Strathaven athlete Derek Stewart will take on the challenge of a lifetime in April when he faces the ultimate endurance test, the Marathon des Sables.
A regular distance runner, Derek will compete in memory of his late friend, Neil Sutherland, who died in December 2011 after losing his third battle with cancer.
Derek has already completed numerous triathlons and has taken part in two Ironman events but nothing will prepare him for his latest challenge.
In 10 weeks time the 51-year-old – who hopes to raise at least £10,000 for Maggies Cancer Care – will aim to complete five-and-a-half marathons in the space of seven days across the Sahara Desert in Morocco.
The managing director at Strategic Asset Management in Uddingston was inspired to take up the challenge by Neil’s incredible story.
He told the News: “On returning from his second bout of cancer, Neil rose to the challenge of taking part in a triathlon. Neil succeeded in doing the triathlon despite, as it turned out, his cancer having returned.
“His story is inspirational and Maggie’s were amazing in supporting him and his family.
“So many people I know have been affected by cancer and when you are first diagnosed there are hundreds of questions going through your head.
“Maggie’s are able to get you and your family through this and explain to you how to live through the treatment.
“Not only did Neil benefit from Maggie’s, his wife is still going along, a year after his death.”
To many people, running over 150 miles across the desert may sound like their worst nightmare but as Derek explained, it’s a challenge in itself just to sign up for the event, such is it’s popularity across the globe.
Derek said: “You have to apply two years in advance and all 800 places were taken up in 90 minutes.
“But my story started four years ago when I entered a white collar boxing event to raise money for Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres.
“Three months of hard training got me very fit but I didn’t like the boxing, so afterwards I took up triathlon to keep up the fitness.
“After four years I had completed two Ironmen and I really enjoyed pushing myself beyond what I thought was possible.
“Before I completed the Lanzarote Ironman, which is meant to be the toughest Ironman event in the world, I read about a crazy race in the Sahara Desert, the Marathon des Sables.
“It seemed impossible and made me think Lanzarote Ironman shouldn’t be too difficult. The more I read the more I wanted to do it and now it’s fast approaching.”
Derek is a member of ATHelite triathlon club, who train in East Kilbride and Hamilton, and over the coming weeks he will step up his training as the big event looms.
Next week he will run the Great Glen, an 79-mile race over two days and next month he will fly out to Morocco for a four-day training camp to test his equipment for the Marathon des Sables and to see how he handles the sweltering conditions.
It has cost Derek almost £5000 out of his own pocket to fund this venture and he admits his preparation is unlike anything he has ever experienced before.
He added: “It takes me eight months to prepare for Ironman and the cross-training (swimming, cycling and running) means you have less chance of getting injured from the running.
“Much of my fitness training is done in the pool and on the bike so the long runs are limited.
“But this is reversed for Marathon des Sables because you are running 5.5 marathons over seven days and ‘running miles’ in your legs is essential.”
● Derek will begin the marathon on April 7. You can support his fundraising efforts at https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/derekstewart and you can follow his progress at www.derekmissionironman.blogspot.com