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Darren Runs An Amazing 213 Miles For Local Charity

07 Jul 2023
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Darren Mallon from Craigavon has been busy clocking up the miles over recent months, running the Dublin, London, and Belfast Marathons to raise vital funds for local health charity, Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke (NICHS). Those felt like a walk in the park however when Darren took on an ultra-running challenge for the charity over 2 days in June- the Norn Iron Ultra. This is a gruelling 106.9-mile ultra-run along the North Antrim coast, running from Ballintoy to the village of Gortin in County Tyrone.

Darren has been running in memory of his father, Michael, who sadly passed away suddenly from a heart attack. Darren says; “My father died of a sudden and unexpected heart attack two years ago. He had always seemed fit and healthy, working hard in his job as a joiner. I never even remember him having a cold or flu. That’s why everyone was so shocked when he passed away and it has been such a tremendous loss to our family.”

After his father passed away, Darren wanted to do something to raise funds and awareness for Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke, to help other local people affected by cardiac conditions. Darren explains; “I took up running about four years ago. I had quit playing football and was starting to get unfit and into a rut of not doing much exercise. I decided to start running for myself, to get my fitness levels back up and for my mental health. I started with a half marathon and my love of running just grew. When I decided I wanted to do something to support NICHS, a running challenge was the natural choice.”

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“I started by signing up for the Dublin Marathon. It was when I was training for this that I came across the Norn Iron Ultra challenge and decided to sign up. I completed the Dublin Marathon, took 2 weeks off and then started my 7-month ultra-run training plan in mid-November, which consisted of the London and Belfast Marathons.”

Not content with solely taking on the Belfast Marathon, Darren decided he wanted to make this fundraising challenge even bigger, by running from his home in Craigavon to Belfast before the race even started!

Darren recalls; “I was doing the Belfast Marathon with two friends and we decided to run to the start line from Craigavon. Before we even started the race, we had run 27.8 miles!”

“This was another level from the marathons I had taken part in previously. It was tougher mentally because I couldn’t run the actual marathon at my normal pace as I’d already completed such a big distance. It was hard going at a slower pace. We left Craigavon at 1.30am on the morning of the marathon and running overnight in the dark was tough. The three of us bounced off each other though and we did it. Whenever the sun came up it was a great boost to see the daylight again and it lifted us for the next part of the day.”

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Next on Darren’s challenge list came the Norn Iron Ultra which saw around 50 participants attempt to take on a challenge that most people would consider unthinkable- running 106.9 miles, non-stop. It was made even tougher by the hot, sunny weather Northern Ireland was enjoying last month.

Darren explains; “I started the run at Ballintoy at around 8am on the Saturday and that was me until I got to Gortin early on the Sunday afternoon. There were two stops of 30 minutes allowed, the first at Articlave after 34 miles, the second at Dungiven after 72 miles but I ran continuously, no sleep, nothing.”

“The previous marathons were great training exercises but the new element with this challenge was the terrain which was really tough. The first part wasn’t too bad as it was along the North Coast, but the second and third parts were brutal in places. They involved going up into the Sperrin Mountains, running through forests, jumping over fences, and going through bogs.”

“The weather was also an unforeseen extra challenge. We aren’t renowned for our great weather here but of course it was scorching that weekend! It was overcast on the Saturday morning and I didn't realise that I was getting burnt. I didn't actually realise until later on at the 72 mile stop when I was getting changed. This was when I was supposed to have a chance to eat but I couldn’t stomach much, and I was wondering why I was shivering and sweating at the same time- I had a touch of sunstroke which made things even harder.”

Darren continues; “The heat on the Sunday was unbearable- at 9am it was 23 degrees. At that stage I still had the last mountain to do- the sun was on my back and I just didn't think there was any end to that mountain, it was completely draining! It was also a mountain that you don't even go up straight, you have to zigzag up it, so the distance was more or less trebled. After I made it over the mountain I still had a marathon to go to finish the race! That was the worst part- but I kept on running.”

Although there were some very tough times throughout the race there were also lots of positive moments that helped keep Darren’s spirits up. He says; “People who live along the race route were coming out with ice pops and tins of soft drinks to help us get our sugars back up. There were people who drove past, saw what you were doing and went to the shop to get ice lollies and drove back with them. That just says a lot for the country we live in and how good people can be.”

“My wife Leanne was putting updates on social media during the race. I was getting notifications on my phone to say my Just Giving page for NICHS had got a new donation, or a lovely message from someone came through. Those really helped give me a boost, especially at 1am in the morning when I was 60 miles into the race and getting it a bit tight. I did have some hard times and that all really helped.

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“My family were also amazing. My wife Leeann was there the whole time as she crewed me with food, water, and clothes. She only got 30 minutes sleep over the 2 days herself. My family, including my mum, sons, daughter, and little granddaughter Ivy drove up to see me finish the race. I just so wanted to get to that finish line, and I did it in 30 hours 30 minutes. The emotion of getting over the line was just brilliant and to see everyone waiting for me was very special. I was absolutely wrecked but it was a great feeling at the same.”

Darren’s fundraising efforts for Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke have seen him raise over £3000 for the charity so far. He says; “The work NICHS does in local communities is fantastic and I am delighted to have raised so much for them.”

Darren is now thinking about what his next challenge might involve. He concludes; “Doing all these running challenges has shown me what your body and your mind can do if you set a goal. It’s amazing and the Norn Iron Ultra definitely lit a fire in me. Four years ago I was struggling to do my first half marathon. I never thought I’d do something like this but look at me! You really can achieve anything you set your mind to, and I want to see what else I can do.”

Tara Currie, Events and Marketing Manager at Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke adds; “We are very thankful to Darren for taking on these amazing challenges in support of us. The effort and dedication shown by Darren is nothing short of phenomenal and we were delighted he did so well at the Norn Iron Ultra.”

“Today, there are up to 470,000 people living with a chest, heart or stroke condition in Northern Ireland - that's one in three of the population. Almost 90% of our care and prevention services and research are funded exclusively by public donations. Fundraising efforts like Darren’s are vital in enabling us to continue to support the local community and provide life-changing services for people living with chest, heart and stroke conditions and their families.”

If you have been inspired by Darren’s story you can find out more about the many different ways to support NICHS at