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Essex firefighter Ben takes on the toughest race on Earth

Orsett firefighter Ben Whateley-Harris has completed a gruelling 257 kilometre race across one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth.

Over seven days in April Ben ran at least a marathon every day in the blistering heat of the Sahara desert as one of the competitors in the Marathon Des Sables, known as the toughest footrace in the world

Ben said: “I knew about the race and it’s something I had wanted to do for a long time. It was the item on my bucket list which was most affordable and achievable so me and five friends decided we would go for it.

“We had to be self-sufficient so we carried all our sleeping gear, food and water in a rucksack which we ran with all the time. The organisers had checkpoints at regular intervals where we could get more water and where there were tents to sleep in at the end of the day but apart from that we carried everything we needed with us.

“The temperatures were incredible and the landscape could be unforgiving. The hardest part of the race was definitely the mental aspect. The desert plays tricks on you. It’s impossible to judge distances; you would see a mountain range in the distance and think that there must be a check point nearby and when you reached it there was nothing there but more desert.

“Staying mentally strong was the key to completing the race but it was amazing the things that would cheer you up and give you a boost. Seeing the race helicopter go by overhead and realising that you were going the right way, bumping into a familiar face at the checkpoint or even eating some pork scratching would be enough to keep you going.”

The race is divided into checkpoints which all runners have to reach in certain times, those that don’t get there in time are disqualified. This year more than 200 runners were forced to drop out before reaching the end.

For Ben taking each stage at a time was the key to success. “In my mind I broke the race down into sections,” Ben said. “I knew where I had to be and when I had to be there and that is what I aimed for. When I had completed one section then I could start thinking about my next goal.

“The whole experience was amazing. I entered with five friends and we all completed the race. More people run the London Marathon every year than have completed the Marathon Des Sables in its entire history so it’s a real achievement.

“The memory I will take from the race is being part of a global community. There were runners from all over the world taking part and we all cheered each other on and supported one another it didn’t matter where you came from, we were all in this together. It was a fantastic experience which I will never forget.”

Ben and his friends ran the race to raise money for The Childhood Cancer Foundation of South Africa. To donate simply pay money in to a bank account which has been specially set up. Payments should be made to account number 72236841 at sort code 09-01-28

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