Visitors calling at a Peak District pub on a particular weekend in June are greeted by the bizarre sight of fancy-dressed runners downing pints of beer as they sprint around the hostelry.
The athletic ale-lovers who pound the ground surrounding the Lathkil Hotel in Over Haddon every year aren’t just doing it for the fun of it but to fund the care of those who can’t join them.
Spurred on by the legacy of inspirational mentor Andrew ‘AJ’ Hall, participants in the Half Gallathon have run up a staggering £17.930 for Chesterfield’s Ashgate Hospice and Weston Park Hospital, Sheffield over the past decade.
During his remission from cancer in 2004, AJ, a former Bakewell Mannerian rugby player and nightclub bouncer in Chesterfield, decided that he wanted to raise money for the hospital where he was treated.
His neighbour at Over Haddon and fellow Mannerian team member, Martin Pearce, said: “AJ decided to create what he intended to be the Iron Man for beer drinkers, and conceived the idea that participants would do four laps of the Lathkil Hotel - having a pint of bitter on each lap.”
AJ’s widow Georgina, who is known as Judd, said: “I remember the first Gallathon very clearly. AJ sat on the wall outside the pub, in his League of Gentlemen Tubbs dress (he always dressed as a female character!), nervously asking ‘what if no one turns up?’ Then round the corner appeared four knights in shining armour – literally, and many others followed! It was a fantastic day.
“It always amused AJ to see the reactions of unsuspecting visitors walking to the pub for a quiet afternoon drink to see hordes of people in fancy dress racing around the pub and downing pints of beer. That appealed greatly to his sense of humour!”
Sadly AJ only took part in the first four events, his fourth being while he was undergoing treatment after the cancer returned. Martin said: “He lived to see the fifth in 2009, by now in great pain, and died four days later having seen record entries.
“He was just 40 and left a widow and two daughters - one of less than a year in age.
“Since then the event has become more than one man’s personal project and, with the support of the Lathkil, has become a fixture in the calendar - with AJ’s influence being heavily felt to this day despite its evolution to include a relay and a ladies race, with a cocktail instead of a pint.
“AJ’s Half Gallathon is now considered the ultimate challenge for many genuine athletes, with the sheer enormity of drinking that volume of beer in so short a time whilst running being the key factor.
“The event shows no sign at all of subsiding - it continues to evolve and grow - and is an impressive legacy for AJ Hall - though he would hate to have a fuss made about him.”
Judd added: “AJ was very proud of his ‘baby’ and that it continued to be a success.
“His other babies, our daughters Rosie (8) and Katie (6) enjoy the Gallathon and they know it’s Daddy’s crazy idea and a special day. Rosie even took part last year, doing the running for a friend who did the drinking for her!
“They enjoy seeing the fantastic costumes which seem to get better and better each year.
“There are a lot of familiar faces who take part every year with a good bit of competition especially between the rugby boys!
“I am always impressed by the generosity of people on the day, both in those taking part and the gifts donated to the raffle. People always seem ready to give to the day, especially the guys at Peak Ales and Whim Brewery who often donate the beer for the race.
“I do get the impression that people are so keen to give on this day as a way of remembering AJ and honouring his memory.
“I can’t believe it has been going 10 years already but am so impressed it is still such a great event with lots of money raised – I even had a donation from Sydney, Australia this year! And I know AJ would be massively pleased too.”