Edinburgh teenager takes on gruelling 250km endurance marathon challenge in Sahara desert

For most 17-year-olds, the Easter holidays are a time of stress and revision as Higher exams barrel towards them at far too fast a pace.

By Conor Matchett
Tuesday, 9th April 2019, 4:28 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th April 2019, 4:44 pm
Hector Skipworth, 17, is taking part in the Marathon des Sables, one of the world's most gruelling endurance challenges (Photo: Harriet Skipworth)
Hector Skipworth, 17, is taking part in the Marathon des Sables, one of the world's most gruelling endurance challenges (Photo: Harriet Skipworth)

It would be safe to say not many of them would spend their time off school travelling to the Sahara desert to take part in one of the most gruelling endurance challenges on the planet.

One of the youngest competitors

Hector Skipworth, a lower sixth form pupil at Merchiston Castle School, is the second youngest competitor at this year’s Marathon des Sables (MDS) at the age of only 17.

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Hector prior to the start of the first stage of the Marathon des Sables (Photo: Harriet Skipworth)

He said: “The race is something I have always wanted to do from a young age and this is the first year I will be allowed to do it.

“It’s going to be tough as the temperatures can often exceed 50 degrees celsius. I am making sure I’m well prepared though and have been enjoying getting the right equipment, and training in Edinburgh’s Pentland Hills”

Not allowed to race in marathons in the UK

As one of three teenagers taking part in the race, Hector would be turned away by any marathon organiser in this country due to health and safety concerns.

For the French organisers of the MDS, age is less of a barrier.

That said, the teenager, who is a promising rugby player playing regularly for Scotland at U16 level, is not alone.

Running in the third of six stages today [April 9], Hector is ahead of his father, Paul, 51, who finished the 250km race in 1999.

Raising money for multiple sclerosis

Both are running the race to raise money for the charity Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis, following Hector’s mother, Harriet’s diagnosis.

Having already raised more than £2,200 for the charity, Mrs Skipworth said she was very touched by the fact her husband and son chose to raise money for a cause close to her heart.

“I am very proud of them,” she said, “I am a bit anxious but I am not worried about the old dog at all, I am just a bit worried about the young pup because experience counts for a lot in this.

“It becomes all about the mind and determination and Hector is not short of the determination but he is still trying to get the experience.”

You can donate to Hector’s JustGiving page here.

What is the Marathon des Sables?

Founded in 1986 by 23 pioneers of ultra running, the endurance challenge was set up following Patrick Bauer’s decision to traverse 350km of the Sahara alone.

Dominated by French and Moroccan runners, the race attracts participants from across the world with previous winners including Russians, Americans and Italians.

More than 22,000 competitors have taken part in the race, with more than 800 taking part in 2019.

The race takes place in the Sahara desert in Morocco, all while carrying their food with them on their backs.