Fundraiser Neil Wheeler will battle sleep deprivation and very sore feet to run three of Britain’s longest canal races, covering 420 miles in total, to raise money for our care for local families.

Neil Wheeler

Neil, from Collingbourne Ducis near Marlborough, completed the first leg of his triple ‘Canalslam’ challenge in May. He ran 145 miles in 42 hours 31 minutes along the Grand Union Canal, from Birmingham to London.

The 39-year-old is now gearing up for the next non-stop 145 mile Kennet and Avon canal race, from London to Bristol, on 23 July. He will finish with a 130 mile race along the Leeds and Liverpool canal on 28 August.

Neil, who works as personal trainer at Pure Gym in Swindon, says, “I’m a keen runner and I train at work as well, so the hardest part for me is the mental challenge. Because it’s on the canal, people get spread out very quickly and there are times when you don’t see anyone else for a long time.

“These races are non-stop through the night, and when you’re on your own and the sleep deprivation kicks in you could give up quite easily. There were 90 runners in the Grand Union canal race, but only 44 finished. It is really tough, especially around the 100 mile mark.

"In the last 12 miles, I was falling asleep while I was running.”

He adds, “I’m a little bit anxious about the races coming up, but as long as I’m in good shape it shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll be running through Marlborough and the Caen Hill locks in Devizes, so I’ve got a few friends that will come out to help me, but for most of it I’ll be on my own.”

Neil hopes his challenge will help raise money for Julia’s House children’s hospice, to support our care for some of the most seriously ill local children and their families.

“With lockdown, I know that the charity has really struggled so it feels like the least I could do,” says Neil. “And I know how essential that care is for children with disabilities and complex needs, and especially for the families that are looking after them.”

He says, “I’ve got a running friend who cares for her brother because he has a head injury. She juggles caring for him at the same time as looking after her own two children and working. That’s really hard for her and it’s important she has support, so she can have breaks and time for herself.”

Neil Wheeler at the finish line

Neil adds that training for an endurance running challenge like the ‘Canalslam’ is all about building up slowly and putting in the miles.

“To prepare, I did something called an accumulator over January and March, where you run the same number of miles as the date you’re on,” he says. “I started with just one mile on day one, and increased that every day until I finished with 31 miles on the last day of the month. And in the lead up to the race, I’ll run about 40 miles twice a week.”

Nicky Clack, Fundraising Administrator for Julia’s House, says, “We’re completely in awe of Neil’s energy and drive to complete his ‘Canalslam’ challenge for Julia’s House children’s hospice."

She adds, "We rely entirely on our amazing supporters to help us keep caring for seriously ill children and their families in Wiltshire, so we’d like to say a huge thank you to Neil for his ongoing support for Julia’s House – and good luck!”

Support Neil and make a donation to Julia’s House children’s hospice at

If you're inspired to take on a fitness challenge for Julia's House, take a look at our events pages for some ideas.