"Are you going to join us then?!" Those were the few, seemingly innocuous words. Trouble is, they came from Mike Tomlinson. On Twitter. It was my fault, for tweeting Mike after I heard that policeman Bob Bowman, a trustee of the Leeds Rugby Foundation, was taking part in the Jane Tomlinson Appeal 10th Anniversary Challenge. This was to involve running the Paris Marathon, cycling from there to London, via Leeds (a distance of about 600 miles) then running the London marathon, without a day to recover. I laughed Mike's reply off. But a seed was sown. The damage was done. A week later I was having a pint (well a couple) with Mike and Siobhan, who works for the Jane Tomlinson Appeal.
As I explained, there were lots of reasons why I couldn't really do the challenge. Work, parliament, the training, the family. So whilst I made clear my admiration - and my temptation to join them - I didn't accept. I don't make promises I can't keep so I just said I would think about it. Trouble is, then I couldn't stop thinking about it.
Being asked to take part in a challenge by Mike Tomlinson is a bit like being asked to climb a mountain with Chris Bonnington or being asked to join a band by Mick Jagger. The challenge itself was a truly daunting one, strangely that was precisely the appeal. In 2009 I did what I said would be my one and only marathon, a lifetime goal achieved, a tick in the box of things you want to do before you die. I did it as part of a '126 Mile Challenge' which meant following it up with a 100 mile walk in one go, a few weeks later. I absolutely meant it when I said I didn't want to do a marathon again, not because it was so awful, it was a great experience, but because there was no point: I had run a decent time and doing another one would not be a big deal. But Mike was asking me to do two. That was a new challenge. With 'a bit of cycling' in between.
I spent the first couple of months after Christmas quickly training, to see if I still had time to get myself into the kind of shape I would need to be in to do one marathon, never mind two. It started badly, with an excruciatingly painful pulled abdominal, the morning after my first hard gym session in several weeks. I thought that was likely to be that and that I wouldn't be thinking much longer about the challenge. But I was able to run within a few days and leaving abs alone for a few weeks, I was back into practically a full training programme, albeit at least a week behind schedule. A couple of months later, it looked as though I could be ready in time to give it a go. So I told Mike and Siobhan.
The final hurdle was to get entry to the two marathons - I was just in time for Paris and got entry as an MP into London, joining a decent number of parliamentary colleagues, who are also running it. I already feel somewhat jealous that they will do it fresh and ready, whereas - if I get that far - I will be doing if having run and pedalled 626 or so miles over the previous 7 days! Then, I was very lucky - and hugely grateful - to get the backing of a number of local companies, who made it possible for me to take part in the Challenge - Evans Cycles, who have provided the bike on which I will attempt the challenge, 2 View Properties in Hyde Park and Hamara Healthy Living Centre, who have covered my costs; Jet 2 who are flying me to Paris to start the challenge, Up & Running, for providing me with my running shoes in which to try to complete both marathons and overall sponsors Lucozade, who are provisig the whole team with energy drinks and gels throughout the challenge. It is down to them that I am taking part and I cannot thank them enough.
So why did I decide that I wanted to do something that will, without doubt, even if I succeed, be incredibly tough, exhausting, deeply uncomfortable and actually painful?
Well in the end, it is down to Jane Tomlinson. It is 10 years since Jane Tomlinson, CBE, ran the London marathon for the first time, the first terminally ill breast cancer patient to complete it. She and Mike then went on to complete a series of increasingly extraordinary feats of endurance and first people across Leeds were amazed and inspired, then people up and down the country then across the world. I met Jane once, briefly, when she rightly was made an Honorary Citizen of Leeds and given the freedom of the city. I was then a Councillor and found myself next to her as we went to get a cup of tea. I simply said hello and smiled. She smiled back. I didn't introduce myself as there was no need to. I was there simply to pay tribute to her achievements and to celebrate them in a formal way as a Council and as a city. I have met a few notable people in my life - the Queen, pop stars, sports stars but never have I felt that I have truly met a great person more when I met Jane. In my opinion, a truly great person is an ordinary person who does extraordinary things. I have never therefore met anyone more truly a great person than Jane Tomlinson and that is itself an honour. To be joining her husband and daughter to celebrate her extraordinary achievements and personality is an honour and privilege that in the end I could not say no to.
Of course I am doing this to try to raise money to support wonderful charities. Firstly, of course, the Jane Tomlinson Appeal, who help children's and cancer charities across Yorkshire, the UK and the globe. There are few families who have not been touched by cancer and mine is no different. My mum's sister, a non-smoker, was taken by lung cancer; my wife's grandmother has battled breast cancer and her grandfather bowel cancer. I am also raising money for the Leeds Rugby Foundation, of whom I am proud to be a Vice President, who work in partnership with the Jane Tomlinson Appeal and promote community participation and work to transform young peoples' lives through the power of sport by fighting social inequality. Finally, on my doorstep but helping children who need help a long way away, I am also raising money for Kidz in Kampz, of whom I am proud to be Patron, who fund programs for children displaced by conflict in refugee camps on the Thai/ Burmese border. I hope I can help a little with the truly extraordinary fundraising efforts of Jane, Mike and Rebecca and the remarkable amount they have raised through their efforts over the years.
I am also doing the Anniversary Challenge because I want to do my little bit, as a Leeds MP, to celebrate the woman and the family from Leeds who have inspired every man, woman and child in Leeds and in Yorkshire. She inspired a city, a county and then a nation.
So I feel daunted by the huge challenge ahead and do not know if I will have the physical ability and mental strength to complete it. But I will try to reflect on the fact that Jane took on amazing feats of endurance whilst terminally ill with cancer and in some cases in great pain. That I simply cannot imagine and it is a level of courage and forbearing that I will never have. But ten years on from Jane's first marathon, I feel privileged and proud to be lining up with Mike and Rebecca Tomlinson, with Bob and with a team of people who feel the same and who want to do their best to achieve a fraction of what she did.
Today I am a proud Leeds MP. Tomorrow, when I line up with my Mike, Rebecca and Bob and the rest of our team, at the starting line of the Paris Marathon, I will just be - and will be proud to be - a member of Team Tomlinson as we attempt to do Jane proud with this, her 10th Anniversary Challenge.
Greg Mulholland MP
Member of the Jane Tomlinson 10th Anniversary Challenge Team, Paris to London, April 2012