Top chef aims to raise £12,000 in Sahara race

A Michelin-starred chef is swapping his whites for running shoes to embark on a 151-mile race across the Sahara.

Tom Aikens, 39, is taking part in one of the world's most arduous physical challenges, the Marathon des Sables or Marathon of the Sands, to raise money for charity.

Alongside 700 competitors, Aikens will run the equivalent of five-and-a-half marathons in six days while carrying a backpack weighing up to 14kg (30lb) containing food, snacks, a sleeping bag, flares, a first aid kit and (of course) a stove. Water is rationed to 12 litres a day. The event takes place in blistering heat in southern Morocco in late March. Daytime temperatures average 49C (120F).

The chef is running 60 miles a week, in between shifts at his two London restaurants.

To build up his fat stores, he is trying to add 2kg to his 70kg body weight, but is finding it difficult despite eating four meals a day and drinking high-calorie protein shakes.

Aikens is raising money for Facing Africa, a charity which combats noma, a gangrenous infection in sub-Saharan Africa which eats away at the sufferer's face.

Antibiotics can treat the infection at its early stages but, once established, there is no cure. Facing Africa funds reconstructive surgery for survivors, who are often shunned because of their disfigurement.

The chef, whose target is £12,000, said: "It's pretty horrific, particularly for children. Ninety per cent of the people who get the disease die. People need to be a bit more aware of it because I can't believe we live in a world where people don't know about this disease."

The Marathon des Sables challenge was founded in 1986 by a Frenchman, Patrick Bauer, who had trekked 186 miles through the Algerian Sahara two years earlier and wanted to share his experience.

Surfaces are mostly uneven rock, but the runners also have to contend with stretches of sand dunes.

To sponsor Aikens, donations can be made via his page on Facebook.

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