Tuesday brought one of those once in a lifetime opportunities when I met the world’s greatest living explorer as he prepared to take on the toughest footrace on earth, the Marathon des Sables. Aiming to raise £2.5 million for Marie Curie Cancer Care, Sir Ranulph Fiennes will race across the Sahara Desert for 6 days, covering 156 miles (251km) in over 50°C heat carrying everything he needs on his back. He’s SEVENTY ONE YEARS OLD – if he does it he will be the oldest Briton to ever complete the race. Marie Curie is a charity close to Sir Ranulph’s heart as his first wife and childhood sweetheart died of stomach cancer, my beloved Father in Law is currently battling the same revolting illness so I am supporting this challenge with every fibre of my being.
I met him at Kingston University, two weeks before he is due to begin this latest challenge…who that is trying to escape from my hair I have no idea – could have been in there for years!
Sir Ranulph has already raised £6.3 million for Marie Curie – climbing the north face of the Eiger in 2007 despite suffering from vertigo and then in 2009 climbing to the summit of Mount Everest becoming the oldest Briton at 65 to do so. He’s no stranger to extreme temperatures having lost fingers and toes to frost bite but, he told us, he doesn’t like heat! We were at Kingston University’s sports science department to see Sir Ran put through his paces in their heat chamber where he would be monitored to see how he might cope with the extreme temperatures in the Moroccan desert.
Rory Coleman is an international performance coach who is training Sir Ranulph and has run the Marathon des Sables 11 times himself (he met his wife there, she was running it too!) he explained to us what Sir Ran will be up against in two weeks time and how he has been preparing for it.
Rory told us how he packs his stuff, which foods are best (macadamia nuts apparently) and how he knows the weight of everything which goes in that pack – a €200 weighs less than 2x €100 notes, who knew?! That amount of cash has to be carried to pay for a lift back to Ourzazate if a runner can’t make it to the end! He also said that anyone can do this race and, just for a moment, I really believed I could!
Sir Ranulph has been training in the cold conditions of the UK in winter so I was interested to see how he’d cope with heat – I tested the heat chamber out for him and at 40°C I can confirm it was mighty hot! Sir Ran spent an hour in the chamber on a treadmill as his heart rate, core body temperature and performance levels were monitored. He barely broke into a sweat, pronounced himself to be fairly comfortable and walked pretty rapidly at about 5.5km per hour for the whole 60 minutes! He’s remarkable.
After Sir Ranulph had freshened up and before he headed off to a dinner engagement we had time to ask him a few questions about his adventures, his hopes for this particular challenge and his family life. I wasn’t surprised to hear that his 9 year old daughter isn’t remotely interested in what he does but it was lovely to see how chuffed he was that ‘she’s pretty fit’ and that she had come second in a race at school. I suspect she won’t be content with second for long if she’s anything like her Dad. Sir Ranulph was laid back and seemingly unfazed by what lay ahead only revealing his true fire when talking about the Norwegians – his long time arch rivals in adventuring and who he clearly does not want to come second to at any time!
Sir Ranulph is a passionate supporter of Marie Curie and he wants to raise ‘lots of money’ to help them to care for more people with terminal illnesses. I will be following his progress here on Thinly Spread with video updates and pictures from the desert. If you want to follow the event on social media follow the (fabulous) hashtag #RunRanRun. He starts running on 5th April you can donate £5 and send a message to Sir Ran by texting RUN and your message of support to 70007.