County Durham father-of-four Craig Huddart will be among the 60,000 participants lining up for Sunday’s Great North Run – and his story is among the most inspirational of them all. PETER BARRON explains

When archaeologist Craig Huddart embarked on a year-long mission to support two charities by running at least 10 kilometres a day, he knew it would be tough. But nine months into his challenge, it’s got a whole lot tougher.

Craig’s story was first told on this page back in January, shortly after he’d started his exhausting schedule on New Year’s Day, with the aim of raising £5,000 to be split between the North East Autism Society (NEAS) and The Alan Shearer Centre.

Not only would he be running 10k, six days a week, around the beautiful County Durham countryside, but he’d also be tackling a half-marathon on Sundays just for good measure.

“I’m not going quite as fast as when I started!” admits Craig, who lives in Middleton-in-Teesdale. “Fatigue is starting to kick in – I feel broken, but I’m still going.”

Craig’s inspiration is his four children, who include three autistic boys, Alfred, 11, Finn, 10, and Teddy, five. They keep him going, along with the knowledge that NEAS and The Alan Shearer Centre have provided invaluable support to him and his partner, Hannah.

And, although he knew that the physical side of the challenge would be hard, Craig admits that he wasn’t prepared for the additional emotional turmoil the year would bring.

Since he started his epic challenge, the family has learned that Finn, who has a condition called DiGeorge Syndrome, needs a heart transplant.

As a baby, Finn has multiple holes in his heart and the left side didn’t function. He had open heart surgery when he was just 10 months, and was on the list for more but it was delayed due to the pandemic.

“Even if he gets the transplant, his body will eventually reject it, and we’ve had to come to terms with what that means for us as parents. It’s made the challenge much more real,” Craig explains.

“Initially, we thought about not talking about it, but Hannah, Finn and I all decided that, if it helps to raise awareness and more money for the charities, that would be the best thing.

“The charities have been amazing. Even outside of the challenge, the team at NEAS have been calling me every week, just to see how I am, and how the kids are. The support has been amazing.”

This Sunday, Craig’s weekly half-marathon will be special as he lines up for the Great North Run, and he admits that he’ll have butterflies in his stomach.

“I’m a little bit nervous to be honest. Although I do that distance once a week, running with a crowd will be very different, but I’m really looking forward to getting going,” he says.

Craig will be among 35 fundraisers taking part in this year’s Great North Run on behalf of Team NEAS.

Jon Appleton, Fundraising Officer for the charity, said: “We’re really looking forward to this year’s Great North Run and we’re proud of the whole team’s efforts in preparing for the event and raising vital funds to support North East Autism Society.

“Most of us taking part will just be preparing for the one run, but this will be Craig’s 37th half marathon of the year – on top of more than 200 10k runs in between. It really is an unbelievable effort, and we can’t thank him enough for his support throughout the year.”

The football-loving family also feels indebted to The Alan Shearer Centre, which is based in Newcastle, and provides recreational, sensory and social activities for disabled people of all ages.

Craig’s aim is to raise £2,500 for both charities and the Great North Run is part of his epic journey which will add up to more than 2,600 miles by the time he’s finished. Sundays wouldn’t be the same unless he was running a half-marathon – it just happens to be the most famous half-marathon in the world this weekend.

As for Finn, he’s also enjoying doing his bit to promote two great causes. “Finn loves a bit of fame, so he adores seeing his name in the paper,” smiles Craig.

All of us at The Northern Echo are honoured to oblige, Finn. You’re a star – and so is your dad.

ANYONE who’s read this page over the years will know I’m a big fan of Darlington’s evergreen grocer, Robin Blair.

He and his stall are full of goodness, and I can particularly recommend his satsumas.

Last week, I popped in for a chat with Robin, one of the few surviving traditional stallholders in Darlington’s Victorian, covered market, and discovered that this is his 70th year in the historic building.

Robin, below, made his first appearance at the market when he was three months old, in a pram under the till where his mother was working. However, it wasn’t until he was seven that he starting helping out on his family’s fruit and veg stall.

The Northern Echo:

Awarded the British Empire Medal in 2012 for his dedication to Darlington, he’s now 77, so he’s been part of the market for seven full decades and remains the friendly face of Darlington.

Might he hold the record as the country’s longest-serving market stall holder? If there’s one who’s been around longer, and has even half of Robin’s natural warmth, I’d love to meet them.

ONTO a very different  element of Darlington’s long-term retail offer – I see that the Adults Only store, that nestled so incongruously among the posh shops in Grange Road, is closing after more than half a century.

The news – a sign of hard times presumably – reminded me how, as an innocent young reporter in the eighties, the news editor sent me to another sex shop up Victoria Road to interview a topless model, whose appearance in performing the opening ceremony had caused a kerfuffle in the Quaker town.

Every time I thought the coast was clear and I tried to go inside, someone came round the corner, and I bottled it.

I must have walked up and down that road for an hour before finally making it through the doors.

Then, looking flushed and with my interview in my notebook, I returned to the street.

“Hello, Peter,” said the local vicar who happened to be walking down the hill from the train station at that precise moment.

Try as I might to explain that I was on professional duty, he didn’t look at all convinced.