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MARATHON DES SABLES: Chorleywood resident crosses Sahara Desert in ‘toughest footrace on earth’

 Published on: 23rd May 2023   |   By: Darius Morgan   |   Category: Uncategorized

A Chorleywood resident who recently took part in the toughest footrace on Earth has likened his experience to a “battle for survival”.

In just four years, Tommy Leigh has gone from a non-runner to taking on the Marathon des Sables, a 156-mile race across the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert.

His passion for running started when he joined his father for a local parkrun for the first time in 2019.

In 2021, after his father suffered a heart attack on the Common, Tommy took on the almighty challenge of running seven marathons in seven days to raise money for the British Heart Foundation.

This April, he decided to take on an even tougher challenge.

The Marathon des Sables began for Tommy and around 1,200 other runners on April 21, all prepared to brave near 50-degree heat with more than 10 kilos of essentials on their backs. Tommy brought with him 2,500 calories of food for each day, a sleeping bag, a snake venom extraction kit, a knife, plasters, and wet wipes.

Tommy said: “Just minutes after being dropped off, I faced my first sandstorm. The camp took a battering and for the first time I thought ‘why I am here?’. I knew I was in trouble 10km into the first day. My feet were in agony; the heat was unbearable.”

Tommy spoke to CHORLEYWOODnews on the way to the chiropodist.

He said: “Every step was like excruciating pain because my feet were just not ready for it. The sheer heat and terrain of the desert made it so much harder than I expected. Other people had prepared by applying hardening oils to their feet to prevent blisters, but I hadn’t.”

By the last day, severe heatstroke had taken its toll on Tommy’s body. Unable to control his bladder and bowels, he joked that he was “leaving a trail” for the other competitors.

He said: “The last 10km was torture. I was low on water and taking another bottle would have meant disqualification.

“I’m very proud to say that I’ve done it; 30 per cent didn’t make it. I could have given up on the first day. I could barely speak when I crossed the finish line.

“Never, ever again.”


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