Businessman takes on extreme 100k UltraMarathon in memory of much-loved Sunderland and Hartlepool pub boss

Tackling two marathons back to back whilst scaling the peaks of the Lakes District is no mean feat – but businessman Jonathan Graham is taking it all in his stride in memory of a much-loved pub boss.

Sunday, 23rd May 2021, 4:55 am
Johnny Graham is taking on a huge challenge in memory of best friend Mark Hird

A hugely-respected businessman, Mark founded the Tavistock Hospitality Group, steering it to great success and changing the face of dining on Wearside while also branching into South Tyneside and Hartlepool.

At his side throughout it all, since the pair met at college, was best friend and colleague Jonathan who is taking on an UltraMarathon to raise funds for St Benedict’s Hospice which provided Mark with some much-needed comfort in his final days.

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The Roker Hotel is the jewel in the crown of the hospitality group founded by the late Mark Hird

The mammoth challenge will see him take on a 100km loop of the Lakes District, starting at Kendal running up over the testing Garburn Pass leading on to Windermere and Ambleside. As part of the feat, he’ll run around the west side of Lake Windermere and on to the steep climb of Hampsfell (2500m above sea level).

The distance is equivalent to running two marathons back to back, and then another half marathon – and he’s aiming to do it all between 14-16 hours.

The operations director at Tavistock Hospitality Group is in the midst of training for the challenge and regularly runs from his home in Hartlepool to work at the Roker Hotel, which is the hospitality group’s base.

“I feel like Mark will be by my side throughout the UltraMarathon and that’s what will spur me on,” he said.

Johnny Graham is doing charity Ultramarathon in memory of Mark Hird.

Although the St Benedict’s hospice in Ryhope, Sunderland, is part funded by the NHS, it relies heavily on fundraising for its registered charity to be able to continue its care provision, including specialist palliative care.

It’s estimated that one in three people in the city will require the hospice’s services at some point, either through their care or that of their family members.

Jonathan said: “I’ll never forget the comfort they gave to Mark and I really wanted to do something to say thank you. What I like about fundraising for them is that I know the money will go direct to the hospice in Ryhope and not to some charity headquarters in London.”

Johnny runs from his home in Hartlepool to his work place in Sunderland as part of his training

Jonathan and Mark met on their very first day studying hotel and catering at Newcastle College when they were just 16.

They graduated in 1994 and worked in various restaurants before Mark opened his own establishment in 2000. That was the award winning 11 Tavistock Place, which he ran with his wife Nicola.

Over the next 19 years Mark and Nicola, who have three children together, opened over 30 properties under different brand names, with Jonathan by their side as operations director.

Today, the Tavistock Hospitality Group own and run The Roker Hotel and its Poetic License distillery, Italian Farmhouse in West Rainton, S43 Brewery and its gastro pubs including The Lambton Worm in Chester-le-Street, but over the years have had 30 properties, including the Grand Hotel in Hartlepool, the Italia Retro and The Rattler restaurant in South Shields and the White Lead in Hebburn.

Johnny and Mark were always by each other's side

The hospitality group will also be running a series of raffles on their social media pages which will form part of the fundraising.

You can donate to the fundraiser, which has already smashed its target of £2,000, at

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The pair ran pubs across the North East over the decades