A DURHAM University student who helped his mum through a tough battle with breast cancer is taking on one of the UK’s biggest sporting challenges and is calling on local runners to join him.

Harry Ashcroft, aged 20, will be putting his best foot forward in this year’s Virgin Money London Marathon (VMLM) on Sunday, April 23 and is raising funds to help Cancer Research UK beat cancer sooner.

Harry, who plays a lot of sport at university where he is studying French and Spanish, is encouraging anyone who already has a place in this year’s event to unite with him in the fight against the disease by joining the charity’s running team.

The student from Dorset hopes that together, they will raise as much money as possible for life-saving research to help more men, women and children survive.

He said: “Cancer Research UK is very close to my heart. I was shocked when mum told me she had been diagnosed with cancer but, thanks to research, she is still here today. By raising money through the Virgin Money London Marathon, I want to help the charity ensure more people, like my mum, are treated successfully.”

Harry, who has two younger sisters aged 15 and 18, was on a gap year working as a bartender in Meribel, France, during the ski season last February when his mum Angela learned she had cancer following a routine mammogram.

Harry cut short his work and flew to meet her and his family on holiday in Italy while they waited for Angela’s treatment plan to be finalised.

He said: “It had been quite emotional speaking to mum when I wasn’t there, but a relief to see her looking quite normal in spite of the fact she had cancer.

“After the holiday I decided to come home and look after her as she couldn’t drive after her operation and needed help shopping and cooking. I was glad to do it, even though it wasn’t what I expected to be doing.”

Angela was referred to the Royal Marsden in London where she had surgery on her lymph nodes followed by a mastectomy.

By July last year she was doing well, having not needed chemotherapy, and Harry resumed his gap year with a trip to Madagascar.

Harry said: “The Virgin Money London Marathon is one of the most exciting running events in the world and I’m really delighted that I’ll be part of it for the first time. I decided to run it for Cancer Research UK because we are so grateful for the treatment and care Mum received and wanted to give something back.

“Pounding the pavements has definitely been challenging at times but it’s so motivating to know that the money I raise is helping to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.”

A field of around 38,000 competitors, including serious and fun runners, are expected to take part in the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon.

Last year, Cancer Research UK’s Marathon team raised £1.6 million to help accelerate life-saving research.

But you don’t need to run 26 miles to help beat cancer sooner. The charity has a wide range of running events for all abilities, including half marathons and 10ks for men and women, as well as the women-only Race for Life 5k,10k and Pretty Muddy events.

And for women who have been inspired by the London Marathon and want a challenge, there’s the Race for Life Marathon and Half Marathon events in London and Nottinghamshire.

Lisa Millett, Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson for Durham, said: “It’s thanks to the support of people like Harry that we are able to go on making progress in the fight against cancer.

“There is still time for anyone who already has a place in the Virgin Money London Marathon to join our fantastic team of runners. Or if you are inspired by Harry’s experience why not try one of our other runs, including the new Pretty Muddy which is coming to Chester-Le-Street in June.

“Everyone who pulls on their trainers for Cancer Research UK will know every step they take brings us a step closer to winning the race against the disease.”

To sign up to run for the charity or volunteer on the day visit cruk.org/marathon.