In 2007, Alicia Delibes, the then Director General of Education of Madrid, visited the UK to watch a demonstration of the Sportshall programme in Cheshire. As a direct result of this visit, a school team from Cheshire, Helsby High School, was invited to Madrid to challenge the finalists of a Sportshall Athletics tournament in which over 640 schools from Madrid and Valencia had taken part. Given the scale of the competition, this represented a very tough task indeed.
Nevertheless, Helsby High School accepted the challenge and began working hard to raise money to fly their team out to Madrid for the competition on the 9th April 2008. As a fund raising idea, George suggested a sponsored attempt to beat the World Marathon Records set by Haile Gebrselassie and Paula Radcliffe with the team running in a continuous relay for 105½ laps of a 400m track. Each team member would run a 200m section before handing the baton on. When all team members have run once, the first member runs again and so on until the full marathon distance is completed.
This sponsored event took place at Stanney Athletic Track in Ellesmere Port at 3.30pm on Tuesday 11th March 2008. The Lord Mayor of Vale Royal, Councillor Doug Shingler, attended to support the children and start the race.
Despite appalling weather conditions which included very strong winds, rain and hail, the children all persevered to the end and managed a magnificent time of 2 hours 9 minutes and 3 seconds thus beating the record set by Paula of 2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds. The team was able to raise all the funds necessary for their trip to take place and they represented England in the Spanish competition which was subsequently broadcast on Spanish television.
After the event, George wrote to the organisers of the Spanish Competition suggesting a challenge to the two winning Spanish schools to take part alongside English schools in a continuous marathon relay. He also invited some teams from Canada and the USA to take part and suggested that the teams started simultaneously and that all the venues be linked by mobile phone and via the internet so the different venues could follow each others progress.
It was most fortunate that, on mentioning the concept to his colleagues on the AAA Board they realised the potential of the idea and agreed to sponsor the programme. On 15th October 2008, English, Spanish, Canadian and American teams competed in their separate venues and the “Maratón Internacional Simultáneo”, later to become the World Marathon Challenge, was born.