Many people are running around this time of year trying to find ways to leave the Valley heat, even just for a few days, and maybe head to San Diego. Mel O'Keefe is doing just the opposite.

Since June 1, O'Keefe has been running to the Valley from San Diego at a distance equivalent to a marathon (26 miles, 385 yards) per day. O'Keefe plans to arrive in the Valley Wednesday at 6 a.m., when he hopes to cross what will later be the finish line for the Jan. 11, 2004, P.F. Chang's Rock ’n’ Roll Arizona Marathon and Half Marathon. The races are scheduled to conclude at Arizona State's Sun Angel track on 6th Avenue just west of Rural Road in Tempe.

"It's a little irony," said O'Keefe of running to a place people love to flee right now.

Before you start thinking the 44-year-old O'Keefe — an Englishman turned San Diegan — is off his rocker, consider there is a good reason for his grueling madness. His Forrest Gump-like trek is an effort to raise funds and awareness for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

O'Keefe is not an accomplished runner. In fact, he has been into the sport for only a handful of years.

"Back home in England, I ran track and I played rugby," said O'Keefe, who starts the daily runs on his current trip at 4 a.m. "Anything over 800 meters was no man's land. What happened was I was 38 (and) as a drunken New Year's resolution, I said I was going to run the La Jolla (Calif.) half marathon."

O'Keefe only made it less than half way through the race before pulling out. A short time later, a friend told him she had joined the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's team training program, which trains people and sends them to marathons and triathlons if they raise sponsorship money that goes to the society.

"The training group had a picnic for little boys and girls in recovery from blood-related cancers," said O'Keefe. "I realized there were more important things to life than me being a quitter. I ended up signing up for the Honolulu marathon, which I did in 1998."

O'Keefe was hooked. In March 2002, O'Keefe started a year-long odyssey competing in a race every weekend, including 12 marathons, all across the country to raise money for the society.

Next came the idea for his current trek.

"I needed something big," said O'Keefe, who has been putting himself to sleep each night on this journey with two pints of ale. "If you're going to go, go big. To me, it was a natural, the next logical step."

O'Keefe, who is being followed by a support crew in an RV, readily admits there have been countless times he has thought about aborting his run through the desert. Then he looks down at his T-shirt.

"I have a T-shirt I wear proudly," said O'Keefe. "On it, it says, 'If you think running a marathon is tough, try chemotherapy.’ ’’

While he obviously isn't a selfish man, O'Keefe does expect some sort of divine advantage from this trip.

"I look at it, because of what I'm doing," said O'Keefe, "I won't lose anybody to a blood-related cancer."

For more information on O'Keefe's journey or the race, call 1 (800) 311-1255 or visit the Web sites and

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