Whether England make it or not, Pools legend Ritchie Humphreys is set to miss out on watching the World Cup Final as he takes on the toughest challenge of his life in the name of charity.
Humphreys is in the final stages of a gruelling training regime as he prepares to take part in Iron Man UK in Bolton on Sunday, raising funds for the Alzheimer’s Society and Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
The former Pools star signed-up for the event months ago, catching the bug for endurance competition after hanging up his boots at the end of a 21-year professional playing career.
After whetting his appetite for triathlons by joining a local club, Humphreys took the plunge by entering the renowned Iron Man UK, which will see competitors travel to Bolton from all over the world.
A 2.4 mile swim will be immediately followed by a 112 mile bike ride before Humphreys will round-off his challenge by being asked to complete a full 26.2 mile marathon.
But the 40-year-old has admitted that potentially missing England playing in the World Cup Final is going to be one of the toughest hurdles he faces at the weekend.
“I just didn’t think about the World Cup,” he revealed.
“I didn’t look at fixtures or even consider that it might clash. Regardless of who is in the World Cup Final it’s something you just always watch isn’t it? It’s like the FA Cup Final or the Champions League Final and those games you have to watch.
“I have to be honest, as the tournament has gone on this summer I have become more anxious about whether England are going to get to the Final than I have been about me finishing the Iron Man!
“We all have those World Cup memories. I slightly remember 1982 but only because my dad bought me a book about it and I’ve seen some footage. I remember 1986 with Lineker scoring a hat-trick, Maradona’s handball and all that went with that.
“But it’s 1990 that is the one that I fully appreciate and obviously there are comparisons being drawn between the current squad and that one now. I remember being at a friend’s house when David Platt scored that goal against Belgium and I recall watching the Cameroon game at home with my family and my dad kicked a cushion against the lamp shade in excitement! And then there was the heartbreak of the penalties.
“We’ve all been through it over the years so it’s just so pleasing to see these players doing so well and the nation coming together behind them. I just hope that on Wednesday night it falls our way again and there will be more celebrations and street parties being planned. Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves but I think you’re entitled to when you’re in the World Cup semi-finals!
“I would imagine there will be people competing on Sunday who are trying to listen on radio but I will have to check out the rules because I don’t know if you’re allowed to wear headphones. I won’t tempt fate though – I will wait until after Wednesday night and start worrying about that then.”
Humphreys will begin his epic challenge at 6am and, if all goes to plan, he will be in the middle of his marathon when the whistle goes to kick-off the 2018 World Cup Final in Moscow.
After spending months preparing for the event, dropping out was never an option for him – particularly given that he is raising money for two wonderful charities – so his focus now is on making sure he completes the course.
“During the last couple of years I have done a few sprint versions and that got me in to doing the transitions and learning about it all – running when you’ve done a bike ride is a weird feeling, it’s like you’ve got somebody else’s legs on!
“It’s been good, long winter of training. It used to be my job to keep fit when I was a footballer but now I’m working it’s been about fitting it in when I can. It’s been getting up early to go to Manchester for a 7am swim or a longer run. I’ve got the train to the Peak District on occasions and then done a half marathon in to work from there!
“You have to have that dedication to your training or else you will struggle. I have had some specialist training too, particularly for the swimming so I have been part of a triathlon club which a friend of mine runs. He put a training plan together for me including a few hours every week on each discipline and then it’s about fitting that round your work and family life.
“I have enjoyed the training but the logistics of carrying kit or finding a swimming pool open when you need it or taking trainers if I’m away with work so I can fit a run in have been the challenges!
“I think the swim is the bit I’m looking at most because it’s a hectic start. It’s the washing machine effect of the water being churned up, arms being flung in your face and the struggle to find some clear water – especially because I’m so inexperienced as an amateur triathlete.
“The swim is also double the distance of what I’ve done in open water before. I have done that distance on the bike before but never run a marathon so I guess the swim and the marathon are the bits I am going to find toughest.
“The unfortunate bit is that for the last four or five weeks I’ve been nursing a bit of a calf injury I picked up playing in a charity football match. I think I got a bit excited with myself, started wandering forward and my body wasn’t ready for it given that football isn’t what I’ve been training for over the last few months. Thankfully I’m pain free now but it did keep me from doing longer runs for a while.
“I’m not kidding myself, I know it’s going to be tough but I am not racing, I just want to finish it. The time limit is 17 hours but I am hoping to get through in somewhere close to 12 hours with a bit of luck.”
Ritchie Humphreys is raising money for the Alzheimer’s Society and Sheffield Children’s Hospital so if you feel you can donate and help keep him going during Sunday’s event then follow the links here:
Good luck, Humphs!