A MAN who was competing in a gruelling ultramarathon has been hailed a hero after saving the life of a boy who was in danger of being washed out to sea.

Dennis Potton, 37, from Thorntree in Middlesbrough, a keen marathon runner, was taking part in a Hardmoors 60 event – a 60 mile run along the North Yorkshire coast from Guisborough to Filey – on Saturday.

Mr Potton, a married father of four, said the unseasonably hot day and the fact he felt he had not done as much training as he should have, meant he knew he was going to find the event challenging.

When he reached Sandsend, near Whitby, he stopped at the beachfront cafe for a drink – an act that meant he was there at exactly the right time to hear the screams of young children.

The Northern Echo: SHOP FRONT: The prom at Sandsend where the Raines’ Aladdin’s Cave is situated

Sandsend where Mr Potton stopped for a drink and heard the child in trouble.

He said: “I had stopped in the cafe for a few minutes, getting a can of coke and chatting to someone.

“Then I heard the screaming – and I knew instinctively it was not the screams of children playing. A boy was running from the sea and was really distressed – he kept shouting “help, he’s drowning."

“No one was really moving so I ran to the shore, a woman pointed to where he was and I dropped my bag and went in.”

Mr Potton said he was neck-deep in the sea before he reached the boy, who he believed to be aged between eight and 10, and tried to bring him to safety.

He said: “He was crying his eyes out and really struggling. I picked him up and started walking back in but there was such a strong rip current it kept taking my legs from under me.”

Once back to shore, Mr Potton returned the boy to his family, and made to carry on with the event, but said a few metres along the beach tears started pouring down his face.

“I’m a dad myself and I was just overcome with emotion of how different it could have been – if I hadn’t stopped for that drink I would have been further down the beach and he would probably have drowned,” he said.

Despite having a further 30 miles to cover he pressed on and made it to the finish line 16 hours after starting the course – and was given a fitting hero’s welcome.

He said: “News had spread because I had spoken to a man after I got out the sea and he told people at a checkpoint, so everyone knew by the time I arrived.

“When I finished I was repeatedly sick – the adrenaline had kept me going but I really crashed.

“My wife and children are extremely proud, they are over the moon. I’d love to find out how the little boy is getting on, he took on a lot of water and was being attended to by paramedics as I left.”

Hardmoors race series organiser Shirley Steele said: “We know Dennis from him taking part in our other events and are so proud of him – without his bravery this could have been a very different story.”