Saints legend Francis Benali admits he is fitter than he’s ever been before as he embarks on his epic challenge of running between all 20 Premier League football stadiums.
Despite more than a decade playing top-flight football, Benali, who made almost 400 appearances for Saints during a 16-year career on the south coast, has stated that his body is in better condition than it’s ever been as he attempts to raise £1 million for Cancer Research UK by running around 40 to 50 miles a day for 21 consecutive days.
That is all part of a challenge that has never been done before, which he’s labelled Benali’s Big Run.
On Sunday he’ll be begin the charity fundraiser, which will see him navigate through all manner of terrain in a bold attempt to run between all top flight stadiums – starting at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park.
In the north east he’ll be reunited with former team-mate and Magpies icon Alan Shearer, who scored 43 goals for Saints in around 150 games.
Shearer will there at the start to officially launch the mammoth challenge as the 45-year-old attempts to run almost 1,000 miles across a three week period – seeing him finish at St Mary’s on September 13 as Saints welcome the Magpies in the league.
The mindboggling challenge means Benali is training for around 39 marathons at once and has concluded he is reaching his athletic prime.
“It’s a hard one to answer, but I’m definitely feeling a lot fitter than I ever have,” Benali said.
“I’m really excited to get going. There’s been so much organisation. A lot of work has gone in and now I just can’t wait to get going.
“I’ve got a few little niggles still, a few days rest before I go will mean I’ll be ready on Sunday. But my body feels ready and I feel confident that I’ve put the work in that will see me get through the challenge ahead.”
Benali and Shearer played together at The Dell back in the late ’80s and early ’90s and the former full back is looking forward to the reunion.
“It will be good to see Al again,” said Benali. “I haven’t seen him in quite some time, but he’s very kindly agreed to come and start the challenge up at Newcastle.
“The connection of us being ex-team-mates at Southampton and the fact that he was at Newcastle for so many years means it ties in very nicely.
“So it’ll be good to see him and we’re really pleased to get him on board.”
From St James’ Benali sets off towards to Sunderland’s Stadium of Light.
He’ll be hoping to come away more positively from the Black Cats’ base than Saints did last term, after losing to them in the FA Cup and Capital One Cup and draw in the league.
Benali had raised almost £30,000 so far. Donate by texting BIGR55 and the amount you to donate to 70070 – for example BIGR55 £5. For more details visit: jellyfishlivewire.co.uk/ benalis-big-run.