Father's epic fitness challenge in memory of son who died aged just six days

A father is set to take on London’s biggest exercise challenges over the next 12 months in a bid to raise more than £50,000 in memory of his son who died six days after he was born.

Darren Smith’s son Isaac died in August 2012 following time in neonatal intensive care for brain cooling, a therapy used to prevent brain damage in newborns.

The year after he died, the 39-year-old, from Enfield , ran the London Marathon, raising nearly £30,000 for the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, where his son and family received treatment and post-natal care.

Mr Smith has since run 15 half marathons in a bid to continually fundraise for Evelina London alongside other charity events for the fund ‘Running for Isaac’.

From 2018 to 2019 he will compete in the Royal Parks Half, before making a bid for the London Classics medal in 2019, which requires participants to run the Virgin Money London Marathon, cycle 100 miles in the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 and swim two miles at Swim Serpentine, the open water swimming festival.

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Mr Smith with Isaac and his wife Simone (Darren Smith)

Mr Smith, who competed in the very first Royal Parks, told the Standard this year will be his ninth time competing in the race. It will form a “get fit” precursor to his mammoth challenge in 2019.

“The idea is that it is to get fit for a bigger challenge next year of doing the Marathon. And if that goes well I could get the London Classics medal,” he said.

Following complications at birth, Isaac was transferred to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Evelina London for treatment.

After days of care, it became apparent that Isaac had suffered catastrophic brain damage. He died on August 1, 2012.

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Isaac underwent brain cooling treatment at Evelina London Children's Hospital in 2012 (Darren Smith)

Mr Smith said fundraising through Running for Isaac, which doubles as the blog he and his wife Simone run about living with the death of a child, serves as a thank you to the Evelina staff at Guys’ and St Thomas’ Hospital.

“They were incredibly compassionate and really supported the family through such a horrendous time,” Mr Smith said.

“The team continued to support us after Isaac died,” he said. “We had his consultants at his funeral and we are still friends with his nurses.”

A year and a half after Isaac’s death Mr Smith’s daughter, Isla, 4, was born at St Thomas’ and it was Isaac’s nurses who were among the first to visit and hold Isla.

In the immediate aftermath of losing Isaac, running was not only a way for Mr Smith to raise funds, it also helped his mental health.

Mr Smith said: “When Isaac died going out and running was a time to get away from everything to think.

“And in those initial months running was a time when I would talk to him.”

He added: “Our family have all been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder since he died. For me, the running has been when the anxiety has lessened.”

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Mr Smith with daughter Isla , 4 (Darren Smith)

He said in the first few months, training for the 2013 London Marathon, running was “cathartic” and gave him a focus.

“I haven’t run since last year and have actually developed severe anxiety attacks and issues,” he said.

“I’m hoping that getting back into the running and the structure of training for the Royal Parks Half Marathon will not only help me get fit but will also help my mental health considerably.”

Running for Isaac is also a way of creating a lasting legacy for his son, Mr Smith said.

“When you lose a child people don’t like to talk about it,” he said.

“What’s important to us is that he did exist. He was there and he showed incredible strength in those few days.”

The upcoming sporting events will form a big fundraising drive to push Running for Isaac’s overall fundraising total to more than £50,000 to coincide with Evelina’s 150th anniversary.

Mr Smith’s half marathon personal best is 2 hours 45 minutes and this October he hopes to beat that and run the half in 2 hours 30 minutes.

To donate to Mr Smith’s cause visit: http://virginmoneygiving.com/runningforisaac

The Royal Parks Half Marathon takes place on Sunday October 14. For more information please visit https://royalparkshalf.com/

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