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Marathon des Slater | 251km at 50°

Six Days. 251 km. 50 degree heat. The Marathon des Sables is known as the toughest race on Earth for very good reason. The course, measuring the equivalent of six regular marathons, is splayed across the most hostile stretches of the Sahara desert.

From the 1,173 entrants in 2016, 200 did not even complete the race which former winner Meghan Hicks described as “a Tour de France-style running race with the tormenting variables of harsh terrain, extreme heat, self-imposed starvation, highly rationed water access, and camping”.

Add double amputee to that mix, and you’ve got the challenge which Duncan Slater took on, failed, took on again and accomplished, in an incredible feat of determination and endurance. The Scotsman counts completing the London Marathon and trekking to the South Pole amongst his accomplishments, but the Marathon des Sables must surely rank as the most impressive of those remarkable achievements.

Before 2016 no double amputee had even entered the race. Slater, who works for ‘Walking Wounded’, a charity which provides vulnerable veterans’ independence through employment, decided that instead of someone else running on behalf of the charity to raise funds, he would do it himself.

After an injury forced withdrawal from the race in 2016, Slater immediately applied for the 2017 race on his return to the UK, determined to finish what he’s started. Before the beginning of the race in April there were doubters. It was considered extremely unlikely, if not impossible, for a double amputee to make all the minimum time checks needed to progress through the multi-staged event.

However, Slater confounded the doubters, making good progress through the early stages. However, vomiting and severe dehydration on the final night seemed as if they might shatter Slater’s dreams of completing the race for another year. Not this time. Refusing to give up, Slater rallied and took his place on the start line.

Nearly 70 hours since he’d first hauled his bag onto his back, strapped on his prosthetics and set out on Stage 1 of the ferociously difficult course, comprised of sand dunes, sand flies, heat and more heat, Slater crossed the finish line. Cue the well-earned celebrations, the tears of pride, and the rest. Does the story end there? No, of course not, the Scotsman is already planning to return in 2018, but 2017 will always be remembered as the Marthon des Slater.

Photo credit: CIMBALY © Alexis Berg - MDS 2017

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