Here we go,’ shouts Kevin Sinfield as the first strains of Come On Eileen play out on a quiet country road in Derbyshire.
The music filling the cold night air comes via a speaker carried by Martinq Wolstencroft, one of four cyclists accompanying Sinfield and his running mate David Spencer for the entirety of this epic 101-mile journey.
They are 11 hours into their challenge to raise money in the fight against motor neurone disease, which has afflicted Sinfield’s great friend and former Leeds Rhinos team-mate Rob Burrow.
Sportsmail’s David Coverdale (right) with Kevin Sinfield during his 24-hour charity run
And while Wolstencroft is playing the role of DJ in this band of brothers, ‘Sir Kev’ is unquestionably the frontman, starting off a slow clap to the 1980s anthem by Dexys Midnight Runners, a group name which couldn’t be more apt.
‘It’s like a stag do,’ remarks one of the gang. Indeed, such is the party atmosphere, Sinfield’s greatest challenge at this stage is trying not to run too fast.
Tom Hughes, a sports scientist and one of the other cyclists, is setting the steady pace of 9km per hour (around 5.5mph) to give Sinfield the best chance of completing the 24-hour trip from Leicester to Leeds — his new workplace to his old — in one piece.
‘How are you feeling?’ he asks Sinfield as he approaches the halfway mark on Monday night. ‘F****** fantastic,’ comes the reply from the Rhinos legend. And he looks it too.
Ex-rugby star Sinfield ran almost four marathons in total across the space of just 24 hours
The same, though, cannot be said for this exhausted reporter as we reach the town of Clowne — the end of the 12th of 24 legs.
I was initially invited to join for just one of the 7km segments but, as I engage Sinfield in conversation he can probably do without, I am having too much fun to leave after one leg. And so I stay on for another one. And then another. By the time I’ve finished running, I have done the equivalent of a half marathon — double the longest distance I have covered before — and I’m shattered.
I did not know I had it in me but that is the sort of effect a leader like Sinfield has on people. Alastair Campbell, the 64-year-old former Labour spin doctor who says he has not run for five years and keeps requesting Elvis Presley from our jukebox on two wheels, is persuaded to stay on for a second 7km as well.
It is like a scene out of Forrest Gump as the group behind Sinfield grows on every leg. The banter is just what you would imagine a rugby dressing room to be like.
Sinfield ran from Welford Road in Leicester to Leeds Rhinos’ Headingley stadium
And one man Sinfield shared a dressing room with for 15 years is never far from everyone’s thoughts. As we near Clowne, Wolstencroft swaps Suspicious Minds for Billie Jean and adds that Michael Jackson is Burrow’s favourite artist.
Sinfield, meanwhile, jokes how leg No 7 — the shirt number worn by Burrow — was the toughest. ‘We came out of Nottingham and hit every single hill we could,’ Sinfield, now a coach with Leicester Tigers, tells me. ‘I think he did it on purpose. He will have been sat at home laughing at us.’
If Burrow’s fight with MND has touched the nation, it was clear on Monday night that Sinfield’s fundraising feats have too. ‘You want to support him because he is just amazing,’ Libby Wigginton tells me at the start of the 10th leg at Sutton Parkway station. ‘He needs to be made a proper “Sir”.’
Along the route, pockets of people appear from everywhere. The passionate support is moving at times, with children giving £10 notes to add to the MND Association collection.
Kevin Sinfield completed his 101-mile run 24-hour challenge and arrived at the finish line alongside Macy, the daughter of Rob Burrow, at Headingley, Leeds, on Tuesday morning
Despite his fatigue, each wellwisher gets the same enthusiastic wave from Sinfield and a shout of: ‘Thank you for coming out.’ The masses at the end of each leg are overwhelming, with 500 people outside Tesco in Clowne to greet us at the halfway stage.
The 10-minute turnaround between legs is crucial for Sinfield to rest and refuel. A campervan is packed full of food: pizza, pretzels and brioche buns. Yet the 41-year-old cannot help but pose for selfies and talk to the crowds.
I head home at 9pm but Sinfield still has 50 long miles ahead. When I return to watch his final stretch at Headingley the following morning, running too fast is clearly no longer an issue.
For the very last mile of his ‘Extra Mile’ challenge he is joined by Burrow’s wife Lindsey and nine-year-old daughter Macy.
Sinfield raised over £500,000 for the MND Association and the Leeds Hospitals Charity after former Leeds team-mate Rob Burrow (L) was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2019
‘He kept apologising the whole way for not running,’ says Lindsey. ‘We were saying, “Don’t apologise, we are happy to walk”. Just to be there to support him at the end was incredible and something we will treasure for ever.’
Burrow has a ‘no tears’ policy regarding his illness but Sinfield breaks this as he enters Headingley Stadium, where 1,000 people cheer him home. They include the Rhinos first team, who his 16-year-old son Jack trained with for the first time on Tuesday.
The finishing tape is held aloft on one side by his wife Jayne and son Sam, and on the other by Burrow’s youngest two children, Maya and Jackson. He crosses the line with Macy at 8.27am — less than 24 hours after he set off from Welford Road in Leicester — and Burrow is one of the first people he greets.
‘It’s brilliant to see Rob again,’ says Sinfield. ‘During those dark moments, you think of him. We wanted a battle and got one. Dave and I are broken. I don’t know when I’ll be able to run again.’
Sinfield puts his thumbs up to the 1,000 fans who were at his old ground to cheer him home
Sinfield set a fundraising target of £100,000, to be split equally between MNDA and the Leeds Hospitals Charity. On Wednesday night, the total stood at over £1.4million.
‘I’ve run out of superlatives to describe Kevin,’ Burrow tweeted. ‘Superhero, superhuman and friend. I’m just so proud of him for being with me from the start and by my side every step of the way. Thanks to everyone who supported him and donated. I had the best day, I hope you did too.’
At the finish line, Burrow’s father Geoff adds: ‘What Kevin has done is nothing short of a miracle. He is superhuman. He is one hell of a man.’
Having spent 21km in his company, I can certainly attest to that.
To donate visit: https://donate.giveasyoulive.com/fundraising/kevin-sinfields-the-extra-mile-challenge
He’s done it!! 🎉 👏
What a moment, what a man! Kevin Sinfield finishes his MAMMOTH 101 mile run in 24 hours live on #BBCBreakfast 🏃♂️
And his best mate Rob Burrow saw him over the line pic.twitter.com/IWDgm4wowb
— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) November 23, 2021
- Kevin Sinfield is fundraising for Leeds Hospitals Charity and Motor Neurone Disease Association | Give as you Live Donate