Stretching out at East Strand in Portrush is Andy Deal.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Stretching out at East Strand in Portrush is Andy Deal.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.

LOCAL man Andy Deal has set himself an extraordinary running challenge all in aid of a very special charity.

At 9.30 am on Saturday 22 June the running enthusiast will set off on a 24 hour run on the East Strand in Portrush to raise money for SANDS NI (Stillbirth & Neonatal Death Support), a charity which is very close to Andy’s heart as he explained to Times Sport.

“My daughter Poppy Rose died in 2009 only eight days old,” said Andy. “This as you can imagine devastated the family and life will never be the same again.

“Anyone that has been in the same situation as we have knows that losing a child creates extremely powerful emotions; devastation, being lost, numbness, fear, anger, disbelief, pain and the list goes on. It can break you in two at such random times.

“Yet these extremely powerful emotions can, when the time is right, allow to achieve the unachievable, face your worst fears, make you strong, suffer extreme pain because we have been through worse. And only when the time is right can this happen.

“So I will be taking myself out of my comfort zone completely to achieve something that I thought I could never do. SANDS NI has really helped our family with their monthly meetings, bereaved parents are able to be the Mummy’s and Daddy’s of the children and babies they have lost.

“They are able to talk freely about their feelings and emotions to other like people, without the person listening recoiling into their pocket for fear of making us upset, crossing the street to avoid contact, wondering isn’t it about time you got over it. We never get over this, ever.”

Andy is a keen runner now and is event director of the Portrush parkrun, which is held every Saturday morning on the East Strand and will provide the starting point for his challenge. But he wasn’t always as keen on the sport as he revealed.

“As a youngster I used to loathe the cross country run in the rain and the wind but like most things I didn’t like back then I’ve learnt to see things for what they are,” said Andy.

“Having done four marathons now, my first one was Ney York City Marathon with my wife on our first wedding anniversary. I have been recently drawn to going a little further. The Causeway Coast Ultra (organised by 26 extreme) is right on our doorstep and that’s 39 miles, I’ve listened to Marathon Talk podcasts on my training runs to get more of an understanding about how to run better and achieve more.

“This then lead to listening to Talk Ultra podcasts (an Ultra is anything more than a marathon) were running 50, 60, 100 miles or more is not considered to be weird. Part of these podcasts talked about 24 hour runs and seeing how far you could go in that time. I had run marathons to raise money for SANDS NI before but now was time to up the ante, maybe the time was right.

“Training for a 24-hour event is very similar to marathon training, through the week there will be two or three sessions of about 6-8 miles, one of which will be a faster tempo run and another will be up and down hills. The main difference to marathon training is the longer runs at the weekend, with a marathon you would do progressively longer runs up until about a month before the event and then gradually reduce them but only do one long run.

“With the 24-hour event I will be doing two days of these runs, preferably back to back. So on a Friday I might do 18 miles then the same again on the Saturday, up to a maximum of about 30 miles for each day. This allows the body a chance to get used to running on tired legs. Walking is also a big part of a 24 hour event, running for 24 hours non-stop is in a league way above mine. So the plan is to start out slow and easy to allow my body to conserve energy for the last quarter.

“The plan is to try to break the 100 mile mark within the 24 hour period, as Talk Ultra podcasts have explained that a 100 mile event is basically a 75 mile warm up to a marathon. I have been training on and will continue to train on the beach at East Strand for some of my runs, just to get my legs used to the sand.

“I will also have to start running in the middle of the night to make sure I can run at these times and to test out any kit I will have with me like my head torch etc. Feeding is also a big part of the process and that’s normally taken on board at the walking stages. I will plan to do 6-9 miles running with three miles walking.”

Andy knows that running for 24 hours on sand from the East Strand beach promenade going out to the White Rocks and back brings its own set of challenges.

“Running for that length of time and distance will always have a detrimental affect on the body, there needs to be changes of clothes and shoes, blister management, first aid and hopefully a good masseuse to rub my legs,” he said.

“Running on sand increases the effort you require to run as the ground isn’t solid and stationary like the tarmac of the road. Who has been on the beach before also plays a big part as we are finding out from the parkrun, race horses can churn up the sand and cause quite large holes. Plus it’s not always flat so you have to make sure you lift your legs up a little higher to avoid trips.

“Having said all this I can think of no better place to do the run. The 22nd June is the day after Summer Solstice, so the hours of darkness will be limited, which I’m hoping will benefit me. The sea in the summer months is never really that rough and I’m hoping there’s no large changes in tides as I’ll be up and down the dunes and that’s the last thing I need at 4am after 75 miles.”

You can do your bit to support Andy either by donating or running part of the way with him.

“For anyone who would like to support me through running with me or coming down to cheer me on then they can go to our Facebook page and let me know through there,” said Andy.

“If people just want to donate money then they can do so through our Just Giving page at or alternatively to donate £1 then they can text DEAL 72 £1 to 70070.

“If people are thinking about running with me and would like to set their own challenge and raise money for SANDS NI then they should let me know through the Facebook page and I will make sure they get a sponsorship form.

“Any local businesses can assist through donations for the various different items we will need along the way such as food, soft drinks, sun tan lotion (hopefully), plasters, towels, sports gels, protein powder, fruit and the list goes on.”