On the 5th April 2015, James Mace, our friend and A Hume model will begin the toughest race on earth, the Marathon de Sables – a gruelling, 6-day, multi-stage footrace across the Sahara desert. James will run up to 100km per day, carrying everything he needs to survive on his back with the exception of water and the tent he will share each night.
By day James Mace is a husband, father and entrepreneur. He runs a successful, growing business, Snapz, making and selling fruit and vegetable crisps so between business and family, life’s pretty busy. Especially as there’s also his on-going commitment to A Hume.
You may have noticed that James is a handsome man – it’s hard not to – and twice a year, just for jollies, he helps us out by modelling our collections. In fact he was with us on location at Floors Castle earlier this week, grinning through the gales and freezing squalls. It was hard going but comparatively as a test of endurance it will seem like a walk in the park compared to the incredible challenge he faces on Sunday.
Early on the morning of 5th April, but no so early as to avoid running in the mid-day desert heat, James will emerge from his small, shared tent, put on his sand gaiters and line up to start the Marathon de Sable along with 900+ competitors. All of who, like James, have been preparing for this moment for years and have competed fiercely for a place on the starting line.
Of course we wanted to know what would motivate him to run over 165 miles in extreme temperatures of over 48°C during the day and close to or below freezing during the night. So we asked – and after a long pause he answered….
“When I was young – at school in the Highlands, I was forced to take part in long runs. 40 miles wasn’t unusual. I went to Rannoch School and they made us do some pretty extreme stuff. Things child protection might well be interested in,” James laughs. “Which is probably one of the reasons the school’s closed now.’
‘I actually enjoyed these runs. I’ve enjoyed running ever since and I first signed up for the MdS four years ago. You have to sign up at least two years in advance but I had to push the race back a couple of years when my son was born.”
James explains that although the physical challenge is enormous, mental preparation and the sheer logistics of participating in the race are also critical, hence the long run in. Competition for places is high and there are a series of pre-race events that participants must attend. Each competitor must prove they have the financial, physical and mental stamina to be worthy contenders.
The MdS are a serious outfit with strong development links to the community in the host country of Morocco. Through the MdS foundation Solidarite, runners have raised funds to help hundreds of families through education and improvements to their quality of life. There are a number of businesses surrounding the event, selling kit and associated product hoping to make a buck from the event, but the development work of Solidarite is important to the official MdS organisers and they work hard to maintain the integrity of the race and safety of competitors.
Putting something back into the community is also an important motivator for James who hopes to raise £5,000 for the Edinburgh Sick Kids’ Hospital by running the MdS. He says he knew raising money for charity would be an important part of his motivation and he chose the Sick Kids after becoming a father:
“My son is lucky to have been born healthy but that’s not the case for all children. I’m aware how fortunate we are and I’d really like to do something to help those who haven’t been so lucky.’
“The money is slowly trickling in but I’m still a long way of reaching my target. I made a pledge that if I raise the full amount I will shave my head – providing video proof for all.”
James might be laughing now but if we can help boost his appeal and encourage donations at his Just Giving page he could be heading off into the Saharan sunset with a big bald head.
Which thinking about it maybe isn’t such a bad thing given the sand knocking about and the hygiene issues? We can only imagine the logistical issues associated with 900+ hot sweaty runners camping in the desert – one of whom will be our most celebrated and veneered adventurers Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Bet he gets first place for the showers if there are any.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes has chosen to compete to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the race and his entry is testament to the high standing of the event and the quality of elite athletes the race attracts. At 71, Sir Ranulph hopes to be the oldest British person to complete the race. (No pressure there, James – that’s 71!)
Joking aside, the MdS is an extreme physical challenge that it’s almost impossible to imagine training for. As James puts it:
“Nothing really can prepare me for what I’ll encounter when I’m actually there.”
But that hasn’t stopped him trying. To prepare for the event James says he did 3 months of pre-training, which to be clear, means 3 months of intense training before he was even ready to start his ultra-marathon training for the MdS.
Luckily for James, natural running specialist Abdelhadi Elmoustahli has been helping him with his training. Abdel who works at Edinburgh running shop Footworks, is from Morocco and has trained previous winners of the MdS, so he’s well placed to help James achieve the level of physical and mental fitness he needs to complete the race.
As training has intensified James has increased his weekly mileage to up to 70 miles per week, interspersed with bouts of hill training on Arthur’s Seat. A demanding regime James has worked hard to fit into daily life in order to lessen the impact on work and family. He gets up at 5 on long run days to be home in time to help his wife Corinne with their son or head straight to work.
Undoubtedly the support of family and friends is key and James says Corinne has been incredibly supportive, taking an active interest in every aspect of competition. Training for the MdS is an all encompassing undertaking that has an impact on every area of family and social life. James has had to alter his diet and there has been no alcohol at all for the past couple of months.
He admits that in this respect it’s been a real education. Let’s not forget that James has to carry everything he’ll need for the six days on his back, including food. Each day’s rations has been thoroughly researched to provide the mandatory 2,000 calories he must consume everyday. His pack will be inspected to ensure it complies. In the main James will eat freeze dried meals that he’ll rehydrate at the end of each day. But in terms of energy/nutrition to weight ratios he says the best food he can eat is dates – which we think rather fitting given his desert location.
At the start of the race his pack will weigh 10kg but looking on the bright side James says that with every meal he eats and every passing day of the race his pack will get lighter. Though this in no way infers that the race will get easier. Day four, which was scheduled to be 88km has been neatly rounded up to 100km to celebrate the 30th anniversary – wow! these guys really know how to party – and James is realistic about setting his expectations:
“I feel apprehensive but in control. I’m excited, good excited. I feel prepared though I still expect it to be a chaotic scramble to finish.”
Another brave chuckle underscores the point.
Before James disappears off to make his final preparations, he leaves us with one especially important piece of advice Abdel gave him – don’t be intimated by the other runners.
Ranulph Fiennes is just one of the big name entrants but Abdel has coached James that he and his run are every bit as important as any of the others. He’s told James to get right up there at the front for the start of the race, he’s paid his money to compete like everyone else and he is every bit as deserving of a good start.
Reading between the lines, perhaps his most important message for James is that singularity of purpose and self-belief are what will get him over the finish line. If James is to complete the MdS he has to believe his own personal finish matters as much as it does for even the winner, even Sir Ranulph’s potentially record breaking run. And it does.
It will matter even more if James reaches his £5,000 target. So give. Give. Give. No need to over egg it, this is one of those amazing feats, for a deserving cause that speaks for itself.
Give here: Just Giving.
You can also read about James in The Edinburgh Evening News.
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