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The Challenge of a Lifetime

The Bognor Dune Runners, a team of endurance runners from the town, have returned triumphant from the Sahara Desert, having completed the extreme challenge of the Marathon des Sables. And their success has been partly attributed to specialist acclimation training that the team undertook at the University of Chichester.

“The training we did at the University really gave us all a huge confidence boost both during our training and once we arrived at the bivouacs in the desert” explains Luke Simmonds of the Bognor Dune Runners. “We felt nervous but ready for the challenge in that heat, especially after discussing with other people how they'd prepared without the use of chambers! We're so grateful to the team at SPRU for all the training and guidance they gave us.”

The Bognor Dune Runners worked closely with the University’s Sports Performance and Rehabilitation Unit (SPRU) in an environmental chamber located in one of the Institute of Sport’s exercise physiology laboratories. The chamber replicated the environmental conditions that the runners faced in the Sahara, aiding their preparation for the challenge by helping them to acclimate to exercising in the heat and understanding how to look after their bodies in such extreme conditions. The SPRU team instrumented the runners with monitors to measure their heart rate and body temperatures and discussed the data from their training sessions.  This helped the runners to understand how they would be able to perform in the conditions they would face during the repeated days of running in the Sahara Desert.

“Our team endured a whole new level of pain during the MDS and we knew it would take its toll on our bodies and for Colin, our minds. Unfortunately for Colin his fear of heights got the better of him by day 3 and he decided to pull out from the race. He'd battled through the 2nd day and accomplished a huge break through by making it over some of the roughest terrain the Sahara Desert could throw at him” says Luke. “The remaining team continued into day 4 with hesitation. We had a long 60 miler ahead of us, some made it back to camp in under 24 hours whilst others decided sleep would be a better option and use the energy gained the next race day. The final day saw us finish the line as a team and there were tears of relief and joy that we'd got to the end, with a heavy duty medal to signify our efforts. We are truly thankful for all our friends and family that have supported us and for everyone who sponsored us.”

Luke Simmonds, Colin Hiscock, Ian Bayley, Chris Gallagher and Gary Pidgeon, all from the Bognor area, took on the 156 mile challenge to raise funds for Chestnut Tree House, the only children's hospice in Sussex, which cares for 300 children and young adults with progressive life-limiting conditions. They set a goal of £22,500 and were only £50 away from reaching this goal on their return.

The Marathon des Sables is the equivalent of six marathons over six days, with day 4 being the toughest – competitors must run a staggering 60 miles, with many running well into the night. Day 5 is a rest day before the final marathon run on day 6. Competitors must carry their full kit throughout.

The University of Chichester’s environmental chamber is ideal for athletes who walk, run, cycle and row around the globe, as it can replicate environmental conditions individuals are likely to encounter during physical challenges such as the MDS and aid in acclimatisation programmes. Temperature can be regulated between -20- 50 °C and humidity between 10-90 % respectively. The chamber can also simulate altitudes of up to ~22,000 m by reducing the oxygen concentration in the room from ~21 % to ~ 9 %. The University works with a range of athletes to help them prepare for a variety of environmental conditions before they compete in important events.

To find out more about the University of Chichester’s Sports Performance and Rehabilitation Centre, visit SPRU.

To find out more about the Bognor Dune Runners and to make a donation to Chestnut Tree House, visit here