Saturday, 16 October 2021
A MAN from Henley came sixth in a gruelling race in the desert and helped raise £18,000 for charity.
David Kirk, of Ancastle Green, was one of eight friends who took part in the five-day, 250km Ultra X Jordan in the Middle Eastern country last week.
Fifty people took part in the challenge, running in temperatures of up to 39C with an elevation of up to 2,555m.
Mr Kirk, 32, a senior sales director, was joined by rowing coach Tim Clarke, 29, from Stoke Row, and Charles Cousins, 32, who rowed for Leander Club in Henley and represented Team GB at the 2012 Olympics, and five friends.
They joined athletes from around the world, although most were from Britain.
Mr Kirk said: “We all got split up from the people we went with. I was just with Charles and 10 other men we didn’t know but you made friends really quickly.”
He is an experienced ultra-runner but said he found the race much harder than he had expected. “You can prepare your nutrition and endurance but nothing can prepare you for the sand,” said Mr Kirk.
“Imagine running on the beach — you just can’t run as fast as you usually would and it uses different bits of your body.
“It didn’t make much of a difference if you were going uphill or downhill because it was just so difficult on the sand anyway.
“I just had to accept that I was going to be running at a slower pace than I’d expected.”
He ran for several hours a day and covered about 50km on each one except on the middle day when he completed about 75km.
He finished in an overall time of 28 hours and eight minutes while Mr Clarke came 44th in a time of 41 hours and 20 minutes and Mr Cousins finished just 40 minutes later and four places behind.
Mr Kirk said: “I’d gone out with the aim of just finishing it but by day two I realised I was doing well and started to be competitive, so I ran most of it on my own, trying to be the fastest. I had to try not to push too hard.
“At one point Tim found a guy collapsed and had to pull him into the shade and run to the nearest checkpoint for medical help.
“We started running while it was still dark under the stars with head torches.
“On most days I was running about five hours a day. We ran about 50km most days, but on the Wednesday we did 75km.
“I ran about nine hours that day and to make it worse that was the hottest day as it got to about 39 degrees.
“The last day I really struggled with foot pain and a friend ran past and gave me his poles, which he probably needed himself, but that allowed me to carry on and stay competitive.
“It was different for all of us. Some of the guys got bad foot problems early on so had to walk the rest of it. But everyone was so happy the whole time because we were helping each other as a group. We ran through amazing canyons and big valleys. We saw a lot of camels running around and some scorpions and beetles.
“We didn’t see another soul, just sand, and then on the final day we started to see forests.”
At night, the runners slept in big open-sided tents and ate freeze-dried food cooked in a large bucket of boiling water over a big fire.
Mr Kirk said: “It was really nice to just live in a tent for a week and only have to think about eating, sleeping and running.
“You just ended up speaking to the people you’d met. Everyone was there to run and was very supportive of each other. The person that came last each day tended to get the biggest cheer.
“ The simplicity was good for me and I want to try to bring some of that back with me into my life at home.”
Mr Kirk said he felt sore after the challenge and suffered a painful stomach as he and friends rested in a hotel near the Red Sea for several days before flying home on Wednesday. Mr Clarke said he had to go more slowly after suffreing foot pain early on in the race.
He said: “It was a challenge unlike anything I had encountered before.
“The heat and sand made it very difficult at times but the support of our group ensured we all finished well.”
One of the charities the group was raising money for was Young Minds UK, which provides advice and support to young people with mental health issues.
Mr Kirk said: “I saw last week how everyone talking and being supportive of each other helped us all get through something really hard. That’s what we need to encourage in normal life as well.”
They were also raising money for Brain Tumour Research as one of the men lost his mother to a brain tumour.
Mr Kirk said: “The money we have raised will make a difference. We had some really generous donations and raised nearly £20,000. We’re really grateful to everyone who donated.”
13 October 2021
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