for the past 14 years for my liver disease and who are now providing support and treatment for my cancer.”
More about Mark and how to support him: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/MarkThornberry