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Runners prep for Saraha Desert ultra-marathon at Walsall Campus


Two runners competing to race on the world’s largest hot desert have been training in a state-of-the-art environmental chamber at the University of Wolverhampton.

James March from Wolverhampton and Greg Garner from Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire, are set to fly to Marrakesh next week to take part in the Marathon des Sables which will see them running in the Sahara Desert.

The Marathon des Sables is a foot race, open to runners and walkers with several stages, covering 250 kilometres in seven days from March 25 until April 4.

Each participant must carry his/her own backpack containing food, sleeping gear and other materials while tackling boiling temperatures exceeding 50 degrees.

In preparation for the race, James and Greg have been training in the state-of-the-art environmental chamber at the University of Wolverhampton.

Before lockdown, the University made a significant investment to transform the sports teaching and research facilities at its Walsall Campus. 

The investment included hi-tech equipment including a new environmental chamber to replicate nearly any climate on the planet.

The environmental chamber has enabled James and Greg to precisely control the temperature, humidity and altitude while training for the race to help prepare for tackling the heat in the Sahara desert.  

James March, aged 21, is taking part in the race to raise funds for Walkoncemore, to make a difference to those who suffer from MS after seeing the effects on his mother.

Marathon_runnersJames said: “I’ve been training for the Marathon des Sables for nine months and in the two weeks leading up to the race, we have been training at the University of Wolverhampton to build up the climatization before we tackle the heat in the Sahara Desert.

“The temperature in Morocco ranges from zero degrees at night, to fifty degrees in the day. And of course, we can train for the low temperatures here in the UK but have a disadvantage when it comes to the heat as our bodies simply aren’t used to it.

“Here at the University, the environmental chamber goes up to 40 degrees which help us prepare and understand how our bodies react to these temperatures. It’s so important to get your body used to train in these conditions and recognise the levels of exhaustion for your own safety.

“The chamber is perfect to be able to prepare for such races – it really puts it in perspective not just how hot it’s going to be but the health and safety side of it too.

“I’d highly recommend the facilities here at the university to anyone who is taking part in extreme sports or weather conditions like us.

“This will be the first marathon I’ve ever tackled, so I’m starting high and hope the training we’ve been doing will get us over the mark to complete the race and do the charity proud.”

Walkoncemore is a small volunteer-run charity passionate about raising substantial funds and awareness to directly support the most cutting-edge projects in the fight to cure chronic spinal cord injury (SCI).

Jennifer Mellis, Trustee at Walkoncemore said: “The University's kind offer to enable both James and Greg to acclimatise in their environmental chamber before jetting off to Morocco will make a vital difference to their entire desert experience.

“Not only will they be much better equipped to make it safely around the course, but the heat exposure they will build prior to arriving in the desert will enable both to remain focused on the task at hand - raising money and awareness to ensure a future without chronic spinal cord injury.

“We are truly grateful to them both and the University of Wolverhampton for their unwavering support.”

Students studying sport and exercise science at the University have also been involved in supporting the training by measuring weight, heart rates, tracking performance and health and safety monitoring, to gaining applied experience throughout the marathon training.


Ross Cloak, Associate Professor in Sport and Exercise Science said: “It’s been a fantastic couple of weeks supporting James and Greg as they prepare for this epic challenge.

“They are raising money for a fantastic cause and we, in the School of Sport, were more than happy to get involved.

“The opportunity to have our undergraduate sport and exercise science students involved and gaining applied experience was an added bonus.

“The environmental chamber has been replicating some of the conditions they will face and preparing their body for the extreme heat they face when they touch down in a couple of weeks.”

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