On 21st April 2013, James Hughes will be running his 45th Marathon. This is a pretty remarkable number but if you factor in that James is blind, non-verbal and has severe learning disabilities, it makes the feat all the more astounding.

We spoke to John Courtney, James’s foster parent and guide runner about James’s running career so far, and why they are running this year’s Virgin London Marathon to raise money for United Response.

Can you tell us a bit about you and James and your running careers so far?

I’m John and I’m 74 years old. James is 40 years old, which is quite fitting as I believe it is also United Response’s 40th anniversary. This will be James’s 45th marathon and 18th London Marathon, and will be my 52nd marathon in total.

So what made you and James start running?

I didn’t start marathon running until I was 49 years old. One day, I fell asleep on the sofa and when I woke up my son said that I would never be able to do a marathon. I set out to prove him wrong!

Before James became my foster son, he wasn’t used to exercising or outside environments. We began to grow James’s confidence. We started off walking together, at first only 100 yards. The walks became longer and turned into light jogs until eventually we started marathon running. It took us two and a half years to train for our first marathon and it took me and James 6 hours and 47 minutes to finish it. That was some achievement! Our quickest marathon time is now 4 hours and 20 minutes.

James is blind – what challenges does that bring to running together?

A lot of blind runners use a rope or cord to join them with their guides but James is so trustworthy of me that he can run independently. If you can imagine for a minute, it’s the same as me saying to you: ‘shut your eyes and run with me for five hours!’ Most people wouldn’t be able to do it but James is a one-off. I stay two paces in front of him and he taps me on the shoulder or elbow so that he knows where I am.

Do you have any routines that help you get through a marathon?

Before the run we say a prayer and during the run we sing songs including ‘Run Rabbit Run’ to keep us going.

Why are you running to raise money for United Response this year? 

James has had a lot of support from United Response over the years, in particularly through United Response’s Shared Lives scheme in Liverpool. It will be an honour to run for United Response this year and to raise money to improve the lives of people like James. I am so amazed by James’s ability. To show the bravery he has demonstrated is an inspiration to us all.

Interview by Mark Schueler, fundraising officer.

To sponsor James, please visit his online fundraising page.

If you have been inspired by James and John’s story, we have one place left in the Bupa London 10,000, a 10k run through the heart of the capital. For more information, visit our Bupa London 10,000 page.