ATHLETES are celebrating after a virtual trial took them the length of the country to raise thousands of pounds for a worthy cause.

The 30-day Yakman Challenge saw volunteers run and cycle the equivalent of Land’s End to John o’ Groats to raise much-needed funds for a hospice whose finances have been blighted by COVID-19.

The event was organised by Grant McTaggart, long-time supporter of St Teresa’s Hospice, which helps people living with life-limiting illnesses and their families in Darlington, South Durham and North Yorkshire.

Around 140 people took part raising close to £4,000 for the hospice, which needs to raise over £3m a year to provide day, in-patient and community care, as well as family support and bereavement counselling.

Pandemic restrictions decimated St Teresa’s ability to fundraise by forcing the cancellation or postponement of many traditional events and restricting the opening of its chain of charity shops.

Understanding its plight, challenge organiser Grant McTaggart put out a call to local athletes who responded in fine fashion beating initial targets by almost £1,000.

Throughout June, participants completed one of four options: cycle and run the complete length from Land’s End to John o’ Groats which comprises 774 miles by bike and a 100 mile run; cycle and run from Darlington to John o’ Groats, which is 400 miles on the bike and a run of 60 miles; cycle as far as they could from Land’s End; or run as far as they could from Land’s End.

Competitors paid a £30 entry fee with many also collecting sponsorship. They used a treadmill, exercise bike, or went out to run and cycle, tracking their progress on Strava.

Grant, a member of Darlington Triathlon Club, who also organises the annual Taggart Trot run at Christmas for the hospice, said: “I am absolutely over the moon with the response which has been phenomenal. Competitors loved the challenge.”

For fellow Darlington Triathlon Club member and Yarm teacher Katherine Butterfield the event was the perfect antidote to lockdown, a chance to improve her fitness and help an invaluable community service, which is literally around the corner from her home, by raising £746.25. Anyone still wanting to donate can do so at https://bit.ly/3g6FlGh.

She said: “It was great to have something so worthwhile to focus on when all our other races were cancelled.

“I initially planned to do the shorter route but because I was working from home did this in just two weeks so thought I would give the full distance a go. I ended up cycling 774 miles and running 100, most of which with my rescue collie-cross Alfie.

“I normally try to do something for charity and had signed up for the Great North Run, which was cancelled, so the Yakman provided the perfect opportunity to still help St Teresa’s.”

St Teresa’s Hospice chief executive Jane Bradshaw said: “I am so pleased that Grant and his colleagues have recognised our current plight and helped us in such spectacular fashion.

“Even before the pandemic struck we were predicting a deficit, like many other hospices in the UK. COVID-19 has made things doubly difficult and we really do appreciate all help from the community.”

Donations can still be made to St Teresa’s Hospice emergency appeal at: https://justgiving.com/campaign/hugtostts.

Anyone wanting to organise a fundraising activity can contact the hospice on (01325) 254321 or email events@darlingtonhospice.org.uk for advice.