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Turning up the heat for Worldwide Cancer Research

Training to run 150 miles through the blistering heat of the Sahara desert with a 10kg pack strapped to your back takes over your life, but Paul Webb (41) is taking the Marathon Des Sables - known as 'the world’s toughest foot race’ - in his stride as he attempts to raise over £20,000 for Worldwide Cancer Research. Paul explains why all the sacrifice is worth it.

“Some people will never understand why. Why on Earth would anyone want to run more than 150 miles through a formidable landscape in one of the world’s most inhospitable climates? I’m not sure I know the answer but I’m going to put it down to a personal obsession to test myself beyond anything I have ever done before. However, first and foremost I wanted to raise money for a cause that’s very personal to me and make a difference with a significant fundraising target to match the extreme nature of the activity.

“My challenge is to run a marathon on every continent visiting Worldwide Cancer Research funded Scientists wherever I travel. I have already competed in a few normal marathons – London and New York – and I have also done more varied races including the Great Wall of China and the Jungfrau marathons as part of my fundraising and preparation. But without doubt the Marathon Des Sables will be my toughest challenge ever.

“The Marathon Des Sables (MDS) is an epic multi-day event through 150 miles of the Sahara. Sandstorms, severe dehydration and extreme blisters are common. Competitor’s must be self-sufficient during the race, carrying everything they need. You’re pretty much on your own so it’s as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one.

“Naturally, training for such a big event has taken over my life. My base run is 10 miles with 20 miles being my upper limit (this will increase in the next few weeks). I run with my race pack – usually carrying between 4 - 10 Kg and totaling 70-90 miles a week. My race kit will weigh around 7.5Kg (that’s dry weight to which 1.5 kg water should be added).

“But it’s the conditions I’m training in that present the biggest challenge at the moment. Winter in Scotland couldn’t be further from ideal conditions for training for a grueling desert race. The worst part is the strong winds we’ve had  –it feels like it’s below zero all the time and its very difficult to stay warm for prolonged periods. Currently I run six days a week. This weekend I was training in the Highlands – I ran from Kings House to Kinlochleven on the West Highland Way (over the Devils staircase). At the top there was a few feet of snow and not a soul in sight. My Sunday run was cancelled owing to the adverse weather conditions.

“It’s also a big financial commitment too. The race itself is expensive and there’s a lot of kit to buy. If training wasn’t time-consuming enough I seem to spend an equal amount of time trying to work out what equipment and food to take with me. You wouldn’t believe how much thought has gone into this. I have a long list of mandatory items on top of food. Each requires a lot of research. Here’s my mandatory kit and race kit list:

Mandatory equipment:

  • backpack MDS or equivalent
  • sleeping bag,
  • head torch with spare batteries,
10 safety pins,
  • compass, with 1° or 2° precision,
  • lighter,
  • a whistle,
  • knife with metal blade,
  • topical disinfectant,
  • anti-venom pump,
  • a signaling mirror,
  • one aluminum survival sheet,
  • one tube of sun cream,
  • 200 euros or equivalent in foreign currency.

Marathon Kit:
 It is supplied by the organisation and will include the following:

  • a road-book issued on 03 April
  • a distress beacon
  • an electronic transponder
  • salt tablets
sachets for the toilets
  •  ID marks

“Add to this a titanium stove and pot for heating water, fuel tablets, a titanium spoon,  sleeping mat and pillow, anti-chaffe cream, small towel, wemi wipes, antibacterial gel, toothbrush and paste, electrolyte tablets, immodium, tape (for feet), a tyvek suit for camp, a baselayer for camp, desert goggles, gators, a desert hat, a windproof top and toilet paper. All of these items collectively weigh around 3kg.

“For food the rules stipulate that I have to carry a minimum of 2,000 kcal per day. But, for a normal race (not carrying equipment) I would expect to need 100 kcal per mile. Add this to basal metabolic function and I think I will need 3,500 to 4,300 kcal per day. I will be taking around 3000 kcal per day weighing in at 4.5 Kg. So I expect to lose weight during the race – at least a Kg. My secret weapons will be almond or hazelnut butter (which I will add to breakfast) these are highly calorific. And Peperami sticks.”

Around 1,500 runners will compete at the MDS on the 5 April. This year is the 30th anniversary of the race and explorer Ranulph Fiennes OBE will be racing. The runners are also joined by 400 support staff, 270 berber and Saharan tents, 120,000 litres of mineral water, 100 all-terrain vehicles, two helicopters, one Cessna plane, one incinerator lorry to burn waste (the event is proud of its eco-credentials), 52 medical staff and four camels.

Paul, originally from Newcastle, but now based in St Andrews, began his epic journey with the London Marathon in April 2014 and will finish with the Antarctic Ice Marathon on 19 November 2015. You can donate at:

Director of Marketing and Communications at Worldwide Cancer Research

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