DARRYL Watton’s meticulous preparations for “the toughest foot race on earth”, across the Sahara Desert, paid off.
After months of training at home in Sheffield and in the hills of the Peak District, he finished an impressive 35th out of an international field of 860 for the Marathon des Sables in which temperatures rose to 45°C.
In addition, the achievement comes after a heart operation that meant he had to delay taking part in the week-long race by a year. He had entered four years ago.
Following a procedure to correct an abnormal heartbeat, Darryl was given the all-clear to continue running – and part of the proceeds from his successful adventure will go to the British Heart Foundation.
He expects to raise up to £1,500, the rest of the money going to the Parkinson’s Disease Society. “I had an operation about 15 months ago, so I felt I need to pay back some of that, and I chose Parkinson’s because of family connections,” he said.
Darryl, aged 41, an account director in facilities management with construction company Carillion, has been running and taking part in triathlons for 18 years.
A member of Sheffield Triathlon Club, he started training for the Sahara last November, after an ablation operation in January, which involves placing tubes through the groin into the heart before radio-frequency energy is used to help block abnormal electrical impulses.
“I did a lot of running and an awful lot of long walks in the Peak, going out at 5.30 in the morning. Training for the desert in the dark in December and January in six inches of snow in the dark was bizarre.
“But I went into the hills when I could. It’s a great place to train for the desert because of the changing terrain. You have to change the way you run, depending on the surface.”
The marathon involved running across salt and river beds, rocks and stones. “It wasn’t all Lawrence of Arabia sand dunes.”
Although there was a downpour that brought down his tent, Darryl had prepared for the heat.
“I spent a lot of time in the sauna and built a makeshift heat chamber with a running machine in the garage. I was running and walking at 45° in the garage!”
After six races in seven days over 156 miles, Darryl was the fourth-best British runner.
“It couldn’t have gone any better. I am ecstatic with the position I came. All the preparation worked so well. I prepared meticulously and it came good.”
He returned home to Canterbury Crescent, Fulwood, to wife Hannah, daughters, seven, Connie, five, and Imogen, and a “desert hero” banner.
“I couldn’t have done it without my family, who were the silent supporters since November,” said Darryl. “It has been hard on the kids with me being away a lot for training.”
lSheffield runners Richard Jones came 394th and Ian Wright 415th. The childhood friends, both 39, and who live with their families in Bents Green, were raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support and Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice.
lMichael Jenkinson, aged 42, of Bradway, the managing director of Sheffield manufacturers Doorpac, came 617th as he ran for The Children’s Hospital Charity.
He said: “Although I didn’t know it at the time, it looks like I was bitten by a mosquito and contracted some kind of virus that left me struggling for the remaining 90-plus miles, but managed to finish, which was the main aim.
“However, whilst expecting the inevitable heat and sandstorms, I wasn’t expecting the hailstorm we had at the end of the 50-mile stage!”