Ex-footballer Francis Benali to take on triathlon charity challenge

Francis Benali is taking on his next fundraising challenge Credit: Cancer Research UK/ PA

A former footballer is hoping to complete seven Ironman-distance triathlons in seven days – despite struggling to swim.

Francis Benali, who played for Southampton, will have to endure 2.4 miles in water, cycle 112 miles and then run a marathon every day in cities across England as part of the gruelling challenge.

It will be the 50-year-old’s third major fundraising effort for charity Cancer Research UK.

The father-of-two ran and cycled to every Premier League and Championship stadium in 2016, and in 2014 ran to all Premier League grounds.

Mr Benali has never completed a triathlon before and admitted he has found the swimming training “unbelievably” tough.

“The swimming has been a massive struggle,” he said.

“It has put me completely outside my comfort zone. A couple of times I’ve started to panic – I couldn’t breathe, I’d have to stop.

“It’s the first thing I think about each morning. It fills me with dread. But I’ve had coaching and am learning endurance techniques.

“I certainly can’t call myself a swimmer – it’s a work in progress, even though the challenge is only eight weeks away.”

Benali has found the swimming training particularly tough Credit: Cancer Research UK/ PA

Mr Benali’s previous experience was limited to swimming lessons as a child, when he said he found it hard to stay afloat, and dips in the pool while on holiday.

“I know that with running and cycling, if you train hard and put the hours in you will improve and you will be able to do it, but in the pool, the technique has to be right – I’d underestimated that,” he said.

Mr Benali hopes this third physical challenge will help him reach his target of raising £1 million for Cancer Research UK.

“Having a focus every day is hugely important to me,” he said.

“Knowing the money we raise will directly fund immunotherapy research nationwide, which could have a potentially life-saving effect for a cancer patient, is hugely motivating.”

Benali finishing his 2014 challenge Credit: PA

The fundraising effort – Benali’s IronFran Challenge – will begin on April 29 and see him tour cities including Manchester, Nottingham, Bristol and London.

Mr Benali will finish his challenge by taking part in Southampton’s marathon on May 5.

– For more information about the fundraising effort visit ironfran.co.uk