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/ 10 October 2019

Vicar runs ‘world’s toughest’ ultramarathon

On Sunday 23rd Sep, Rev Craig Holmes stood on the start line of the ‘Grand to Grand’ ultramarathon contemplating what lay ahead – 170 miles through the desert of Arizona and Utah USA, in 6 stages, over 7 days.  It’s a self-supported race, meaning competitors must carry everything they need on their backs – all the food and equipment for the whole week (only water is rationed along the way).

Why? To raise funds for the church’s community building project.

Though the scenery is stunning, the terrain is unforgiving: soft sand, immense dunes, cross-country brush, cactus, intense climbs (over 18,000 feet across the week), and little shade with daytime temperatures over 30 deg C. On every day, except the last, competitors have to cover a marathon or more (53 miles on day 3). No wonder they call this the toughest self-supported stage race in the world.  It is also the only stage race to start from one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the awe-inspiring north rim of the Grand Canyon.

One week later, after a year of training and over 50 hours on the course, Rev Holmes, the Vicar of St Richard’s Church, Hanworth, finally succeeded in conquering this immense challenge, finishing 26th in an international field of over 100 competitors, many of whom were elite athletes (and a quarter of whom dropped out during the week).

It was a mammoth run with a great cause at heart: St Richard’s community-centred building project ‘Project Grow’ (www.project-grow.org.uk), for whom Craig is raising money through sponsorship.

St Richard’s Church serves the community of Hanworth and north Hampton, west London. The church centre is the only public meeting space in the parish – there are no other pubs, cafes or community spaces.  And for over 50 years this church has been standing with its community to overcome the challenges many local people face through deprivation in all its forms. St Richard’s is not just a place of worship, but through children’s and youth clubs, meals for older members, practical courses (e.g. the CAP Money Course), and providing space for the community simply to meet it is a true hub for Hanworth and all are welcome.

But the building, erected in 1965, having suffered numerous metal thefts to its roof, corrosion in its concrete structure, water leaks, had fallen into a general state of disrepair.  Despite the best efforts of an active and growing church membership, their building was falling apart around them.

Which is where Project Grow was born – a scheme to turn this dilapidated building into the vital community hub needed for another generation.  Phase 1 of the scheme began in July 2019, with over £300k of roofing and repair works currently being carried out, though the church has had to take out loans in order to get the works started.

Rev Holmes has raised thousands of pounds through previous running adventures, and another £3000 through Grand to Grand (so far):

“Grand to Grand was a life-changing experience for me personally, but more importantly has provided a great opportunity to for me to do something I love – running – for a place I really care about – Hanworth.  Project Grow is all about turning a crisis into an opportunity – transforming a crumbling church centre into a resource the church and local community can be proud of.”

Soon to take up a new role as DDO of Guildford Diocese, Grand to Grand has become something of a parting gift from Craig to his parish.


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