Sun, sandstorms and scorching heat
Jody Raynsford ran across the blistering Sahara desert in aid of rare kidney disease research
Wednesday 29 June 2011
Indescribable. It’s the only word that does justice to the challenge of running the Marathon des Sables (MdS), the 150-mile foot race across one small corner of the Sahara desert to which I was drawn in my quest to raise money for the rare kidney disease campaign Action for Alport’s.
After months of preparation, long drawn-out endurance runs across the South Downs and far too much money and time invested in kit, it hardly felt real to be standing on the start line in southern Morocco at the beginning of April. The sound of AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell” echoed in my ears as I lined up next to competitors from all over the world, united in our desire to conquer the Sahara for a good cause.
The jovial, almost euphoric atmosphere of the first day dissipated any feeling of anxiety about tackling the 150 miles that lay between us and the finish line. Over the course of the week in the desert, sleeping in rustic Berber tents and hauling all your food, water and kit along with you, the challenge did not simply lie in the distance.
The Sahara seemed intent on throwing just about everything it had at us, from a sandstorm at the beginning of the second day that had us covering ourselves to stop the savage sand whipping at our still-pale, unblemished skin, to temperatures that averaged around 40C (one journalist logged the temperature on day four as high as 57C). For their part, the organisers work with almost sadistic gusto to ensure we are sufficiently challenged. My very first taste of desert running coincided with the ominous-sounding Dune Day.
The embodiment of Sisyphean toil, I found myself struggling up ever-increasingly difficult mountains of rolling sand, into which I sank as soon as I set foot on them – not helped by the weight of a full backpack. Later, it was the turn of steep jebels (hills), endless, dusty dried lake beds and ankle-breaking rocky plains that threatened my wellbeing, not to mention my sanity.
Out there, amid the sand and heat, your focus becomes very narrow – drink some water, check your direction and concentrate intently on reaching the next checkpoint. Occasionally, however, you take the opportunity to lift your head and breathe in those moments that stay with you long after the grind has ended. Like when I found myself at the top of a jebel looking onto the vast expanse before me with a trail of tiny runners peeling off into the distance, or plunging into lush groves to be greeted (and laughed) at by local women lounging under the shade of the palms.
I even look back fondly on the rascally antics of the Berber children moving the glow sticks that marked the route through the dunes at night (thank goodness for my compass). My thoughts were less warm at the time.
Running the MdS, you find yourself in a paradox. There is a sense that you are traversing a landscape barren, rugged and unused to human survival – let alone to people running across it – yet so awesome and beautiful that the pain and discomfort becomes almost bearable. This is symbolised on the final evening by the competitors – parched, fatigued and sand-blasted from a week in the Sahara – being treated to a concert by the Paris Opera, shipped out and set up in all their pomp for one night at our camp.
Ultimately, I found that it is the competitors who make the event. The camaraderie among the runners, particularly the 250-odd British competitors, was superb, each doing it for our own reasons yet united in facing the challenge.
You see it most clearly in the makeshift camp, set up at the end of each day, awash with the colours of flags on display and the charitable causes that have motivated so many to put themselves through the ordeal. When a competitor drops out for any reason, it is a sad moment for all, knowing what it took to get as far as the start. Indeed, I met many runners who were making a second attempt to conquer the race after some unfortunate incident – usually bowel-related – rendered their first effort unsuccessful. Its lure is evident.
The final day of the race – the relatively short 10-mile sprint to the little town of Tazzarine – has become dedicated to charity. This year, for the first time, race director Patrick Bauer allowed the event’s sponsors the chance to run the final leg of the race , offering a small flavour of the MdS in exchange for their efforts to raise a significant amount of corporate donations. While the more purist runners may have grumbled a little at these corporate interlopers, it was an opportunity that yielded €100,000 towards helping various Moroccan charities.
Oddly enough, despite the long association between charity and sponsored running events, this wasn’t always the case with the MdS, an event in the running calendar previously reserved for the elite. Bauer reminded us during the last day’s briefing that it was the British competitors who began running the MdS for charitable causes, opening up the event to the fundraising opportunities it now affords.
For the charity I was running for, Action for Alport’s, this was just the beginning.
The completion of the MdS was the first stage of the journey to reach the target of £50,000 that will launch the research into the rare genetic kidney disease Alport’s Syndrome. For a campaign that only launched in February this year, there has already been support from a dedicated band of individuals competing in events to raise money and awareness. This varies from runners in the Brighton and Shakespeare marathons to walkers tackling the South Downs Way, and one person completing the Caledonian Challenge (54 miles in 24 hours).
While the £50,000 target stands, I will, naturally, be joining the throng of runners pinning further fundraising efforts to yet another challenge. So it is that I find myself asking, after being home only a few months, what’s next?
Jody Raynsford ran the Marathon des Sables for Action For Alport’s and is still gratefully receiving sponsorship at www.kidneyresearchukevents.org/jodyrunsthesahara. For more information about Action For Alport’s or to help raise money for the cause, please visit www.action foralportscampaign.org
Buyers beware of new-build home headaches
Are you ready for pensions reforms?
Dirty tricks in a divorce can cause some nasty surprises
Simon Read: Frozen in time - the expat British pensioners who deserve a better deal
Number of serially under-performing investment funds has increased by a fifth, survey reveals
- 1 Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors: 'I think as far as coloured actors go it gets really difficult in the UK'
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 3 UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
- 4 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 5 Warriors in ancient Iraq suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder more than 3,000 years ago, say researchers
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
iJobs Money & Business
£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...
£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£45000 - £47000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / ...
Day In a Page
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village