In the second week of April, Gathimba Edwards Foundation fundraiser Jason Topley took part in the 33rd Marathon des Sables, described as the toughest footrace on Earth on behalf of the UK based Kenyan charity. The event sees competitors cover the equivalent of five and a half marathons (156 miles) over five days, in searing temperatures that often top 50 degrees celsius.
To show just what he went through on behalf of the charity, Jason has also written a detailed personal account of the event which has been published in full on the Gathimba Edwards Foundation Facebook page.
In it he describes meeting ‘some fantastic people’, all of whom had their own story of why they were taking part in the event.
“The Marathon Des Sables is a real challenge physically and mentally, it starts months before you even feel the first grain of sand under your feet,” Jason says.
He goes on to describe the first day as one of the hardest, despite being shorter than some of the others. However, the audiobooks and music he had downloaded to help him through his trek were rendered useless after he forgot to take his Bluetooth headphones with him.
“That first 18 mile day was really tough as you acclimatise to the heat, the sand and the dunes. My back ached and my feet, despite my foot preparation even on day one had started to show signs of blistering.”
Jason enjoyed his second day, a 24.25 mile hike over a variety of terrain, hills (jebels), dunes, dried out riverbeds, more dunes and more sand.
However, he did have a shock after fainting in one of the medical tents while waiting for blister dressings. When he came round, he initially panicked fearing he would be sent home, but after his pulse and blood sugar levels were checked, it was put down to racing hard and coming to an abrupt halt while standing in the hot medical tent.
He also found strength from remembering the names of all those who had supported and encouraged him.
“The writing down of names worked well, on the long day which is an 86.4km or 53.6 miles, I really needed the strength from these names. The long day is the make or break section, 86.4km over 36 hours. That day I woke early and wrote every single name of every person I knew had supported me, be it a gentle word of encouragement or a donation to the Gathimba Edwards Foundation. I wrote every name on my left arm, those names walked with me for sixteen hours nonstop in the heat of the day and the loneliness of the darkness right through to the sunrise of the morning.”
Jason’s final day saw him complete the 26.25 miles with Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl on repeat play and he says he enjoyed every step, laughing and smiling throughout the entire route.
He also used his Facebook post to thanks the people that took the time to send a message to him during the race.
“To have the email lady come around in the failing light to hand you your pile of emails was truly amazing. You take so much pleasure as you are curled up in your little corner of the desert to read an email with your head torch. Those emails take the pain of the day away, you quickly forget the burning pain in your toes, the feeling of being totally dirty and covered in sand and dust. Instead you are filled with joy, you are not alone, and you literally have people looking down on you, following you and most importantly caring for you. You fall asleep buoyed up with the happiness those emails give you. I can’t thank you enough for those emails; I even got one from the German guy who had my race number last year, Danka Arnold.”
Jason rounds up his account by saying that although it is a tough race, anyone can do it. “You don’t need a physical strength and you certainly don’t need speed,” he says.
“Be proud of what you can do and what you can alone achieve, just believe in you,” he signs off with.
At the time of writing, Jason needs just under £100 to reach his charity total which will take him through his fundraising finishing line. If you would like to donate to his feat of endurance, you can do so via his Total Giving page.