Taking on the toughest foot race in the world
- Credit: Archant
It is known as the world's toughest foot race - and with good reason.
Three Norfolk men have just returned from the Moroccan Sahara, taking part in the Marathon Des Sables across some of the globe's most inhospitable terrain.
It gives runners six days to cover 156 miles, all in the 50-degree heat, and running a gauntlet of poisonous snakes, scorpions and herds of wild camels.
Neil May, 44, from Rockland St Mary, said the race took place over sand dunes, dried out lakes and rocky mountains.
'It was a mind-blowing experience, brutal but beautiful at the same time. It was true wilderness and needs to be seen to be believed,' he added.
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Competitors have to carry everything they need for the week with them on their backs – including food, water rations and venom extraction kits in case of snake bites.
The toilet rolls they carried even had to be without middles, because of the weight.
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Mr May said: 'We were lucky enough not to be bitten but we were in danger from herds of wild camels.'
He raised £800 for Marie Curie Cancer Care and another £800 for the Norfolk-based cancer charity the Rosemary Group for competing.
A friend of his, Rob Blackham, 44, from Brooke, also took part in the race.
Mr May said it took them 18 months to prepare. He added: 'It was one of those slightly unhinged moments when we thought, why not?'
Landscape gardener Jimmy Goddard braved the race to raise money for the Norfolk-based bereavement charity, Nelson's Journey.
The 37-year-old, who is single and lives in Brancaster Road, Docking, said: 'We've raised about £1800. Nelson's Journey is a charity we've known of for a while. They helped a lad whose father died get back on track. It was a textbook case of how they help.
'The race is quite well-known. You have to live in tents with seven other guys. I did a lot of training beforehand, running 60 miles a week, and spent time in the sauna getting used to the heat.
'I had done the London Marathon before. I'm into watersports, sailing, fishing, windsurfing and cycling. I was very lucky and did not have many injuries during the event. The other guys had to carry on despite their injuries.'
His stepmother Margaret Goddard, of Thornham, said: 'We are fiercely proud that he finished under unbelievable circumstances.'
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The Marathon Des Sables has been held in the Sahara every year since 1986, and this year's race attracted 1,100 competitors from around the world. The route is split into six stages meaning those taking part run the distance of a marathon a day. Competitors get water rations of up to 20 litres per day, which has to be used for everything including drinking, cooking and washing. At night, they sleep in Berber tents, which are erected at the end of each stage by a team of volunteers. Many competitors take part for charity, and an official race association called the Solidarité Marathon des Sables works to develop health, education and sustainability projects to help children and disadvantaged populations in Morocco.