Sunderland dad smashes 120-mile ultra marathon and Alcatraz prison swim challenge

Michael Ward during the Uganda Marathon.
Michael Ward during the Uganda Marathon.

A super fit Sunderland dad is celebrating after finishing a gruelling 120-mile ultra marathon - just weeks after completing an equally exhausting swimming challenge.

Michael Ward, 38, has worked at Grundfos in the city for 16 years and spends much of his time outside of the Castletown plant training for demanding physical challenges – or taking part in them.

Michael Ward having finished the Alcatraz Swim across San Francisco Bay.

Michael Ward having finished the Alcatraz Swim across San Francisco Bay.

His most recent achievement was in early October, completing the 120-mile Berwick to Hexham Sandstone Way Ultra-Marathon in 36-and-a-half hours.

“It was really tough – we started at 8am on Saturday morning and finished at 8.30pm on Sunday evening wearing head torches to see where we were going,” said Michael.

“Of the 34 who started, only 15 finished,” he added.

“You’re allowed to stop at the feed stations and to treat your blisters and wrap your toes up, but there are cut-off times so your breaks are limited.

Michael Ward at the start of the Uganda Marathon.

Michael Ward at the start of the Uganda Marathon.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I did get a fantastic sense of achievement.”

The run only came weeks after Michael had completed the tough Alcatraz Swim in America.

Participants swim from the famous prison island across San Francisco Bay to shore.

“It’s only about a mile and a half, but it’s difficult, open-water swimming so it was a challenge.”

Michael worked in the community during his trip for the Uganda Marathon, here he is pictured with local children.

Michael worked in the community during his trip for the Uganda Marathon, here he is pictured with local children.

But it’s the sort of challenge he’s used, regularly completing marathons, ultra marathons and open-water swims.

For the Alcatraz swim, Michael used The Liffey Swim on September 9 for training, one of Ireland’s most famous sporting events, with hundreds of swimmers tackling the route through Dublin.

“I really enjoyed the Liffey Swim and it was good training for the Alcatraz Swim,” he explained.

Michael, dad to four-year-old Sasha, is a production worker with Grundfos’ Engineered to Order department and started running and swimming at school.

He joined the Royal Navy after studying at Southmoor School and Sunderland College, serving as an operator mechanic on HMS Cornwall, a Type 22 Frigate.

He joined Grundfos from the Navy and now lives in the Silksworth area, using the gym and pool at the nearby David Lloyd Club to keep fit.

He also trains with Sunderland Strollers running club.

In June, Michael completed the Uganda Marathon, helping to raise more than £105,000 for a charity supporting street children and other projects in the town of Masaka, including building a piggery for the local community.

“That was an incredible experience and the runners helped out in the local community while we were there,” said Michael.

He’s already planning his next adventure, which might involve an open-air swim in Estonia.

Looking to the future, he says he’d like to run even longer ultra marathons – and swim the Channel.

“I have a list of famous runs and swims and I’m trying to work my way through it,” he added.

“I’d like to run further, but I’m not sure if I could, and I’d really like to swim the Channel one day, but I know I’m not ready yet.”

Mark Lister, general manager at Grundfos’ Castletown plant, said: “We’re really proud of Michael and his amazing exploits – but we don’t feel the need to accompany him!”