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Amateur athletes take on Sahara Desert challenges

Lesley Goodrick EMN-150415-141108001
Lesley Goodrick EMN-150415-141108001

Trekking across one of the most remote landscapes in the world, through miles of sand, in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit, is an extreme challenge in its own, let alone for an amateur runner who has only ever run one marathon, of which was in a much cooler London.

But that was the incredible story of thrill seeker Michael Cookson from Wittering who is feeling on top of the world after having just completed the ‘toughest footrace on earth’ in the Sahara Desert.

Marathon runner Michael Cookson
Marathon runner Michael Cookson

The novice runner, who has only ever run the London Marathon once, fought the intense heat of the Sahara desert to complete the six-day ultra marathon, totalling 156 miles.

Michael, 30, who works as a prisoner officer, said: “I just love a challenge and this was an amazing opportunity. I enjoyed the experience more than I thought I would, it was a privilege to be in such a beautiful place.”

The race, a gruelling multi-stage adventure, pushes competitors to their limits, travelling through one of the world’s most inhospitable climates.

Each competitor has to carry with them everything they need to survive, including equipment and food. The only exception is water which is provided along the way to keep the competitors hydrated.

Places for the race are much sought after, but Michael was lucky enough to be accepted first time round, leaving him little time to prepare himself for the highly anticipated challenge.

Michael was lucky enough to meet a fellow novice runner, Matt from Aberdeen who he travelled out with for the race.

The pair were placed in a tent with eight other men who were all highly experienced runners, but against the odds the pair ended up beating all of the other men to the finish line, finishing at an outstanding time of 47 hours, 25 minutes.

Out of 1343 competitors, Michael managed to come 604th, making it in the top half of those who managed to complete the race.

He said: “It was very unexpected to have done so well, as I’m not from a massive running background.

“The race is all about strength. It’s a shock when your first go out as your perspective of pace and milage changes completely due to the terrain.

“It was really tough dealing with the cumulative effect of having to run day in day out for six days, on an extreme lack of sleep in such horrendous conditions.”

The extreme race was split up into six separate stages, of which stage four was the toughest, comprising of a 45 to 50 mile trek across a barren wilderness.

For Michael this was the hardest part of the whole race, he said: “Stage four was brutal. It was so hard going and it felt like you were making no progress. Despite that I still managed to complete it in less than 21 hours, allowing myself a day to rest whilst others were still trekking in the dark.”

“After completing stage four, mentally you think it’s all over, but you still have 42km to go and your legs have nothing left. It was a joy to see that finish line.”

Michael’s courageous efforts have raised over £2,000 in aid of his chosen charity, Sue Ryder’s Thorpe Hall Hospice.

If you would like to make a donation to Michael’s efforts visit www.justgiving.com/mikesmds2015.

Another adventurer who has fought the odds to conquer the great Sahara desert is Lesley Goodrick, 60, who recently took on the Sahara Survival Challenge.

Lesley, who is from Oakham, took part in a four day survival challenge in the Sahara desert with eight other trekkers and a support team.

The team walked over 60km across the barren stoney ground and acres of sand dunes, accompanied by camels who helped to transport their equipment.

At night the group would set up camp under the stars and learn about how to survive in the hostile environment.

Lesley said: “It was amazing to see the nights sky. It was a real enlightening experience and if I had the chance I would do it again.”

Although Lesley enjoyed the experience she said that it was very ‘tough’ having to climb the sand dunes and that on some days the group were hit by sand storms which made things even worse.

After the trek Lesley spent two days in Marrakech where she was involved in a local community project, assisting with the refurbishment of a charitable home for elderly hospital patients, which also houses a residential vocational college for teenagers. Since her trek, Lesley has managed to raise over £3,000 for local hospice charity, Loros as a result of her challenge. She said: “I could not have done it without the support of my many loyal sponsors to whom I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks.”

The Sahara trek was the latest in a series of fundraising challenges which Lesley has completed in aid of charity, including a marathon trek along Hadrian’s Wall for Help for Heroes and a trip to Cambodia. To make a donation to Lesley visit uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LesleyGoodrick.


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