Henry at the Marathon des Sables, in the Sahara Desert
Henry ran the Clarendon last year in preparation for the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert. Here is his story:
Until October 2018, I had never run a marathon. I don’t think that I had even run a competitive half-marathon. Despite being an Army officer, a marathon had always been on the ‘to do’ list but I had never quite got around to it. It was, therefore, a bit of a leap into the unknown when a friend of mine, half-jokingly, suggested that I join him in competing in the legendary Marathon des Sables (MDS) in the Sahara Desert – I agreed. ‘How hard could it be…?’
The MDS itself is a truly gruelling multi-stage adventure through a breathtaking landscape in one of the world’s most inhospitable environments – the Sahara Desert. The Discovery Channel has proclaimed it as ‘the toughest footrace on Earth’. Participants have to be self-sufficient and carry all of their own food and equipment for the week on their backs. Communal goat’s-hair Berber tents are pitched every night but, apart from that competitors have to take everything with them. Water is rationed and if runners exceed the ration, they get a time penalty. In just six days participants run over 140 miles through endless dunes, over rocky jebels, and across white-hot salt plains. Sun and sand are constant enemies with temperatures regularly reaching 50 centigrade. Feet swell, crack and bleed under the pressure and the heat, but I am getting ahead of myself…
The Clarendon was to be the start of my training programme. As I have mentioned, I am a serving Army officer with the King’s Royal Hussars, based in Tidworth and it just so happened that my Regimental Sergeant Major, Leigh Ashton, was running to raise money for the same charity that we had decided to run the MDS for; ABF – The Soldiers’ Charity (https://soldierscharity.org). The Soldiers’ Charity gives a lifetime of support to soldiers and veterans from the British Army, and their immediate families, when they are in need. It makes grants to individuals through their Regiments and Corps and supports a wide range of specialist charities that sustain the British Army ‘family’, both at home and around the world. The charity takes pride in being responsive, making a difference at a critical point in people’s lives. It has been doing this since 1944, working with veterans of every conflict, and envisages continuing doing so for the ‘long haul’ – supporting all future generations of our soldiers and their dependants.
Family send off before the start of the Clarendon
Arriving at the start of the Clarendon in a regimental T-shirt, cotton rugby shorts and some beaten-up road trainers, I quickly realised that I might be in over my head. Gels, vests, bottles and compression kit was in evidence everywhere but I was swept along in a tide of good spirits until I found myself at the start line on that glorious sunny morning. There was, however, no time for apprehension; there was no backing out. My headphones broke in the first mile and I later realised that I had gone out way too quickly but I relaxed into the run and started to enjoy the stunning scenery.
Clarendon Start Line, Full Marathon, 10.30am start.
Leaving Salisbury, 2 miles done, 24 to go.
Approaching Winterslow, 6 miles done, 20 to go
Winterslow. 7 miles done, 19 to go.
Kings Somborne. 17 miles done, 9 to go.
Clarendon Finish Line at Kings School, Winchester.
I think it was at about mile 19 that I hit the first hill that I really struggled with and the less said about miles 22-26 the better but the Clarendon was a fantastic route, we were supported superbly the whole way and it proved to be a great baptism of fire for what was to follow! I was pleased with my performance on very little training but decided that much more was necessary if I was going to complete the MDS.
A winter of early mornings and late nights followed. 50-mile weeks with 10kg on my back became the norm and a sub-zero British winter didn’t seem to be preparing me brilliantly for a Saharan ultra-marathon. That said, I must have been doing something right because I felt reasonably well prepared when I boarded a flight bound for Morocco on 5th April 2019 with two of my closest friends.
The MDS was split into five competitive stages with some 800 participants from 51 countries. We carried all of our kit, lived in communal tents, ran, ate, recovered, sweated and bled (literally) alongside one another. The mental and physical resilience required to get up and stumble on each day forced us all into some pretty dark places at times but it was one of the most amazing experiences and should be on every runnner’s ‘bucket list’. We tackled dunes, jebels, salt plains, blisters, chafe and dehydration but I am pleased to say that the journey I started at Wyvern College last October finished with a coveted MDS medal and a top 150 finish in the Sahara Desert.
Henry, Tom Hounsfield & Will Heneage before the start of the MDS
Marathon des Sables, in the Sahara Desert
Marathon des Sables, in the Sahara Desert
Henry, Tom & Will at the Finish of the MDS
Most importantly, to date we have raised over £16,500 for ABF – The Soldiers’ Charity but we can still do more. If you are interested in seeing more photos from the MDS or would like to donate to this amazing charity please visit our Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/DesertDambusters) or Just Giving (https://www.justgiving.com/teams/DesertDambusters) pages. Every donation, no matter how small, is greatly appreciated and will enable ABF to continue making a difference to the lives of soldiers and their families in their time of need. #forsoldiersforlife
Once my feet are back in one piece and I have forgotten all about the pain, I hope to see you all again on the start line of the 2019 Clarendon Marathon (Sunday 6 October)!