A “mere” 800 metre swim followed by a “wee” 10km run is all that stands in the way of Graeme Lundberg completing a challenge which if described as superhuman wouldn’t be too much of an overstatement. When the 33 year oldformer Dundee United youth team player crosses the finishing line at the Stirling Aquathon on Sunday, he will have completed 22 grueling events in seven months. And the fact that he uses those two words in quotation marks above to describe his final effort, gives you an insight into how tough some of the other 21 have been.
After reading in the Dundee Courier about little Oliver Gill’s tragic five and a half month battle against a very rare and aggressive form of cancer, Graeme decided to, as he put it, “change a few things and get the finger out” and raise some money for the Love Oliver Charity Trust Fund which was set up in memory of baby Oliver by his parents Andy and Jennifer. The charity, which has raised over £118,000 helps fund research into childhood cancer and provide support to families affected by it. Graeme explains that the relatively new experience of becoming a father himself played a major part in motivating him to help. “My young lad, Joseph, was about 9 months old at the time and the year before, I probably would have just skirted through the paper on my way to the sports section or Television pages, but once I started reading the piece about Oliver it was hard to fathom the bravery of his parents, two of the bravest people I know. There were certain pictures of Oliver that reminded me of my own son and I just wanted to do something to raise awareness and also some cash for this charity which captured my heart”.
If you take a look at the Facebook and Twitter accounts he set up to document his fundraising journey, then you’ll notice they’re both called 5MarathonsGL. So while his heartfelt connection to Oliver’s story might go some way to explaining setting himself an arduous five marathon challenge, how does he explain finding himself “doing a 1900m doggie paddle” in the freezing cold water of Loch Tay as part of the Aberfeldy Half Ironman? “That wasn’t on the cards!” he admits. “Initially, I thought the maximum I could do was maybe five marathons – all the Scottish ones, which was still a lot as the most I had run previously was a 10k, and to be honest my knees were in all sorts of trouble after that. There was no way I would’ve even thought about doing a half marathon and then one week after reading about Oliver, I’m thinking about doing 5 full ones, and then it just escalated from there into finding out what other events I could get involved in”.
He suffered with injury in the early stages of training and now understands he was a bit too keen to get going. His eagerness in trying to run ten or eleven miles straight off meant that he needed some treatment to deal with a painful IT band problem, but the mileage he’s covered, whether on foot, two wheels or in the water is even more impressive given the fact that apart from some physiotherapy, he’s had no professional help with his training; something that gets highlighted particularly when competing in the Duathlons or Triathlons. He said, “At a lot of the events I go to, most people are wearing a running club vest or t-shirt and in most cases have an affiliation to one. It’s a wee bit intimidating, especially when you see them going about in groups with the same tracksuits on like a football team”. The attire of his fellow athletes wasn’t the only difference Graeme noticed, their equipment also caught his eye. “You should see some of the bikes! You wouldn’t spend that amount of money on your car and I pitch up on a bike I got for a couple of hundred quid from Amazon, trying to race against guys on machines that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Olympic velodrome!” Although he’s a natural competitor, Graeme was well aware he wouldn’t be featuring at the business end of these events but that’s never been his goal and he explains what it’s really all about. “Every event I compete in, I wear my Love Oliver t-shirt, and anyone that’s willing to chat during a race (and if I’m able to!) I’ll talk them through the whole cause and how to donate. It’s about getting the word out there and I’ve been up and down the country doing that.”
A quick look at some of the locations these extreme tests of body and mind have taken place in and you could be forgiven for thinking he’s had a lovely time taking in some of the finest scenery our country has to offer. Fife beaches, National Parks, beautiful coastlines, lochs, mountains, the capital city, and stunning, scenic Highland roads have all featured in Graeme’s varied itinerary. He admits Scotland’s beauty has been somewhat wasted on him, “It’s true, there have been some great scenic courses, but most of the time I’m focused about 30 yards in front of me and that’s it, just trying to drive on and keep running”. It’s not surprising that the undulating terrain and inclement weather of this beautiful country throws up some interesting challenges for the novice marathon runner. “Each marathon is it’s own wee beastie.” He continues, “For example, The Edinburgh Marathon was really tough. It was about 27 degrees so that was a fair shift and the one after that was Strathearn where the route was based around the hilly Comrie/Crieff area. There was hardly a flat bit on the whole course with a huge climb to something like 1500 feet above sea level – almost at altitude!”, he jokes.
Graeme is inspired by the determination Andy and Jennifer have shown to raise as much money as possible for such a worthwhile cause and he uses their example as motivation when the going gets tough. However, he’s had to really dig deep into his reserves of courage on more than one occasion – often when swimming is involved. “The thought of doing the Half Ironman terrified me”, he said. It would terrify most people. A half Iron Man consists of a 1900m swim, 56 mile bike ride, then a half marathon to finish so It’s no wonder it played on his mind. He admits, “I couldn’t sleep for the whole week just thinking about it, mainly because, I’m one of the worlds‘ worst swimmers. I’ve always struggled with front crawl, so I decided I would breast stroke the majority of the Loch Tay swim”. He was just happy to survive that particular experience but it highlights his willingness to step outside of his comfort zone and push his body to it’s limits. But there is some method to his madness. “The reason I’ve been adding on more events and tougher ones at that, is to promote the charity. You see celebrities, guys like John Bishop and David Walliams, doing outrageous challenges, so I feel these days you’ve got to do more to capture peoples’ imaginations and wrestle money out of their wallets.”
So far Graeme has raised over £4000 but it’s not all been down to putting his body through the pain barrier. He also organised a 5-a-side tournament which took place on Broughty Ferry beach, a golf day at Drumoig and a Dundee derby charity football match which included ex players Lee Wilkie, Ray McKinnon, Grant Johnston, Davie Hannah, Bobby Mann, Andy Dow and former United under 16 teammates, Richard Thomson, Chris Devine and Steven Fallon. He couldn’t resist pulling the boots on again himself, playing the last 15 minutes along with Oliver’s Dad, Andy.
Andy’s wife, Jennifer, is in awe of the lengths Graeme has gone to to raise money for the charity she and her husband set up in Oliver’s memory almost two years ago. She said, “We’ve had a lot of support and people have done amazing things to raise money and awareness, but we’ve never had anyone do anything like this. When we heard Graeme was thinking about running five marathons, we thought that seemed a lot, but 22 events is incredible!”. Jennifer acknowledges that Graeme has inspired a good number of people to get involved and has certainly spread the word about Love Oliver while he’s swam, cycled, and run all over Scotland. Jennifer adds, “I’m delighted he’s agreed to become an ambassador for Love Oliver as there’s no one better suited than Graeme. He’s so modest and his wife has also been so supportive”.
On that note, it’s fair to say Graeme won’t be the only person happy to see the finish line on Sunday. His wife Katriona, and son Joseph, have accompanied him at almost every event and while they’ve often made the most of their weekends away at events together, he realises it’s probably time to have one that doesn’t involve them waiting for him to finish a race. But is this the end? It’s hard to believe him when he says he’s finished. In fact he eventually admits to “pencilling in a few more, 10k’s and such like, and I’ll keep myself ticking over but I’m not sure I’ll do another marathon any time soon.” He pauses for about three seconds before saying, “You know what, I probably will!”.
Below is the full list of events Graeme has completed.
1) Stirling Duathlon Mar25th; 2) Lochaber Marathon Apr15th; 3) Edinburgh-North Berwick 20mile RoadRace May5th; 4) Monikie 10k May13th; 5) Edinburgh Marathon May27th; 6) Perth Kilt Run June2nd; 7) Chariots St Andrews Beach 5k June 3rd 8) Strathearn Marathon June 10th; 9) Highland-Perthshire 100mile cycle June16th; 10) Stonehaven Half Mara July 1st; 11) Crieff 10k July8th; 12) Loch Lomond Triathlon July 14th; 13) Dundee Half Marathon July 29th; 14) Dyce Half Marathon, Aug 12th; 15) Aberfeldy Half-Ironman Aug18th; 16) St Andrews Sportive 80mile cycle, Aug 26th 17) Moray Marathon Sep2nd; 18) Olympic Triathlon Challenge Sep; 19) Pitlochry 10k Sept23rd; 20) Loch Ness Marathon Sept 30th; 21) Great Edinburgh Run 10k; 22) Stirling Aquathon Oct 14th
Also visit the Love Oliver homepage to find out more about what the charity is doing to help in the fight against childhood cancer.