A Thorney man is about to set off on a gruelling 156-mile race across the sweltering Sahara desert.
Darren Grigas (37) of Wisbech Road is taking part in the Marathon des Sables, which has been dubbed the toughest footrace on Earth.
He will be one of around 1,300 entrants from across the world, racing six back-to-back marathons, a total of 156 miles, across the Sahara in temperatures of up to 50 degrees Centigrade each day, sand dunes up to 300 feet high and climbs as big as England’s highest mountains. As many as 20 per cent of the competitors drop out or fail to make the cut-off times.
Darren, a web designer, took up running following a car accident when he suffered whiplash and a back injury. He thought it would be a way to stay more active. At first, he struggled to run two miles, but has gradually built up his stamina to tackle the Great Eastern Run, Burghley Rat Race and Man v Mountain race across Snowdonia. But the Marathon des Sables is on a completely different scale:
To prepare for the race, Darren has been running 50 to 70 miles per week, has three to four session in the gym each week doing high-intensity, full-body circuits and strength training.
He said: “It’s a massive challenge and finishing it at all is a challenge in itself as the drop-out rate is pretty high, but I will be pushing to actually race it rather than just complete it.”
Darren’s first big hurdle was securing an entry. The race is massively over-subscribed and he had to mount a careful plan to be poised at his computer as entries were opened.
They were snapped up in just four minutes, but Darren managed to secure one.
As well as the intense physical and mental challenge of running this unique race, Darren has also set himself the target of raising £10,000 for a charity called Anna’s Hope, which provides crucial help for children with brain tumours. In previous sponsored races, he has raised money for leukaemia research, but was drawn to this because it is locally based. He’s been able to get to know the founders Carole and Rob it (who lost their own daughter to a brain tumour) and has seen the difference they make to the lives of those children.
Darren also likes the fact that it is a small charity with low overheads — he knows that all the money he raises will go to good work and not on admin.
Darren flies into Morocco on April 3 and the race is to start two days later. During the race, he will have to carry 9kg of kit and food as well as water and essentials that include distress flares, medical kit and an anti-venom pump in case of snake bites or scorpion stings.
Some well-known people have tackled the Marathon des Sables including Helen Skelton, the all-action Blue Peter presenter, and rower James Cracknell. This year explorer and adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes is taking part and Darren has the honour of being in the same eight-man tent.
Anna’s Hope founder Carole Hughes said: “Darren is a remarkable person. I am amazed what he plans to do and I am so grateful that he has chosen to help our charity.
“Every penny he raises will go directly to helping children with brain tumours and will make a real difference. On behalf of Anna’s Hope I wish him the very best of luck.”
If you think Darren’s efforts deserve a few quid, you can donate to Anna’s Hope through the Just Giving website: www.justgiving.com/darrengrigas. There’s also a fund-raiser for Anna’s Hope at the Rose & Crown on Saturday – see Events for more information.