A REMARKABLE runner from York is preparing to raise thousands of pounds for a charity that helps people like his autistic daughters by completing his ninth half-marathon in a year.

Tomorrow’s York Brass Monkey event will be the ninth of ten which big-hearted dad-of-two Mark Willis will complete before his 41st birthday in March.

He set himself the challenge when he turned 40 to take part in ten 13.2-mile courses – all in aid of the National Autistic Society. He wants to help suffers of the disease like his daughters Emilie, nine, and Lucie, 11, who both attend Hob Moor Oaks special school.

Mark, of Sandyridge, Nether Poppleton, said: “I want to help raise money and recognition for the charity that help fellow sufferers of autism.”

“I was just going to do 10K races but I really wanted to push myself and do a real challenge.”

Mark has run in Edinburgh, Sheffield, Hinkley, Scotland, Windsor, Amsterdam, Lancaster, Peterborough.

His next is tomorrow’s in York and his challenge will culminate in Blackpool’s Great Northern Western half-marathon in March.

Of them all, he is looking forward most to tomorrow’s event.

“I have done runs in Amsterdam and Scotland, but there is nothing like running in your home city,” he said.

Mark has to train at least five times a week to keep himself in peak physical condition.

“I have an online coach, which gives me training routes, and I generally run about 20 to 30 miles a week.

“I was rubbish at sport at school and was never a runner, but now a half-marathon feels almost comfortable.

“I can now proudly take my place among other everyone else at the start line.”

He is hoping to complete the York race in less than two hours and to beat his personal best time of two hours and 22 seconds.

Mark said he will be spurred on by the continued support of his family.

“Emilie doesn’t really understand but Lucie knows what I am trying to achieve and she keeps all my medals and T-shirts from each race. My wife, Helen, is also incredibly supportive,” he said.

Even after his ten half-marathons – totalling 132 strength-sapping miles – Mark will not be taking a break as he has decided to go a step farther and tackle the London Marathon in April. He will also be running the Jane Tomlinson York 10K in August. So far, Mark thinks he is well on target to raise £5,000 for charity.

He said: “I have raised about £1,300 so far and have pledges for a further £2,000, so I am confident.”

To sponsor Mark, log on to www.justgiving.com/mark10at40

•Don’t miss The Press on Monday for a full round-up and pictures of the York Brass Monkey run.