Leeds United allow fan to finish ultra-marathon in memory of his father inside Elland Road

A Leeds United fan who lost his "hero" father in February to alcoholism at the age of 56 is to take on four 56km ultra-marathons across November.

Harry Cleary, 25, said he wanted to take on the running feat because the sport "saved me in a way" after the passing of his father Graham.

"My father struggled with alcoholism his whole life and it intertwined with his own mind and in the end got too much for him," the fundraising operations assistant at Movember said. "He passed away in February and it has been a very difficult year, and the one thing that's really saved me in a way has been running.

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"I literally got into running in March as I was searching for some solace, some direction and some sort of purpose - alongside finishing university."

Harry will be finishing his fourth ultra-marathon inside Elland Road Stadium, Leeds. Picture credit: Simon Bellis/SportimageHarry will be finishing his fourth ultra-marathon inside Elland Road Stadium, Leeds. Picture credit: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Harry will be finishing his fourth ultra-marathon inside Elland Road Stadium, Leeds. Picture credit: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

He added the year before his father died he became "very ill" and ended up in hospital for between a month and two months.

"[Staff] basically said, if you drink again, you will die because your body just cannot take this anymore," Mr Cleary said. "He didn't drink for a bit and then started again, so once he started drinking again, he knew how it ended for him and I think he just accepted that life was too much for him to carry on."

Mr Cleary described his father as a "very complex individual", who was "fiercely intelligent and sharp-witted".

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"It was really sad to see your first hero as a young man pass away as a shell of a man that he once was," he added. "But he gave me such a love for history, which I studied at university and graduated with a first in the subject this year (from Newcastle University), which is something that I know he really wanted me to do.

"The reason I love running and I think I have a natural affinity for sport and being active was because my dad was a sportsman and got me into supporting his boyhood club, which was Leeds United."

The final ultra-marathon, which is to take place on November 26, finishes inside Leeds United's stadium.

"I've been very fortunate that Leeds United has let me finish inside the stadium," he said. "I'm going to have all my family and friends there - so it is going to be a really special day, and it was such a big part of my dad's life - he was such a massive Leeds United fan."

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On the final run, Mr Cleary is to also run past places of significance linked to his father, including his father's childhood home.

"I'm running past my dad's childhood home in Farsley, and then the first house that he bought when he first moved out at 19," he said.

"I'll also be running past where we had his funeral because it's all in the same region in Leeds and then finishing inside the stadium, and he went to his first Leeds game when he was three years old. His dad was also a Leeds United fan, so it is a big part of our family."

November 4 marks the first run, with the second and third taking place on November 11 and November 18, respectively, and will all be around London.

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The 25-year-old added that planning the routes has been an "absolute nightmare", but the app Strava has helped him map the days.

As for training, it has been "difficult" to fit in runs alongside work, but Mr Cleary said he thinks about why he is doing the challenge, which gives him the energy to carry on.

"When you have had a long day at work and you have to run in the dark and in the cold, those are the moments when I think about why I am doing this," he said.

Mr Cleary has raised close to £3,000 for Movember, which he said has made him feel "overwhelmed".

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"Sometimes I get donations and I have to sit there for 10 minutes and figure out how on earth I thank those people, and I have to pinch myself because I feel so lucky to have such an amazing support network from Movember and my family," he added. "Some people have even said they will join me on the runs, which will be nice."

He said the message he hopes people take away from him sharing his story is: "Life is short, life is fragile. Love the people around you and make the most of the time you have."

He added: "Something that has helped my mental health it to have positive coping mechanisms - that doesn't necessarily have to be running, it can be journaling, the creative arts, finding a job you're passionate about of surrounding yourself with good people."

Mr Cleary's fundraising page can be found here: https://uk.movember.com/mospace/14477680

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Mr Cleary's journey can be followed on his Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/harry_cleary?igshid=OGQ5ZDc2ODk2ZA%3D%3D&utm_source=qr

This November marks 20 years of Movember - the moustache that powered a men's health movement and funded over 1,320 projects around the world. More information about Movember can be found here: https://uk.movember.com/

For help and support in crisis, contact The Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/

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