By Jerusha Sequeira and Noor Al Ali
Dr. Nicholas Ashill, Professor of Marketing at American University of Sharjah, will run the 28th annual Marathon des Sables (MdS) in the Sahara desert next month to help reduce malnutrition in rural Kenya.
Fundraising though GlobalGiving, Dr. Ashill is one of the many people working to raise £35,785 (roughly AED 219,614) to help provide food supplements for hungry children in rural Kenya, where drought caused a major food shortage. So far, about US$ 900 (about AED 3,300) has been raised through Dr. Ashill’s fundraising page http://www.justgiving.com/Nicholas-Ashill2, and the entire team has raised almost £17,000 (about AED 104,000) which is 47 percent of the desired goal.
“I am running the Sahara for Global Giving because I want to help reduce malnutrition in Kenya,” said Dr. Ashill.
The ultra-marathon, which will take six days to complete, was ranked by the Discovery Channel as the “toughest footrace on earth” as runners are expected to cover more than 250 kilometers across what event organizers bill as “ one of the world’s most inhospitable climates,” the Sahara Desert in Morocco. Runners will face extreme heat conditions, with only basic needs such as water, concentrated food and plenty of painkillers.
“The rules require you to be self-sufficient, to carry with you on your back everything except water that you need to survive,” explained Dr. Ashill. “I have been looking forward this event for the past three years; it has been a long wait. I know the running will hurt, but it’s how I deal with it that matters.”
As per the Marathon des Sables website, the race is a multi-stage event through the Sahara desert in 120 degrees Fahrenheit, or nearly 49 degrees Celsius. It will take place April 6-12 and participants will complete varying distances on each day: 34 km on day one; 39 km on day two; 35 km on day three; 82 km on day four; 42 km on day five; and 22 km on day six. A rest day will be provided in between, according to Dr. Ashill.
Due to its arduous nature, the marathon has a “very, very high rate of failure,” Dr. Ashill points out. “Out of 1,000 runners that do it, only about 500 make it.” The primary reasons for this, he adds, are dehydration and severe problems with the feet, such as blisters. “A body can stand almost anything, but it’s the mind that has to be convinced. Although I have no idea how my body will react in 120 degree heat, I intend to finish even if I have to crawl.”
Dr. Ashill has always had a passion for sports. He represented Great Britain in the sport of hockey in the mid-1980s. In the 1990s, he trained as a scuba diving instructor and currently holds the rating of Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) Master Scuba Diver Trainer. In the past 15 years he has devoted his attention to ultra-endurance races and has run dozens of marathons in different parts of the world including the UAE, UK, US, Australia and New Zealand. In 2010, he competed in the Four Peaks Challenge in the UK with his colleagues Dr. Paul Williams, Professor of Marketing at AUS, and Lee Mitchell, who was then Director of the AUS Wellness Program, running up and down the four highest mountains in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The team won the event in the Veterans category. The same three individuals competed on one of the world’s most famous endurance running races in 2012 –the Comrades in South Africa (90km). He also ran a 100-kilometer ultra-marathon for charity with Dr. Williams and Callum Cookson of the AUS Wellness Program in May 2013.
Dr. Ashill will leave for Morocco on Friday, April 4. We wish him the best of luck in his race. You can follow the progress of his race here, as we will be following up on him as often as we can.
Nick Ashill joined AUS in 2008.
Jerusha Sequeira and Noor Al Ali are mass communication students at American University of Sharjah.