In his illustrious career, Francis Benali was used to competing against the likes of David Beckham and Michael Owen, but his biggest challenge is still ahead of him.
Saints legend Francis, who played nearly 400 games for the club, is attempting to raise £1 million for Cancer Research UK by running between all 20 Premier League grounds.
The challenge, which has never before been done, will see the 45-year-old cover 40 to 50 miles a day for 21 consecutive days.
It is a mammoth undertaking for anybody, but Francis is upbeat about his chances of completing the 1,000-mile run.
“It’s something that has been rattling around in my head for a while,” he said. “I wanted to do an extreme challenge and to do it for a good cause.
“With my connections with football and thinking about what I could do, I came up with the idea to run to every Premier League stadium.
“The route starts at Newcastle and finishes at St Mary’s. That means some days I will have to run more than 40 miles.
“It will be pretty extreme physically and psychologically, but I am looking forward to it to see what my body and mind are capable of.”
Francis will begin his challenge at Newcastle before running down to Sunderland and then heading to Hull, then Burnley, before stopping at Liverpool and Manchester.
He will then head to the Midlands, across to Swansea in Wales, then all the way back to complete the London clubs before heading to St Mary’s.
The challenge will begin on Sunday, August 24 and will come to an end on Saturday, September 13, as Saints host Newcastle at St Mary’s.
Francis has sought expert advice in how to prepare and tackle the mammoth challenge, including from Professor Greg Whyte, who helped coach David Walliams to his cross Channel swim and Eddie Izzard as the comedian completed 43 marathons in 51 days.
“The experts have said this challenge is not impossible but it certainly is quite extreme,” he admitted.
“I have an experienced ultra runner helping with my training programme as well and at the moment that means 120 to 130-miles a week with various different mileage on different days and different intensities.”
The ex-footballer will take a support team on the challenge, which is being sponsored by telecommunications firm 4Com.
All the money raised will go directly to Cancer Research UK.
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Francis added: “My son and daughter, Luke and Kenzie, are coming for the whole three weeks and I am hoping that some people will come along and run with me.
“I am hopeful a few former teammates and football friends are going to do different legs with me and anyone is welcome to join me, even if only for a few miles to help take my mind off things.
“They will be very welcome – especially if they are a Saints fan.
“Of course I have spoken to Matt Le Tissier too because he’s in pretty decent shape and he will definitely be joining me once or twice – though I will get him to do more than his suggestion of running between Liverpool and Everton, which is about half a mile!”
- You can sponsor Benali by texting BIGR55 £3 to 70070 or make a donation of your choice by visiting the website at benalisbigrun.com.