Keith Burnet is running a 151 miles across the Saharan desert for a good cause. Would you?

Recently, I received an email from Keith Burnet, the Global VP for Spa and Fitness at Hilton. Keith said he had entered a charity run and was after some sponsorship. I assumed it was some kind of ‘fun run‘; the one where you start training a week before the event and can then walk around, if the running becomes too demanding. Oh, how wrong I was. It turns out that Keith has signed up for the Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands), which involves running 151 miles across the Moroccan Sahara desert!

Running for a cause

Keith is seeking to raise £15,000 for Mencap, the voice of learning disability, and Hilton in the Community Foundation (projects that support disadvantaged children and young people).

Why run 151 miles across a desert? 

I was curious to find out why Keith had set himself such a challenge, so here’s what he had to say:

Why are you taking part in the world’s toughest running event? (apart from raising lots of money for a great cause)?

This is the a question which I get asked all the time, but it a question that is difficult to answer with any logic or without getting overly sentimental. It is about challenging myself, life is very short and it is important to try to experience as much of it as possible. An event like this really challenges your mental and physical strength which really helps you understand your limitations. The fundraising aspect is also very important to me.

How do you prepare yourself psychologically to run 151 across the Sahara desert?

With difficulty! It is all about trying to recreate the environment in training as best you can to help build your confidence and getting the miles under your belt. For example, I am spending one session a week in the sauna on a spinning bike.

How many people take part, and how many normally cross the finish line?

Approximately 800 (my number is 794!!). About 85% normally finish.

What have you learnt from people that have entered in previous years?

There is a online forum where past and present competitors share their experiences, kit lists, what works, what doesn’t. It can become rather overwhelming with many different viewpoints, so I read once and I am trying different things and doing what I think is right for me. The main challenge is trying to get the weight of pack down to less than 10kgs, and getting nutrition and hydration right. There are many tips that I have learnt to help me achieve this.

You are one year on, reflecting on your achievement. What have you discovered?

I hope to have discovered that I have the mental and physical toughness to finish; hopefully in a half decent time. I also hope I have avoided boring people to death about the experience and gone some way to satisfy the need to continually challenge myself; taking part in events of this nature is a selfish undertaking particularly if you have a family or significant others!

Can you help Keith reach his £15,000 funding target?

If Keith can spend seven days running 151 miles across the Sahara, the least we should try and do is help him reach his fund-raising target. When I looked today, he had reached £12,400, just £2,600 ($5,500) short of his target. If you feel inspired by Keith’s cause, you can make a donation at this link.

About Marathon des Sables (April 2010)

The Marathon des Sables is translated as the Marathon of the Sands and it is known as the ‘Toughest Footrace on Earth’. The world’s most famous ultra marathon covers 243km/151 miles run over 6 days (7 for some) – equivalent to 5.5 regular marathons. Participants carry everything that is required for the duration of the race on their backs (apart from a tent) food, clothes, medical kit, sleeping bag etc. Water is rationed and handed out at each checkpoint. Mid-day temperatures can reach 49 Celsius. 20% of the race is run in sand dunes. The heat, distance and rubbing will trash your feet and may cause severe trauma. Physical fitness is important along with mental toughness. The fourth day involves a 50 mile stage. Few participants complete this before dark that evening and some will not come in until after dark the next night. This is followed by the 26.2 mile marathon stage! More about the participants: 43 nationalities, 275 from Great Britain including James Cracknell Olympic Gold medallist. Participant age range: 16 – 71. To find out more about entering the race, see this link.

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