Riddle of the desert endurance test
FOR many people, managing to complete one marathon in the relatively tame conditions of London, Dublin or New York is the height of their athletic achievement. But for Keith Flood, one marathon is clearly not enough – he is about to take part for the seco
FOR many people, managing to complete one marathon in the relatively tame conditions of London, Dublin or New York is the height of their athletic achievement.
But for Keith Flood, one marathon is clearly not enough - he is about to take part for the second time in a race which is the equivalent of five and a half marathons in six days, across the boiling hot Sahara desert.
The Marathon Des Sables is one of the toughest foot races in the world.
Up to 800 runners from across dozens of countries battle in heat of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, carrying all their supplies apart from their tent, in a back pack that weighs 30lb.
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Keith, 49, who lives in Broadwater Crescent, Stevenage, with his wife Shirley and daughters Abby, nine, and Leah, five, first did the Marathon Des Sables in 2005.
"A French woman planted the seed years and years ago and I kept talking about the event and never did anything about it.
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"My wife said 'if you don't do the event, you'll regret it'."
Keith may have had a slight head start in preparing for such a gruelling event as he has always kept in good shape, working as a fitness instructor in the navy for nine years, followed by 17 years in the leisure industry.
But even he had to work hard before he could head off for the start in Morocco.
He trained for an amazing three years to get to the peak of physical fitness by running, swimming, cycling and weight lifting, and says that although the marathon was painful, thanks to the training, there was not one moment in the event when he thought he might not make it.
"I prepared well for it, but it was hard. Your feet grow two sizes, and you lose all your toenails," he said.
"Your feet are in tremendous pain. I could hardly walk for two weeks after I got back."
"The heat is really, really exhausting. At ground level the sand is a lot hotter than it is at head level.
"You've got to keep your concentration all the time because if you lose your concentration you become complacent and forget to drink water."
The pain, heat and dehydration couldn't have put him off that much, as he soon decided to do it all again.
He will start his second Marathon Des Sables on Sunday, March 25.
This time round in training, he has been concentrating on running.
He has been spending time at David Lloyd in Stevenage, training with a heavy backpack and many layers of clothing to get used to running in the heat.
"Without that, certainly in the winter months I would have had a lot of problems with regard to injury," he said.
And with just days to go, he is confident he is ready.
"I'm fit enough. I've worked hard, done a lot of miles," he said.
Not content with notching up two epic endurance events in the desert, Keith is already planning another challenge, this time in the freezing conditions of the Arctic.
He is hoping to compete in the Arctic Ultra Race in 2009, a 300-mile foot race in Canada, where he will endure temperatures of down to -40C.
"I've absolutely no extreme cold condition experience at all. I really need to do my homework on this one," he said.
"You've got to look after yourself, you've got to prepare well. The right equipment is absolutely essential."
As well as the high that must come from completing such events, Keith also enjoys knowing he is raising huge amounts of money.
In the 2005 Marathon Des Sables, he raised £11,500 for the MS Trust, and this year is raising funds for the National Society for Epilepsy.
Already he has received donations of more than £10,000, and is hopeful that he could even get to £30,000.
He has been in touch with some people the charity supports and is pleased to be using his talent for running for a good cause.
"Some of the letters I get, they're just so grateful I'm running for them. It's quite touching really, it makes you feel quite humble.
"It gives me a buzz and makes me feel like I'm doing something. It makes you feel quite excited really."
* If you would like to sponsor Keith, visit his website at http://keithflood.saharamarathon.co.uk
He is also looking for help with getting equipment for the Arctic Ultra Race in 2009 - if you can help, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org