Posted: Tue 14th May 2024

Wrexham runner takes on gruelling Sahara ultramarathon for charity for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area

A runner from Wrexham swapped his desk for the desert by taking on the gruelling Marathon des Sables in aid of end of life charity, Marie Curie.

Neil Thomas, who works at professional services firm, KPMG UK, covered a distance of approximately 250 kms over the course of five days.

Also known as the Marathon of the Sands, the renowned ultramarathon race is held annually in the Sahara Desert in Morocco.

It saw Neil endure extreme temperatures and challenging terrain.

The race is divided into several stages, with competitors required to be self-sufficient, carrying all their food, clothing, and equipment for the duration of the event, except water and a tent to sleep in at night.

This self-sufficiency adds an additional layer of difficulty to an already demanding race. On one day alone he covered 55 miles in the gruelling conditions, which took 15 hours.

The Marathon des Sables is considered one of the toughest foot races in the world, attracting elite athletes, ultramarathon enthusiasts, and adventurers from around the globe.

It tests participants’ physical endurance, mental resilience, and strategic planning skills in a harsh and unforgiving environment.

Completing the Marathon des Sables is a significant achievement and a testament to the determination, preparation, and perseverance of those who take on the challenge. It is a true test of human limits and a remarkable feat of endurance.

Neil said: “I’ve completed six iron man competitions and thought what could I do next? When I saw Marathon des Sables was an option I thought I must do it as it’ll be an experience of a life time.

“I was meant to undertake it with a friend, but he suffered a stress fracture in the run up to it, so I went alone.

“I didn’t know what to expect. Nothing can prepare you for the extreme heat or moving on sand carrying all your kit. The surroundings and climate are very different to Wrexham.

“It was a mix of running and walking – it was linked to stamina as well as their being elements of mind over matter, especially when the heat or exhaustion began to take its toll. It was long days, and the longest daily marathon was 55 miles.

“To prepare myself for the challenge I decided to leave the car and walk everywhere. My dog, Oscar, became my running partner. And whenever I needed to take the lift at work, I’d take the stairs. Any opportunity to get some training done, I’d do it. Also, for three weeks I went in the sauna to help acclimatise as I knew I’d be facing 45 degrees heat in the desert.

“I was delighted to have crossed the finishing line at the same time as Olympic champion, Heather Stanning.

“At the moment I’m taking things a bit easier, but who knows, I may give it a go again.”

Neil chose to fundraise for Marie Curie as it has been KPMG UK’s National Charity Partner since November 2021.

Chris Stott, Senior Partner for KPMG in the North West, said: “As a firm, we believe it is important to give back to the communities in which we operate and this belief is shared by our people who dedicate time to fundraise and volunteer for our current national charity partner, Marie Curie.

“Neil has made all of us in the Manchester office very proud, doing an incredible job by going the distance and then some, raising a fantastic amount of money for Marie Curie which will really make a difference to people in need.”

Caitlin Mills, Senior Partnerships Manager at Marie Curie, said: “Our fundraisers are vital for raising much needed funds for Marie Curie and through selfless acts of pushing themselves to the limit, they are helping to ensure terminally ill people and their loved ones can have Marie Curie care and support when they need it.

“Whether that’s through our Nurses caring for people in their homes or in one of nine UK hospices, to needing information or bereavement support, Marie Curie is there for anyone.

“Many thanks to Neil and KPMG for their support. We couldn’t do what we do without you.”

To donate, please visit Neil Thomas’ Justgiving page.

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