Aird tackles mother of all marathons - 250km in six days
Imagine running a marathon in one of the hottest places on Earth - the Sahara Desert. Now imagine running six marathons in a row over six days in the Sahara.
Hong Kong resident Rowley Aird will be attempting just that as he takes part in a challenge that will surely stretch the limits of human endurance to a whole new level.
But what will probably spur Aird to go far beyond what is thought humanly possible is the money he will raise when he takes part in one of the legs of the '4 Deserts Series', which is part of 'Racing the Planet', to raise money and awareness for the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village (ASYV), a planned community and school for 500 Rwandan orphans.
The 32-year-old Briton, head of sales at Liquidnet, a financial technology firm that is building the Rwandan village, has already taken part in one desert marathon when he ran across the Gobi Desert in China last year and that was an experience in itself. But the Sahara is going to be a different challenge.
'Last year, I was lucky enough to travel to Rwanda and witness the ground-breaking work of the ASYV. When you see the enormity of the project and the effect it has on the people there, a run through the Sahara is nothing.'
Maybe not quite nothing, but Aird knows what to expect when competition in the Sahara begins today.
With temperatures hovering above 45 degrees Celsius, Aird will not only have to contend with the unbearable heat, but also the soft sands of the Sahara.
It's also a self-supported race with competitors required to carry their food, gear and clothing in a backpack.
The only relief runners will have is that water will be provided by organisers.
Aird hopes to cover 250km over six days, ending his race at the Great Pyramids in Cairo - a magnificent setting for an extraordinary race.
Organisers of the Sahara race have upped the ante as runners will have to run four marathons in a row, followed by an exhausting, gut-wrenching double marathon to be topped off by a 10km sprint. No wonder organisers have dubbed it the 'Race Of No Return'.
'I will be spending about two weeks in the hottest desert on Earth and I have to admit I am apprehensive about the whole thing,' said Aird. 'Last year, when I ran across the Gobi Desert, we helped to raise about US$30,000 so I want to do it again.'
The Sahara race is actually the third leg of the 4 Deserts Series.
About 170 hardy competitors from 30 countries will be taking part in the gruelling event.
'I'm looking forward to the race, but I am more nervous than anything. Training has not been good as it could have been,' said Aird.
The Briton hopes to compete in the other three desert races. The Gobi March (June, 2009), the Atacama Crossing in Chile (March, 2009) and the Antarctica (next month).
Having run in the Gobi last year, Aird has garnered invaluable experience and will be taking a scientific approach as he tackles the most energy-sapping race he will ever compete in.
But he will have a friend in the Sahara - fellow Hong Kong resident Rob James, Manchester United's marketing manager in Asia.
'The Sahara is the ultimate desert,' said Aird. 'The Gobi Desert is much more mountainous. This time my backpack will be lighter than before. I hope to take about 8kg of essentials.
'Last time when I ran in the Gobi, my pack was about 4kg too heavy. It's going to make a huge difference this time with a lighter pack.'
Aird's backpack will include one pair of shorts, four pairs of socks, one long-sleeved shirt, one short-sleeved shirt and a pair of compression tights to keep himself warm at nights.
'I am taking a much more disciplined approach to what I need [in my pack]. The most extravagant thing I will carry is my lightweight camera, which was given to me as a present,' he said.
'You have to remember that running in the desert is a completely different discipline than running on the road. It will definitely be the toughest thing I have ever attempted. The heat is my nemesis. You also have to contend with soft sand. It's going to be flat and bleak and it will test the mind more than when I ran in the Gobi. I am much more nervous of the Sahara,' he laughed.
So why is Aird going through this torture?
'It's a pretty simple motivation - I want to prove to myself that I can run 250km across the hot sands and dunes of the Sahara and finish in one piece,' he wrote on his blog.
'Few may be able to relate to that, but it's an immense physical and mental challenge that I want to partake in.'
You have to remember that running in the desert is a completely different discipline than running on the road. It will definitely be the toughest thing I have ever attempted
The number of runners competing in the Sahara race: 170