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Intrepid trio tackling racing challenge of a lifetime in the Sahara

Mark Alderson, Emma Sowden, Andy Dennis
Mark Alderson, Emma Sowden, Andy Dennis

An intrepid trio of athletes from Stamford Striders are set to embark on the racing challenge of a lifetime.

Mark Alderson, Andy Dennis and Emma Sowden are set to compete next month in the Marathon des Sables which is billed as the ‘toughest foot-race on earth’.

The six-day event takes place in the Sahara Desert where the runners have to defy temperatures of around 122 degrees fahrenheit to complete the 156-mile event.

It has been an ambition of the trio to tackle an epic challenge and, after Mark’s mother-in-law passed away after a long battle with cancer earlier this year, they will be combining their herculean efforts with a fundraising drive.

They will be raising funds for Walking With The Wounded – a charity which helps injured former British Armed Forces servicemen and women in their career transition from the military to civilian life – the Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice in Peterborough and the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

Mark explained: “The event is something that’s always been on my bucket list.

“My wife’s mum recently passed away with cancer and I thought that life is too short. I’ve always been into running and I’m up for any crazy challenge.

“I thought about doing it last year, but I didn’t feel 100 per cent right mentality because I don’t want to just go out there and walk it.

“That wouldn’t be the challenge because I’ve always been quite competitive, but I’ve bounced back up again and, when I get to that start line, all I’ll be thinking about is finishing it and doing it as fast as I can.”

Nearly 75 per cent of the 1,000-strong field do usually walk the event that gets underway after a six-hour coach journey from Ouarzazate in Morocco.

The runners have to be self-sufficient and carry all their own food and equipment for the week on their back.

Mark continued: “The most difficult thing will be getting used to the heat. I don’t think running the distance will be a problem mentally or physically.

“I used to love the heat, but in the last few years I’ve found that I can’t stand it. We went on holiday to Dubai recently and I spent most of the time in air conditioned rooms.

“Carrying a back pack will also add to the difficulty. I’ve spoken to people who even cut their toothbrush in half just to save weight.”

The trio are currently undertaking an intensive training programme that has seen them clock up around 90 miles a week.

Mark added: “You need to do different things because it can be hard to motivate yourself to go out after a long day at work so I try and use different types of training, whether it be on the track, road or in the gym.

“I was out there every day last week when it was snowing – I loved it. But there is always a worry when you go out on a training run that you might pick up an injury which will rule you out.

“It’s like looking forward to Christmas and then finding out that Christmas has been cancelled.”

Mark has been with the Stamford Striders for six years and was race director for their St Valentine’s 30k race this year.

The 43-year-old also plans to run the London Marathon just six days after returning to his home in Frognall from the Sahara.

Mark said: “Pain barriers will be pushed, but the physical pain experienced cannot be comparable to that witnessed over the last few years which has been truthfully heart breaking.”

It was that anguish of his friends’ family which prompted Andy to sign up for the challenge as well having run countless miles with Mark over the past couple of years.

Andy commented: “After running my first marathon in 2016, I was looking for my next big challenge. A friend had told me about the Marathon des Sables and, after hearing Mark and Emma were also interested, I soon signed up.

“My training has taken me through the Lake District, Peak District, Shropshire and recently the North Downs way. I’ve run countless miles and worn out several pairs of running shoes.

“Thorpe Hall has helped Mark’s family in a very difficult time and does incredible work for people locally so any donations would be greatly appreciated.”

Anyone wishing to donate can visit their fundraising page at www.virginmoneygiving.com/mds2018


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