Kevin Sinfield OBE talks to Sky Sports about his toughest challenge yet as he prepares to take on seven ultra marathons in seven days to raise awareness and funds for those impacted by Motor Neurone Disease.
“I’m not Superman, at all. In my own mind, I’m going on a run, for a mate, with some mates,” Sinfield says.
“I’d have done it for the smallest amount of money because the bigger message within this is that I’m doing it for a mate, and I want Rob (Burrow) to know I’m with him shoulder to shoulder throughout this.
“I cannot go through what he’s going through but I can show him that I’ll fight and scrap. I can show him that I’ll make him laugh still and make him smile. That’s what mates do, right? They look out for each other.”
Sinfield and Rob Burrow first got to know each other as juniors, they met when Sinfield was just 14-years-old and Burrow was two years younger.
The pair sat next to each other every day in the dressing room throughout 15 years of professional rugby and were at the very heart of one of rugby league’s greatest teams.
Sinfield’s playing career at Leeds Rhinos spanned from 1997 to 2015, in his 521st and final game for the club he completed the treble and had won seven Grand Finals.
Burrow finished his own career having won eight Super League titles, he retired from professional rugby at the end of the 2017 season and was then diagnosed with MND in December 2019.
The depth of the relationship between Sinfield and Burrow is evident from the emotions etched across Sinfield’s face every time he speaks about his great friend and former team-mate.
For years, they walked through walls for each other on a rugby pitch and that level of commitment has not changed since retiring, as Sinfield continues to show with the challenges he is undertaking.
“The great thing about rugby, in both codes, is that you get team-mates and you rely on each other every single second that you’re on that field together,” Sinfield said.
“Just because you stop putting your foot over that white line, doesn’t mean that has to end. It certainly won’t end for me with Rob or for that team we played in. It was a very special team. You don’t forget those friendships.”
An ultra marathon describes any distance above 26.2 miles. On November 13, Sinfield will begin a period of seven successive days running 40 miles per day.
He will start at Murrayfield Stadium with Doddie Weir, who was diagnosed with MND in 2016, and work his way down the country to finish on the pitch at Old Trafford at half-time in the men’s Rugby League World Cup final.
The format of the challenge and its magnitude was something Sinfield created, as he explained.
“This was always in the back of my mind and as soon as we’d done the 101 miles last year, I knew straight away that this was the thing I wanted to go after,” he said.
“What it’s enabled us to do is pull together three sports and three champions with Doddie, Rob and Stephen Darby and hit important venues and locations to them and from their careers. Being able to start at Murrayfield with Doddie, see Rob at Headingley and Stephen at Valley Parade will be so emotional, yet so inspirational, for all of us who are involved.”
It will be the toughest one, by a good stretch. I can tell that from the training over the last three or four months in terms of where I’ve had to go and what I’ve had to do to try and get ready to prepare.
Sinfield has run many marathons since finishing his rugby career and taken on two exceptionally difficult challenges of seven marathons in seven days and 101 miles in 24 hours. He has got an understanding of what his body needs over certain distances, but has taken his training to a new level ahead of the Ultra 7 in 7.
“In essence, what I’ve tried to do is block days and run on tired legs because that’s what I have to get used to doing. I need to make sure my muscles always feel depleted,” he said.
“It’s meant running back-to-back marathons on days and I’ve been in the 60kms (37 miles, plus) a number of times.
“I’ve punched out 30kms (18.6 miles) day after day, after day and half marathons at all sorts of crazy hours because you’re fitting it in around work. They’re the bits that nobody sees but the bits that are absolutely vital. Do I feel ready now to go? I can’t have done any more without getting injured.”
Just one example of the way in which Sinfield has pushed his body and mind was a set of three days in early September, and they were not the only set of gruelling days either.
“I ran 66km (41 miles), the following day I got up at 4am to drive to Leicester, coached all day, drove home and set off at 3.45pm in the afternoon and ran 61km (37 miles). I got up the following morning, ran 62km (38 miles). That’s where you have to go and it’s been really, really challenging and difficult.”
Sinfield will have two friends alongside him for the distance, which has meant a brutal training regime for them as well. Three others will cover the distance on bikes too.
“They’ll give it their best shot, just like me. If they can do every step of the way brilliant or whatever they manage, the fact that they’re with us is so important to me,” he said. “A smile, having a friendly face around, having that banter and camaraderie. We’re back in a team, on tour and we’re back sharing memories and stories.
“We’re enjoying going through some tough times together, but the best friendships are often forged by going through some tough moments.
“Also, I’ll try and keep up my record which is through the 7 in 7 (marathons) and the 101-miler I didn’t get one blister, so I’d like to continue that!”
Sinfield is eager that this challenge is viewed in the right way, in his words it is not a ‘science experiment’ or something like Eliud Kipchoge’s sub-2 marathon quest. Yes, the team will have support en route, including physios, doctors and sports scientists, but as Sinfield pointed out, they are friends who also want to do their bit to support Rob, Doddie, Stephen, Ed Slater and the whole of the MND community.
“I want people to understand if you truly want to try and make a difference, you can. You’ve got to use your head and your heart. It just shows the power of friendship,” he said.
“We can all do our little bit; nobody has to run seven ultra marathons in seven days but your little bit could be anything. If we’re all prepared to do that, you make it a much better place for everyone to live and get on.”
This is important to raise money and awareness but the heartbeat of it is to show Rob how much our friendship means. The fact that he can’t choose what he’s got at the minute, but I want him to understand that his mates will be there and continue to be there. That’s the bigger message in all this.
When Sinfield told Burrow about this latest challenge, he said his friend just laughed. Burrow’s parents told Sinfield after the last 101-mile challenge that he had done enough already, Sinfield said to us, ‘Clearly I hadn’t’.
“I’m delighted I’m here and that we get to test ourselves to try and help again. If we don’t raise another penny after this interview, I’m cool with it. It won’t change how I go about it, how hard I run or the amount I have worked towards it.
“I won’t stop doing what I can. Just do your little bit, whatever it is. It makes a difference and I’ll continue to do my little bit.”
With the training now banked and Sinfield being in taper time – a period runners will know well – he is open about the fact there is apprehension swirling around, as well as a desire to get moving and start.
“With anything like this there’s always doubt, of course, there’s doubt. Am I tough enough? Am I strong enough? Have I bit off more than I can chew? But, what I would say is that when you undertake a challenge like this, it’s normal, right? You should feel like that,” he added.
“If it was going to be easy and I thought I could just smash it, then it’s not a challenge. It needs to test me, test every ounce of me and I know it’s going to hurt.
“I know I’m going to have to go to a dark place, but it needed to test and challenge, and it had to be harder than the other two. I’m willing to do everything I can to complete [it] and I will throw absolutely everything at it.”
For Sinfield and the team, the drive and desire to show Burrow, Weir, Darby, Slater and the whole MND community that they are behind them burns stronger than ever. Five charities will be supported by the financial total raised, with an initial fundraising target set of £777,777.
“Being back in a team with a load of friends who get a similar glow from being able to provide hope has been incredible,” Sinfield said.
“I don’t really want to think too far ahead and what that night [at Old Trafford] could look like because there are so many things that could go wrong. There’s a lot of risk. I’m aware that if I take my focus off just putting one step in front of the other, you’re only one step away from a bad injury.
“What I can do is try and ensure that our team get there in one piece and our team represent Rob, Stephen, Doddie, Ed and that MND community and the three codes we represent, in the right way so that we continue to provide hope and funds for a disease that’s been massively underfunded.
“I hope down the track, whether it’s five, 10 or 20 years’ time, we’ve played a very small part in finding a cure.”