Running the Marathon des Sables for Charity

A short while ago, we put out a blog post offering to provide support to outdoor sports people looking for sponsorship. We’ve had a couple of emails lately from people looking seriously at 2009 and wanting to put a big fat stamp on the achieving something truly great…whilst helping raise funds for charities.

Our first-up is Andrew McMaster, a medical student from Manchester University, who’s currently in training for the Marathon des Sables – an ultramarathon race across the Sahara desert…you can read more about the Marathon des Sables here, but here is Andrew’s first post for the blog, on what will be a phenomenal achievement.

Marathon des Sables, not for the feint hearted – literally

Marathon des Sables, running the dunes, Source
Running the dunes, Source

Fancy a week the sun with a slight difference? Enjoy hot temperatures and active holidays? Do you have masochistic tendencies? Then the Marathon Des Sables is for you. This ultra marathon is regarded as the toughest foot race in the world, consisting of running 155 miles in 6 days across the Sahara desert in temperatures of up to 55 degrees; it is not for the faint hearted – literally.

As if the distance and temperature were not challenging enough, each participant must be totally self-sufficient during the marathon. They must carry all the running clothing, food and other supplies they deem necessary to survive the week. Marathon organizers provide the runners with a nine litres of water for each day, and at night, participants sleep on the ground in communal Berber tents.

Marathon des Sables Route

Marathon des Sables, Saharan Desert
Marathon des Sables, Saharan Desert

The route of the event remains a secret until the day before the marathon begins (as if you would be tempted to try it out beforehand anyway!). Typically, it takes place in the stunningly-beautiful desert to the east or south of the town of Ouarzazate. This arid terrain offers a blister-inducing variety of landscapes, including rocky hills, dried mud flats and sand dunes. Daytime temperatures have been known to climb to a scorching 55 degrees celsius and sandstorms are very common.

The marathon is run in five stages ranging from 18 to 52 miles in length, with extensive route maps given to participants at the start of the week. The cruellest stage is the fourth day, a double marathon segment which begins long before sunrise with a significant amount of runners not returning until the next morning. The racing is tightly monitored, with all participants required to check in at numerous “control points” along the way.

Stepping-up to a new challenge: Preparation

My preparations to take part in this event started in June this year. Initial administration included obtaining a medical certificate from my GP and providing results from an ECG test.

On filling out the entry form, I was slightly alarmed to read a section concerning the “corpse repatriation fee.”

Undertaking research, it is also concerning to read about previous participants’ experience – Mauro Prosperi, a police officer from Rome got lost in a sandstorm during the 1994 race. He wandered several hundred kilometres off course and survived for the next nine days on boiled urine and dead bats. Mauro lost over 30 pounds during his ordeal but he has since returned to Morocco to race two more times.

The fact that only two people have died while participating in the Marathon inspires some confidence in me!

Stepping-up to a new challenge

However, it is slightly comforting to know that I’m not the only person who is crazy enough to sign up for this torture test. Last year, 683 men and women from roughly thirty countries stepped up to the challenge. A team of 40 doctors are also present.

Although I have undertaken a number of marathons over the past four years, this challenge is certainly requiring organised training. Currently I am running around 50 miles a week in addition to participating in a number of UK-based road races over 40 miles. By January, I will have to be fit enough to run 80 miles a week.

To prepare further as the event draws near in 2009 I will be doing two double marathons to make sure that I am match fit.

Luckily I have not suffered any injuries to date but I am careful to keep regular sessions with a great physio team at Disley Fountain square clinic.

About St Anne’s Charity, Manchester, UK

I am undertaking this challenge in March 2009 to raise money for a local independent charity in Manchester, St Ann’s Hospice which is one of the largest adult hospices in the UK with 60 in-patient beds. Although cancer related conditions account for 95% of all hospice admissions, St Ann’s services are available to patients with any life-threatening illness and 42% of patients admitted to St Ann’s Hospice return home after treatment.

Fundraising Targets

St Ann’s Hospice needs to raise £16,000 every day through voluntary contributions to offer its wide range of services. In total it costs £8.75 million each year to run the Hospice, of which only 35% is received from government funding. It is the support of the local community that enables St Ann’s Hospice to continue providing the highest standards of care to patients, families and carers.

I am hoping to reach my fundraising target of £4000 through various activities before my departure to the Moroccan Sahara on the 27th March 2009. The charity is giving me a real incentive to focus on the goal in mind as I carry on through the pain of the cold winter months…

Please visit my online fundraising website at or feel free to email me at if you would like to support me in any way with raising money for St Ann’s Hospice through this event.

Written by Andrew McMaster, Marathon des Sables runner 2009

A message from

We wish Andrew all the very best in his training, preparations and the race itself!

We are happy to support people such as Andrew, who have such drive and determination to achieve so much.  Good luck with your training and we look forward to the next update!

If you would like to share your stories, experiences and raise awareness to your fundraising efforts, then we are more than happy to support your efforts in doing so.


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