City athlete takes on world’s most brutal desert

Andrew Murray is facing his biggest challenge. Picture: comp
Andrew Murray is facing his biggest challenge. Picture: comp
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IT’s around now that many may feel the post-Christmas bulge and the need to hit the road to work off the festive excesses.

But while the more energetic among us may manage a jog or even a lung-busting gym session before heading home to finish the mince pies, Edinburgh endurance athlete Dr Andrew Murray is going the extra mile.

In fact, he’s going a staggering 550km – that’s 350 miles – across gruelling desert and rolling sand dunes, in one of the most savage places on earth and where no runner has ever gone before.

For while many of us may well already have chucked the New Year diet, by February he’ll be well on his way running across the beautiful but brutal Namid desert, where the snakes that live there are likely to be the least of his worries.

The bleak southern African desert boasts some of the world’s highest sand dunes, the lowest rainfall, scorching ­temperatures and is almost entirely uninhabited.

Which is why, so far at least, no-one has ever bothered to attempt to run across it.

Dr Murray will set off on February 2 to run across the desert almost entirely on sand, along with fellow endurance athlete, Glasgow-based Donnie Campbell.

The pair hope to complete the gruelling challenging in just ten days, running more than 50km a day over intimidating sand dunes, battling dehydration and the risk of becoming completely lost in the barren landscape.

They will be followed during their attempt by Edinburgh based filmmakers BigShot Productions.

Dr Murray said he hopes the challenge will encourage the rest of us to slip on our trainers and if not hit the road for a body-bursting ultra marathon, at least take some extra exercise every day to help improve our health.

“Having run all over the world, I can say hands down the Namib desert is the most fantastic place we could have chosen to run,” he said.

“It is not just putting one foot in front of the other – but also a massive science experiment. It is up to ourselves to involve the right people and do the right training to counter the extreme terrain, ­temperatures and challenges that emerge. We’ll likely be drinking about 10.5 litres of water a day.”

Dr Murray, 34, works as a medical doctor with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and the Sportscotland Institute of Sport. He is no stranger to completing major challenges – he ran a phenomenal 2659 miles from John O’Groats to the Sahara, and has won races from the North Pole to Antarctica and Outer Mongolia. “We’re not asking people to run ultra-marathons, but with even 150 minutes a week of any exercise – for example walking – adding seven years to life, and even five minutes exercise getting the happy hormones going, each step is a step to health and happiness,” he added.

“And in Scotland great organisations like World Walking, 5x50, Paths for All and Ramblers Scotland can help support this.”

The Namib – which means ‘vast place’ – is widely considered one of the most beautiful and savage places on Earth, and stretches through Angola, Namibia and South Africa.

It is considered to be the oldest desert in the world and has less than 0.39in of rain a year. Arid and bleak, temperatures in February can hit 104F. The challenge was the idea of veteran adventurer David Scott, who has led dozens of expeditions around the globe. Following the run, the team plans to carry out community work in the Kuiseb river area and hand over medical equipment from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Glasgow, sports gear from sponsors Merrell and others involved in supporting the pair.

Like Dr Murray, fellow runner Mr Campbell, 30, a Glasgow-based former Royal Marine Commando who works as a personal trainer, is no stranger to major challenges – he once ran 184 miles from Glasgow to Skye non-stop.

He said: “The Namib desert seems a long way away at the moment. The challenge we face is training in the variable Scottish winter to get into top physical condition to give ourselves a chance of making it out of the desert in one piece. We are both out in the freezing, wet, windy early mornings and this is a far cry from the extreme heat we will face in the Namib desert.

“We log 30 hours of running a week during the festive period while everyone else will be relaxing and enjoying a few mulled wines and turkey. This is necessary though as to be successful in any challenge the hard work has to be done in the preparation and training when no-one is watching.

“I know when we leave for the Namib desert we’ll both be in prime physical condition.”

Expedition leader David Scott said the challenge, which is being backed by health supplement Lyprinol, can’t be under-estimated. “The desert will always find a way to break you down and can kill you, if you let it. There is no water along our route in the Namib and it supports no human life.

“Proper preparation, professional support and a definite plan of action will be essential not just for the success of this endeavour, but for the very survival of its members.

“On an expedition to Namibia earlier this year I was struck by the sheer beauty of this harsh landscape and, studying the maps by the fire one evening with my South African colleague, we hatched a plan to deliver a team of runners across its length from south to north – a world first.

“It took less than ten minutes to convince Donnie and Andrew to take on this epic feat, and we are now soundly on our way to heading out there and getting on with the job. “

Dr Murray is under extra pressure to complete the desert challenge – he has been shortlisted for five gongs from the National Adventure Awards, due to be awarded in March.

He is nominated for adventurer of the year, inspiring ­others and leadership awards.

He is named in the shortlist for team of the year and 
physical endeavour awards in recognition of his July challenge with Mr Campbell in which they ran Scotland’s ten highest mountains in one day last July.

sdick@edinburghnews.com