Runner tackles 30km ‘survival’ race for dementia research after condition hits family twice

24 October 2017

A novice endurance athlete took on a 30km obstacle course to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK after seeing his great grandmother and now his grandmother battle dementia.

Ryan before the race

As a child Ryan Thomas witnessed his great grandmother deteriorate from Alzheimer’s disease. She was cared for by her daughter and Ryan’s grandmother before she died when Ryan was 10. Now Ryan, 24, is seeing a similar experience with his grandmother after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2015.

Seeing the effect dementia has had on his family inspired Ryan to compete in the Bear Grylls Survival Race to raise money for the UK’s leading dementia research charity. He took on the Ultimate Survivor course at Trent Park in London, running 30km and tackling a host of obstacles and challenges. Ryan finished the course in four hours and 49 minutes and has smashed his £1,000 fundraising target.

Ryan, from Longstanton, near Cambridge, said:

“With my Great Nanna we witnessed a staggering deterioration. Every time we visited it seemed like more and more of this wonderful woman everyone loved had disappeared.

“I still remember vividly the pain I felt when the day came where I went to give her a hug and she backed away asking who I was. I don’t know what bothered me more, the upset of knowing she no longer knew who I was or the fear behind her blue eyes.

Great Nanna Blackett

“She had by this stage moved in with my grandparents, who did the most wonderful job of looking after her until the end. But I can only imagine how hard this must have been, particularly for Nanna, having to see that look of fear and confusion every day in her mother’s eyes.

“Finding out a few years ago that Nanna had the same awful disease really hit me. But it was particularly upsetting for her as she had looked after her mum and saw every day the effects of the disease.

“For the first six months she seemed to be deteriorating quite quickly. But since then it does seem to have slowed. She seems herself most of the time. She’s a bit forgetful and there’s certain things where she’s not quite herself. If we go away and she’s staying somewhere that’s not her home, in the evening she can start to get a bit upset and want to go home.”

Although Ryan plays football and goes to the gym regularly, he had never attempted a long-distance challenge before. He was also not able to train during the four weeks prior to the race due to injury.

The mechanical design engineer, who works in Stevenage, said:

“I started training in July, going to the gym five times a week and running two to three times a week. I needed to build up my strength as during the race I had to carry heavy bags and logs.

“However, the last four weeks I was just sitting around doing almost nothing as I tore my hamstring quite badly playing football. It meant I hadn’t even run 30km flat before the race.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve done. Some of the challenges were pretty tough. For the last five kilometres we were given oxygen-reducing masks. After running 25km I was already flat out on my feet and that just drained anything I had left in the tank.”

Ryan has raised £1,085 for pioneering dementia research. To boost his total further donate at

Kenneth Foreman, Senior Sporting Events Manager at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Ryan’s story illustrates the huge impact dementia can have on families. There are more than 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia. Alzheimer’s Research UK is on a mission to end the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia, and we couldn’t do it without supporters like Ryan.

“We can’t thank Ryan enough for his fantastic effort. He didn’t just go the extra mile to help fund vital dementia research – he climbed over obstacles and completed gruelling challenges as well!”