A member of Bangor University staff plans to run "the toughest foot race on earth" in April

A member of Bangor University staff is training to run over 150 miles in the Sahara desert in a race that is described as “the toughest foot race on earth.”

Alan and his daughter, Cara, after the Snowdon MarathonAlan and his daughter, Cara, after the Snowdon MaraAlan Edwards, from Caernarfon, Head of International Student Services at Bangor University, decided the time had arrived to attempt the Marathon Des Sables after he read an article about the race in 2005. He will be one of 900 runners taking part in this extreme challenge and he will be expected to run 156 miles in 6 days in the desert where temperatures can reach 45 degrees Celsius.

Alan, who is originally from Bala, said: “I will have to be completely self sufficient for the whole 6 days, which means carrying everything I’m going to need in a rucksack. I will be carrying food, water, cooking equipment, sleeping stuff, clothes and a first aid kit (which includes an anti-venom pump just in case I get bitten by a scorpion or snake!)

“The only assistance we receive is to set up a tent at the end of every day and there will also be emergency medical services on hand just in case.”

Alan will be one of 250 British competitors who will be flying out to Morocco at the end of March and he is planning on wearing a Welsh dragon on his hat to attract any other runners from Wales – if there are any! He will be starting the race on April 2nd,finishing on the 7th and will be flying home on the 11th!

He said: “I have been interested in taking part in the race since 2005 but it is very difficult to secure a place. I was brave enough to submit an application in 2008 in order to get a space for 2011.”
He added: “The inspiration for taking part was to prove to myself that I can face such a tough challenge on my own, instead of being part of a team, and to see if I’ have the mental strength to motivate myself to finish the race.”

With his daughter, Cara, only 4 months old, finding time to train has been a challenge in itself over the last few months.

“I’ve been training seriously since January, that is running between 50 and 80 miles a week. I’ve been training with a rucksack on my back (which weighs around 10kg), running to work and back as well as running on Newborough beach on Anglesey. I also run around 50 miles every weekend.

“It has been very difficult to find the time to run – especially with the dark mornings and evenings – not to mention the snow and frost in January! Also, as my wife and I have just had our first daughter, Cara, it has made it difficult to run for hours after work and on the weekends. I feel like I’m neglecting my duties as a father – even though Bethan is very supportive of the whole venture…..and also thinks I’m a bit nuts!”

One of the biggest challenges for Alan during the race will be dealing with the heat, which can reach 40 degrees. Next month, Alan will be stepping up his training programme as he intends to use the Heat Chambers over in the School of Sport, Health and Exercise Science. Experts from the University advised Alan that by doing this a few weeks before the race, it will help his body acclimatise to the heat before he flies out to Morocco for the race.

Another challenge will be trying to ensure that he doesn’t suffer with blisters because of all the sand in his shoes, which can be like sandpaper against the skin. Blisters is one of the main reasons for competitors dropping out of the race.

But the main challenge will be controlling his eating and drinking during the race. Alan said: “It is essential that I eat enough calories to replace what I’m losing by running to ensure that I’ve got enough energy to go on. This will be difficult – I have to make sure that I’ve got enough suitable food and drink, but the more you carry the harder it is to run…so it’s a fine balance.”
Upon his return, Alan is looking forward to spending more time with Cara and Bethan and putting his feet up for a change…or until the next challenge at least.

Alan will be raising money for Mencap. To sponsor him you can visit his website or e-mail alanbala37@hotmail.com

Publication date: 22 February 2011