Runner battles African desert for two charities

Mark Oakley
Mark Oakley

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Marathon runner Mark Oakley is preparing to take on his toughest challenge yet.

The 35-year-old is embarking on a unique event which has been dubbed the toughest footrace on earth.

The Southsea resident will be raising money for two charities – the UN World Food Programme and Nystagmus Network.

He will be running in the Marathon des Sables, which takes place at the start of April, and is a 156 mile ultra-marathon across the Sahara desert in Morocco.

An ultra-marathon is any running race which exceeds the traditional race distance of 26.2 miles.

The Marathon des Sables expects competitors to complete a marathon every day for five days.

Mark says: ‘During the challenge, I will have to face extreme 50-degree heat, dehydration and exhaustion.

‘Two people have died from the race so that shows how tough it is.’

Throughout the duration of the race Mark will also be expected to carry his own kit weighing 10kg, including his food and water supplies.

Mark adds: ‘This will be the biggest challenge of my life.

‘I know that during it there will be some tough times.

‘But the thought of all the money being raise charity will keep me going.’

To make sure that he is in the best possible condition, Mark is currently training five days a week, through all weather, in order to be ready for when he arrives at the start line in Morocco.

For Mark, the thought of helping those in need around the world was his inspiration.

The UN Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. It provides food for 90 million people in 80 countries around the world.

It relies on the donations from individuals to continue its good work. Mark is hoping to raise more than £2,000 by completing the Marathon des Sables.

Mark hopes that by competing in a marathon in Africa it will raise awareness for the plight of many children who live in poverty across that continent.

He says: ‘It will be great to run in Africa, as so many people on this continent are starving, I just hope that I can make small difference.’

The other charity, Nystagmus Network, supports people suffering with Nystagmus, a serious incurable eye disease. The daughter of one of Mark’s close friends suffers with the disease. To make a donation to Mark, visit his Just Giving page at