An amateur event rider is preparing to tackle the “toughest foot race on earth” in aid of Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony Charity.
Siobhan Micklethwaite, who competes at BE90 and 100, is set to undertake the gruelling 156-mile (254 km) Marathon des Sables across the Sahara next month (7 April ) — running the equivalent of five-and-a-half normal marathons in just six days.
The 1,000 competitors must carry their own equipment, food and water in a rucksack, enduring up to 50°C temperatures during the day and camping in freezing temperatures at night. They will be allowed only one rest day during their epic trek across the Morroccan sands.
“It’s quite extreme,” said 49-year-old Siobhan. “As part of my training I have done a couple of one-day ultra-marathons and I’ve done a few marathons in previous years — I ran my first one in 1996 — but never anything like this.”
The Somerset rider said she is both “excited and overwhelmed” by the challenge, for which she has been preparing since November 2016.
“I wanted to do something I didn’t know whether I was going to be able to do,” she explained. “I wanted to know what it’s like to push yourself to do something beyond anything you’ve ever attempted before — though I do sometimes feel like that at the beginning of a cross-country course, putting myself outside my comfort zone!”
It was after Siobhan had decided to enter the race that she chose to use it as an opportunity to raise funds for Willbery Wonder Pony — the legacy of teenager eventer Hannah Francis, who died of osteosarcoma in 2016.
“I’d heard about Hannah’s charity and I’d been at Millfield doing a BE90 (in 2016) and although I didn’t realise it at the time, I saw her there — she went into the showjumping just before me,” said Siobhan. “Her story captured me and I kept thinking about it through my early training.
“I have a 15-year-old daughter and as a mother you can’t even imagine what it must be like having to go through something like that with your child. I kept thinking how proud and how heartbroken I would be if I were her parents.”
Siobhan said she had approached the charity with her plans and it had been “really supportive”.
“It’s nice to do it for a small charity where you are making a difference,” she said. “We’ve raised just shy of £4,000 at the moment via Just Giving. If we could do anything more to increase the amount, that would be great.”
As well as the fact her training in the final stages is a “massive commitment”, Siobhan is also mentally preparing for the challenges.
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“I know a couple of other people who have done it and they say you go through the biggest highs and lows but it’s brilliant once you get through,” she said. “My biggest worry is on the long stage when you have to go through the night. You have a tracker on you but I am concerned about getting lost — I don’t have the best sense of direction!”
The competitors have two days after the end of their ordeal before flying “back to reality”.
“I’ll be looking forward to getting some time back, including spending some more with my horse,” Siobhan added.
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