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Alumni Lynton Dawson and Alan Critchley faced the biggest physical challenge of their lives when they took on the Marathon des Sables (MdS) in April. The MdS is a gruelling 156 mile, six-day adventure across the Sahara Desert in temperatures exceeding 50°C which takes place every year.


MDS Start

The MdS starting line.


Alan completed the marathon in an impressive 43 hours over six days, finishing in the top 400 and placing 88th for his age group. He told us more about his adventure…

“After working for almost sixteen years at the University of Chester as a Team Leader for Facilities/Security, and recently finishing my work based learning degree, I decided to return to something that involved not just a mental challenge, but also a physical challenge too.


Alan Critchley 2

Alan during the MdS.


“Whilst doing my degree, I cycled from Lands’ End to John O’Groats in seven days with three friends, and together we raised just over £35,000 for Bloodwise (formerly Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research). I wanted to take this a stage further, so when my degree was finished, I registered to take part in the toughest footrace on earth – the Marathon des Sables. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with Leukaemia, which inspired me to raise money for Bloodwise and take on the challenge.

“If I had to describe the Sahara desert and MdS in three words, I would say: Amazing, hot and brutal.”

Lynton, who graduated from the University in 2005 with an MA in Exercise and Nutrition Science, works as a tutor with Premier Training International. He completed the marathon in just over 45 hours, finishing 580th out of 1,200 original starters. Lynton gave us an account of his journey…

“My build up and training for the Marathon des Sables had gone really well, and as I entered my final two weeks I was feeling mentally and physically prepared. On Tuesday the 28th of March I completed my penultimate scheduled heat chamber session at Loughborough University, where I ran on a treadmill in a chamber set to 40 degrees and 30% humidity for one hour and 25 minutes. Then after a rough night’s sleep, I woke up the next day with a sore throat. This got progressively worse, so on the Friday I went to the doctor who diagnosed it as a virus that would clear up. Over the weekend it continued to get worse, and by Sunday afternoon I was finding it virtually impossible to swallow anything, talk or even sleep.


LD MDS finisher

Lynton with his finisher’s medal.


“After seeing the doctor on Monday April 3rd, I was sent to A&E at Northampton General where I was diagnosed with a Quincy – an abscess on my right tonsil. I was admitted to hospital and had 500ml of fluid drained from it, then I was placed on a drip to have steroids and antibiotics administered to fight the infection and ease the pain. This was quite worrying as I was scheduled to fly out on Friday the 7th of April and sitting in my hospital bed, I just hoped and prayed that I would be allowed to go. I stayed in hospital until Wednesday when I was then given the good news that I could go home, but I was advised not to fly to Morocco for the event…

“As I could now eat, drink and sleep again, and was feeling physically and mentally okay, I made the decision to carry on and fly out with the blessing and support of my family. So I arrived at Gatwick on the 7th with my antibiotics and other medications, then flew out to Morocco with the other competitors. We landed in Ouarzazate and then had a six hour bus journey out into the Sahara desert to the Bivouac, which would be our portable campsite for the duration of the event. The competitors consisted of 1,200 people from all over the world in 166 tents, which were basically a large black heavy duty covering propped up with sticks and a rug that covered the floor. The toilet was a chair in a portable tent and some brown plastic bags to place on the chair or the desert itself. Food and drink was provided to all competitors from arrival to the beginning of the first stage on Sunday, April 9th, and then it was a case of self-sufficiency for the rest of the race.

“I spent the Saturday getting to know my tent mates for the event. After having the medical and safety equipment checks, 33 people were told they would not be allowed to take part as they didn’t meet the required standards. This was quite stressful for everybody and brought home the realisation of what we were about to face after the months of preparation and training. It was devastating for the people who would not be allowed to take part. This included one lady who had flown from New Zealand, only to be told she couldn’t take part as the company she had gone through had not passed the money on that she had paid them.


MDS camp

The MdS camp.


“So after a very cold night’s sleep where temperatures dropped below five degrees, it came to 5am Sunday morning and the entire camp was up, getting ready for the first stage. After eating a bag of dried frozen porridge that I had added my rationed water to and checking my bag, I made my way to the start line with my tent mates ready to begin running. We had to run for five days out of six covering the following distances: Day 1 – 30.3km; Day 2 – 39km; Day 3 – 31.6km; Day 4 – 86.2km, Day 5 – rest day; Day 6 – 42.2km; Day 7 – 7.7km which was a charity day.

“Water was rationed on each of the days, with each morning starting with 1.5 litres and then at the checkpoints you were given even an additional 1.5 or 3 litres depending on the length and difficulty of the section before the next checkpoint. This caused quite a few runners issues with water management, especially as the temperatures often exceeded 45 degrees, and reaching 60 degrees on the third day!

“The terrain was a combination of stony ground, mountain passes and sand dunes, which made the running nearly impossible at times and even the elite athletes had to walk some sections of the course. Over the duration of the event, over 100 people dropped out for various reasons, which included one gentleman who had a heart attack on the first day before the second checkpoint. He was airlifted out to hospital and placed in an induced coma, thankfully though he made a full recovery and was chatting to his wife in hospital before flying back home.


LD Finish

Lynton at the finish line.


“This was an immensely challenging event that really tested me and the other runners physically, mentally and emotionally. However it was a worthwhile experience that gave us all the chance to see some fantastic scenery and forge some great friendships. I would definitely recommend anybody to try it so long as you prepare yourself properly and accept that at times it will definitely push you to the limit.

“My goal was not only to complete this challenging event, but also to raise £10,000 for a fantastic charity called Families for HoPE. This is a non-profit organisation that was formed to address the needs of families and children diagnosed with holoprosencephaly (HPE) and related brain malformations. A huge thanks to all those that have donated so far, you have already helped me raise just over £5,000. I am hoping to also raise enough now to pay to fly over to Oregon, where I will be presenting my medal to a little girl called Hannah and her family as she bravely battles the condition.”

You can still donate on Lynton’s JustGiving page until the end of May by clicking here:

You can read more about Lynton and Alan’s marathon adventure in the upcoming 2017 edition of The Cestrian, the University’s alumni magazine.

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