And they’re off!

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HUGO Minney is following in the footsteps of world-class athlete Zola Budd – literally!

The 49-year-old is gearing up to take part in the London Marathon this Sunday.

He will be running barefoot for the last two miles of the race, just like South African former Olympic track and field athlete Budd, who used to go shoeless for her events in her 1980s heyday.

Hugo, who has strong links with Africa and the Christian Aid charity, said he will run barefoot “to remember the people who don’t have shoes”.

He added: “It’s much better for you. I believe the padding of normal trainers causes the injuries.

“The way you run when you’re barefoot is much better. The only bad points are when a blister bursts. I have to have a pair of socks by the door.”

He sounds a note of caution, though, when we raise the common denominator with Zola Budd.

“I don’t think I run beautifully enough to be compared with Zola!”

Hugo will run the first 24 miles of the London Marathon in padded shoes, which have individual ‘toes’ and look like gloves.

Then, he’ll go barefoot for the final push to the finish line.

Hugo, who is business development manager at the Shinwell Medical Group, in Fourth Street, Horden, has already completed one previous London Marathon.

In 2009, he got home in a hugely respectable four hours 33 minutes.

He also completed last year’s Kielder Marathon, in Northumberland, in four hours 45 minutes and ran in aid of the Water Aid charity.

The London-born athlete, who studied at Eton, will also be taking part in the Great North Run, in Newcastle, in September and he hopes to run the course barefooted.

He has ran the half-marathon seven times previously, having done his first one around 20 years ago in 90 minutes.

Hugo, who is a Christian, has raised money for Christian Aid each time.

His older brother Tom was a South African correspondent for Christian Aid, which works with all faiths to eradicate poverty.

Hugo will raise money for the Motor Neurone Disease charity when he takes part in this weekend’s big race in the capital.

He wants to help the cause as his friend, Jean Newton, from Durham, died from the condition last year after a four-year battle.

Another of his friends has recently been diagnosed with the neurological disease.

Hugo, who trains every day by either running six miles or mountain biking, hopes to raise around £3,000 for the cause.

He said: “When you start to talk about it, so many people say ‘yes, I know someone who died from Motor Neurone Disease’, or they know someone who’s suffering from it.

“It’s surprising how many people it touches.

“The charity works hard to find out what can be done to help and provides an enormous amount of support.”

Hugo, who lived in Kenya for six years from the age of three and who rowed for the Eton, Oxford and Leeds university teams, said: “I’ve been running since I was a boy.

“I used to use it for training as I used to row on the Thames.

“I can remember getting my second wind after two miles after finding the first two difficult.

“I suppose I just push through out of bloody-mindedness and determination.”

Hugo, who is married to Alison, 59, and dad to Fran, 17, and Emma, 24, said he loved the atmosphere of big races.

“I have to say I really enjoy just congratulating the spectators for bothering to turn up,” he said.

“They are all cheering you on, it’s so nice to be with other runners and spectators.

“When you run on your own, you enjoy the feel of movement.

“At Kielder, you get to enjoy the scenery.

“The Great North Run is probably the best run I’ve ever ran – there are so many runners and spectators, the London Marathon is not a patch on it.”

Hugo, who lives in Newton Hall, in Durham, said staff and patients at the Horden practice, as well as the Shinwell Group’s other base at Peterlee Medical Centre, had been very supportive as he prepares for Sunday’s Marathon.

To sponsor Hugo, visit www.justgiving.com/Hugo-London-marathon-2011.

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