In less than 8 weeks’ time, 26 year old, James van der Hoorn from Moss Drive, Haslingfield will be running 156 miles across one of the most desolate landscapes on Earth. Described by National Geographic as the toughest footrace on the planet, The Marathon des Sables is run across the Sahara Desert. James’ chosen charity for this footrace is Mencap.
Here he explains why he’s attempting it and why the sacrifices will all be worth it…
“There are some people who will never understand. Why would any sane person choose to strap a 10kg pack to their back and spend a week of their life in the Sahara desert and try to run 156 miles in the blazing sun. And perhaps more importantly, why would their friends and family let them?!
I wouldn’t say that I am a running-addict, at least not in the most familiar sense of the phrase; I would prefer to describe myself as an ‘extreme challenge-enthusiast’. Tending to jump from one seemingly impossible event to the next, signing up before really considering the consequences.
In fact, perhaps the strangest thing is, I don’t really enjoy running. The appeal of the event isn’t so much the rudimentary mode of transport, but it’s the intense physical struggle required to complete it. The necessity to dig deep and muster every ounce of psychological determination to keep moving forward. It is the extraordinary amount of determination required which draws me to these events. The running aspect is simply a means of pursuing these goals. I guess the most simple answer to the most commonly asked question…”Why?” is that ‘I need to see whether I can’.
The race itself is only really discussed amongst elite Ultra-Marathon runners, usually in hushed tones…”The Toughest Footrace on the Planet”…the Marathon des Sables. However with around 1000 people from around the world taking part in the race every year, it is by no means a low-key event. Helicopters buzz around the start line whilst TV crews interview noteworthy competitors on the ground. The most high-profile of which being James Cracknell when he finished 12th in 2012. The race itself requires you to be almost completely self-sufficient, with organisers only handing out 1.5 litre water rations at 10km checkpoints. All the food, clothes and sleeping gear is left up to you.
Unsurprisingly, training for an event this big seems to have completely dominated my life. I find myself using any spare time either walking, running or stretching, with any conversation around the house descending into a discussion about kit, training, weight and injuries. I even find myself picking up unusual items in the supermarket and checking the nutritional information to check the number of calories per 100g and whether it would be suitable for the race. To be honest I’m most looking forward to the finish line so I can go back to eating normal food and drinking alcohol, both of which have been waiting on the side-line since December.
It’s a big financial commitment too, even before you buy all the necessary kit the event costs an arm and a leg. With every piece of kit being a compromise between cost, weight, quality and how much comfort you’re prepared to relinquish whilst in the desert. There have been a few times I have had to sit back and take a reality check, after spending an hour comparing different types of anti-venom pump (a compulsory piece of kit) and deliberating about saving 20g between two different models. It made me realise there really is no other event like it which requires such meticulous preparation and obsessive kit management. With a backpack weighing close to 10kg, cutting down every single unnecessary gram is absolutely essential.
Several of my friends feel this is just an irrational and badly thought out decision. A pointless exercise to inflict unnecessary pain on my feet, for the sheer sake of it. It may well be all these things, but to me it is so much more than that. The race gives me an opportunity to push myself further physically and mentally than ever before, and to hopefully inspire everyone who has joined me on the journey to do the same in their lives. I don’t wish to finish on a generic cliché such as “never give up”, or “dream, believe, achieve”. But if you can push yourself that little bit further each year with a personal challenge, whether it be physically or mentally, then when you look back in 12 months’ time, who knows, you just might surprise yourself!”
James van der Hoorn
James would greatly appreciate any donations to his chosen charity, Mencap. The easiest way to donate is to visit his Justgiving page at http://www.justgiving.com/teamdesertchallenge or you can text “TMDS50 10” to 70070 to donate £10.
And, if you are interested in keeping up to date with James’ progress, you can receive his email updates by emailing him at: firstname.lastname@example.org and asking him to add your email address to his list.
More information on The Marathon des Sables can be found at: http://www.desertchallenge.co.uk/