Ten years ago, in the spring of 2012, the biggest challenge facing Paul Spence was walking down a hospital ward in Hull Royal Infirmary. By September 2022, that feat had grown into a 100-mile ultramarathon!

By mid-September, it was mission accomplished. Running for 21 hours throughout the night, Paul reached his goal, having covered 102 miles, climbed over 9,000ft and burnt over 13,000 calories. He ran alone and with support through the countryside and urban areas. The aim: to raise money for P.A.U.L for Brain Recovery, a local charity commissioned by the NHS to support brain injury survivors in Hull and the surrounding area.

But his journey wasn’t that of zero to hero. Paul only achieved the 100-mile distance along the Yorkshire Wolds Way and on to Bilton through gradual progression, determination and a lot of hard work. And it wasn’t from a running start.

The journey begins.

For Paul Spence, the journey to his 100-mile ultramarathon was one of many steps, quite literally. After a Traumatic Brain Injury in 2012, in an incident that left him fighting for his life, Paul’s goals were very different. During the initial weeks of recovery, the thought of running never even entered his head. Instead, Paul’s dream extended to walking the length of his hospital ward, getting home and getting his life back.

The first few months of recovery were ones of fragility. Paul didn’t leave the house for four months; he suffered neurofatigue and executive dysfunction. When he finally left the house, even the walk to the local shops was a challenge.

Gradual progress.

Over time, Paul’s dreams got bigger: a few press-ups, sit-ups and squats in his living room, a jog around the block, and eventually, a 5km run. Gradually, Paul progressed to longer distances. On the first anniversary of his brain injury, he ran his first half marathon. Together with a group of 70 friends, Paul raised £17,000 for the Major Trauma Ward at Hull Royal Infirmary, the ward he was on after his brain injury.

The half marathon challenge required Paul to dig deep and train hard; the longer distances didn’t come easily, but it didn’t stop there. After recognising the benefits of running to his physical and mental wellbeing and his long-term recovery, Paul’s journey continued.

Several inspirational achievements followed. On the third anniversary of his injury, Paul completed a full marathon. He followed this with several more across the world, including London, The Great Wall of China and New York.

The ultras.

Through running, Paul discovered hidden wells of strength that hide in all of us. His persistence and desire to push boundaries led him to complete increasingly difficult distances, including four marathons in four days in Ibiza, his first ultramarathon in the Nevada desert (32 miles), and the Formentera ultramarathon (45 miles).

Then came the real challenge: running the 80-mile-long Yorkshire Wolds Way. Training for this involved two laps of the Yorkshire Three Peaks and a 63-miler across hilly terrain. This time, however, training came with a price.

The setback.

Life isn’t perfect. Whatever our goals, chances are we will experience setbacks which slow us down. For Paul, this was a horizontal tear to the meniscus in his right knee. After completing the entire 80 miles of the Yorkshire Wolds Way, Paul underwent surgery in February 2021, spent six weeks on crutches, and afterwards didn’t run for 3-4 months. His running journey was on hold, perhaps forever.

Throughout his rehabilitation, Paul demonstrated discipline. He worked hard and made healthy lifestyle choices that would benefit his physical and mental recovery. Paul bounced back from injury and ran the London marathon. This, he swiftly followed with a series of longer-distance feats, including a lap of Lake Windermere, the Round the Rock in Jersey (both 45 miles), and the Yorkshire Three Peaks (again!).

Ten years’ work.

On the 4th of September 2022, ten years after his injury, Paul smashed his 100-mile challenge. Simultaneously, friend and fellow runner Matt Dass completed his tenth and final marathon in ten days, marking Paul’s tenth anniversary. Running together and finishing together, they raised over £10,000 — a phenomenal achievement.

The final 13.1 miles of Paul’s 100-mile challenge formed a half marathon charity run, though a shorter 10km distance was also an option. Runners joined forces to raise further funds for P.A.U.L For Brain Recovery.

At times during the feat, Paul felt vulnerable, at others exhilarated, but always determined. It wasn’t easy. It took time, energy and the dedication of years. Still, the experience has brought him to places he would never have believed.

Paul and Matt want to thank everyone who supported the charity and sponsored them on their ultra-distances. Together, we are changing lives. Click here to see the highlights of Paul’s challenge.

Coverage of the challenge from Look North. 

For more information about the support and services P.A.U.L For Brain Recovery provides, click here or contact 01482 620229.