In December 23rd 2015 Jake Hood from Northampton died of leukaemia aged just 19 years old. Jake took on blood cancer head on and battled for over three years until the disease finally took his life. He wanted to do so much more to help others suffering from leukaemia but he sadly never had the chance. On Sunday 15th October, two of his friends from his local rugby club BBORFC in Northampton will take on the inaugural Birmingham International marathon in his memory whilst a memorial rugby match is played at the club back home. Paul Barker is one of those runners and this is his story in his own words...
Just a few years ago I was in my early 30’s, just a couple of ounces under 24 stone, officially classifiable as morbidly obese, and slowly getting bigger every day. Like a lot of overweight people it was something I wanted to change, and one day for no real reason I decided that day was the day to make that change. What made me decide that it was the day to make that change I don’t know. But it’s best decision I’ve ever made.
Fast forward a few years and 11 stone later and it’s safe to say that my life has changed, a lot. At the end of my weight loss journey I knew I was lighter, but not any fitter, and I decided that was the next thing that needed to change. I’d always been “kind of fit” thanks to playing rugby, but never actually fit. Having not ridden a bike in probably the best part of 20 years I went out and got a bike and started to get some miles in on that, and that was ok. But you’d never catch me running. That was for skinny, fit people. Certainly not for me!!
You can imagine my surprise then when on New Years Day 2015 I went and signed up for that year's Great North Run. Much like the decision to lose the weight it came out of nowhere, suddenly I wanted to give this running thing a try. Frankly, I thought that as it didn’t involve chasing a rugby ball I’d hate it, give up, and never bother again. One thing I realised about myself along the way through this journey though is that I’m not wired that way. It turns out I’m not the quitting type, quite the opposite in fact. It turns out I’m actually quite a scarily focused person when I set myself a target.
I started running in January of 2015, and I was terrible – 11 minute miles were a struggle. It was embarrassing, I hated that I was that slow. But I didn’t give up. I don’t like being bad at something once I’ve decided I want to do it, and I will work to get better, very very hard if I have to. I stuck with it, very slowly got faster, along the way got myself a bike and put in some miles on that too, and things started to come together. I signed up for a 12 week training plan for the 2015 Great North Run, and based on my first run for that plan my finishing time was expected to be somewhere around the 2h 15m mark.
Again, fast forward 12 weeks and I crossed the finish line in 1h 58m. I was delighted to have broken the 2 hour mark, loved every minute of the Great North Run itself, it’s a great event, and started to realise that I’d actually enjoyed pushing myself in training.
In 2016 I ran Northampton Half Marathon, with the same 12 week training block, in a time of 1h 56m – only just faster than GNR, but faster none the less.
In January of this year one of my friends and team mates at Northampton BBOB RFC, Tim Briggs, who’s also running Birmingham International Marathon in memory of Jake Hood, told me he’d signed up and he tried to get me to do it too, and I told him .. no chance!! 13 .1 miles is enough for me. However, after some time to get used to the idea, and realising that I’d got times set for every run distance except the 26.2 miles of a marathon, I took the plunge and signed up in early March.
Having seen everything Jake and his family went through, and Jake’s incredible bravery throughout his battle with leukaemia, and having played rugby with Jake’s dad for many, many years, which forms bonds and friendships that go well beyond a rugby pitch, I knew I’d like to do something to help carry on Jake’s legacy and I knew this was it.
Seeing your friends and their family go through something like that and not being able to anything to help is really tough, especially when they handle it with such strength and dignity, doing nothing to help carry on Jake’s legacy was never an option for me. The fact that; it’s the Birmingham International Marathon with Jake’s family ties to Birmingham, it is taking place on the same day as Jake’s annual memorial rugby match and that Cure Leukaemia are based in Birminghamn signalled that sometimes the stars just align themselves in a way that you just can’t ignore.
Jake receiving an award from Cure Leukaemia CEO James McLaughlin in 2015
So, how do I feel about my decision to enter a marathon now? Awesome, the second best decision I’ve ever made!! I’ve really thrown myself into the training, running 250 miles in August alone, more than I’ve ever run in a year before!! I've loved every, hard and sweaty or often rain soaked mile of it. I’ve run a couple of half marathons in training for this and I’ve knocked 15 minutes off my finishing time from that first Great North Run, and I can’t wait to get to that start line on Sunday October 15th.
Jake's mum Jo had these words of encouragement for Paul: "Jake really wanted to help to make a difference in fighting this terrible disease and was disappointed and frustrated that following the testimonial game his health deteriorated so quickly he was not able to do more. It is testament to Jake and his amazing friends that since he died his friends have chosen and are committed to continue the work Jake so bravely started.
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