Competing in the world’s toughest foot race across more than 150 miles of the Sahara desert proved to be an incredible and humbling experience for Melissa Venables.
Miss Venables, who lives in Warwick and runs for the Spa Striders club based in Leamington, finished the 30th Marathon Des Sables as the 105th runner overall, sixth-placed lady and first place Premier Veteran.
The 40-year-old who stands at 5ft 1ins and weighs 65kg, carried more than ten per cent of her body weight in water, food supplies and equipment on her back while facing sweltering heat and tough terrain over seven days this month.
She said: “Running was possibly the easiest part of the adventure. I am not an experienced ultra marathon runner and genuinely was unsure how my body would cope with the huge challenge ahead. However, once Stage 1 was out the way and I had finished in the top ten ladies, I knew I would be a ‘competer’ and not just a ‘completer’. My race head was on and the drive to stay in the top ten kicked in.
“The mind and body are astounding and after completing each stage, I actually found myself really excited about going into the next stage and seeing if I could better my position.
“Slowly and surely every day I started out slowly at the back of the pack and then gradually picked up my pace so that I consistently finished in the top ten.”
Sleep deprived, bruised and regretting only bringing the minimal 2,000 calorie intake of food with her, Miss Venables’ lowest point during the event was when she had to overcome her fear of heights by running up a jebel with a 25 per cent gradient.
But she said the support of well wishers back home and her motivation to raise money for the children’s charity Genetic Disorders UK spurred her on.
Miss Venables said: “Terror kicked in and the desire half way up to stop and sit on a rock and cry was overwhelming. With Legs shaking, heart pounding and kind words from a Russian man I did however get to the top and willed myself to get down the other side and finish.
“I was overwhelmed by the support that I received from family, friends and the amazing Spa Striders running club. To know that so many were following my progress and willing me on gave me that extra drive and determination to stay strong, dig deep and place well up the field.
The mind and body are astoundingMelissa Venables
“More importantly, knowing that in the process of ruining my feet and running through the pain, I was raising huge amounts of money for an incredible charity that as a community children’s nurse is really close to my heart.
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