One step at a time!
When Sarah Towers, Operations Director at Entec Si, started her running journey nine years ago, she had no idea just how influential it would be on her life or how her experience in programme and project management would be so important in her success.
Having evolved from an occasional five kilometre race, Sarah caught the ‘running bug’ through attending her local weekly parkrun and has since completed over twenty marathons.
In April 2023 she took on the toughest footrace on earth, the Marathon des Sables, a grueling six-day 250 kilometre run across the Sahara Desert in which she needed to be totally self-sufficient carrying all her own food and kit for the week. That’s six marathons or around half the length of the state of New York!
Preparing for Marathon Des Sables
“When I started running for fitness, I had no idea it would take me on the whirlwind adventure that it has. I never imagined it would be possible for me to achieve some of the things I have.
“Hitting my big 5-0 birthday milestone in 2022 made me reflect on how short life is – a feeling I’m sure many people can relate to. I love adventure documentaries and something about the Marathon des Sables had always caught my eye but I’ve never thought I could do it. On the day of my birthday I just thought let’s give it a go, at one stage I couldn’t run five kilometers, then I could, I couldn’t run 42 kilometres, then I could – so, what’s another 200-odd?
“As an Operations Director, I have my fair share of experience in project management but hadn’t quite expected to use it in this way!
“I had plan after plan, spreadsheet after spreadsheet, researching and tracking the weight of all the different equipment, tasting and considering the nutrition values of the dried food I’d take. I think I spent more time planning for the race than actually competing in it.
“Of course, I could have all the spreadsheets in the world but without training my body to both the physical intensity of the challenge and to acclimatise to the extreme heat I was going to endure over the six days, there was a high chance of failure.
“I worked with a physical coach following a daily schedule of strength and conditioning, yoga, running and lots of hiking – including miles up and down hills and along the local beaches to try to replicate the desert terrain. I do enjoy training, but it was sometimes a challenge to juggle alongside a busy work diary and required some personal sacrifices.
“Teesside University very kindly let me use their fantastic facilities in the final few weeks before departure – I ran on a treadmill in their heat chamber in full kit to see how my body held up in the Sahara temperatures. This was invaluable ‘testing’ as the temperatures we experienced this year were unusually high, into the 50 degree range, but I knew what my body needed to survive, so I’m really grateful to the team for their support.
For my dad
“I knew the race would also be mentally exhausting, getting up and going again each morning when you’re starving, your legs ache and your feet are sore! I tried to replicate this in training, but also come up with ways to motivate myself. On the longest day I was moving for 26 hours straight, I covered 57 miles, so that was really testing.
I thought about my dad a lot and how proud of me he would be if he could have seen me. I sadly lost him to dementia last Christmas but the race has allowed me to raise over £3000 for the local charity, Teesside Dementia Link Services, that helped him and my family through some very difficult times.
“One of the most challenging aspects of the race, physical elements aside, was being so far from home, in such an alien environment and not knowing a single person. It’s amazing how you forge strong bonds with people in a short amount of time when you placed in that situation. My seven tent mates became like my family, we supported, motivated and looked after each other through the highs and lows. We faced jebels, sandstorms, scorpions and snakes together and I’ve made friends for life.
“Twenty one percent of the participants this year were women and I was over the moon to finish in the top 100, but really I was just grateful to complete as over 350 runners dropped out across the six days. I’m 100 percent certain had I not planned and prepared so well and been able to adapt my plan to the extreme conditions I would have been one of these too.”