Strider conquers world’s toughest footrace, the Marathon des Sables

Helen Durance completed the Marathon des Sables.

Helen Durance completed the Marathon des Sables. - Credit: Archant

Helen Durance has vowed never to do the Marathon des Sables ever again after taking on and conquering the toughest footrace in the world.

It was the same promise her dad, Richard, made after completing the race in 2012. However, after seeing his daughter sign up, he broke his vow and committed to taking it on for a second time.

The MdS is a gruelling multi-stage, six-day race covering 156 miles of fomidable landscape in one of the world’s most inhospitable climates - the Sahara desert

The competitors have to be self-sufficient for the entire race, carrying their own backpacks containing food, sleeping gear and other material while tackling the heat and the terrain.

“The experience was amazing,” Durance, a member of St Albans Striders, told the Herts Ad.

“There are times when I’ve thought ‘Oh my God, I’m never going to do it again’ because it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

“To finish it gave me a massive sense of achievement, especially to do it while being self-sufficient and living out of a backpack for a week.”

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It was not just testing physically on Durance, though. On day two Richard had to retire from the race, suffering severe dehydration.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision to carry on without him because I knew he’d be doubly disappointed if I pulled out of the race too. It was difficult to leave him in the medical tent, though; there was a lot of tears,” she said, who added that her dad managed to hitch a six hour ride to the finish line to meet her.

Durance did not have the luxury of a car, instead having to tackle another four days of the hostile Moroccan environment. While the heat, which hit a scorching 52 degrees, posed a huge obstacle for the runners, the terrain is equally as menacing.

The course took the runners over huge sand dunes, flat salt lakes, ruins of old towns and huge mountains where ropes are in place so the competitors can pull themselves up. However, it was the sand dunes that posed the hardest challenge.

“It was a huge relief to finish and I’m very proud of myself,” said Durance, who finished 664th in a time of 53 hours 58 minutes and 33 seconds.

“I’m pretty fit but I’m not the fastest. To be up against runners who have done Iron Man races and a lot of marathons and come two thirds up the field and to beat half of the ladies is a great achievement.”

Since returning to England on Monday, Durance said she has received a lot of messages of support, has felt ‘great’ and will look back at the memory of beating the MdS fondly.

“I would definitely recommend it to anyone; the experience is amazing but not one to be taken lightly,” she explained.

And would she do it all over again?

“If a friend asked me to go with them then I’d probably give in; that’s the kind of person I am,” she joked.

For the Durance family, the promise to ignore the allure of the Sahara is a hard one to keep.