Go Daddy ... and Carlos the camel, of course!

March 03 2018

WHEN dad Nik Whiteside decided to embark on one of the toughest challenges in the world he wanted to keep it quiet.

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WHEN dad Nik Whiteside decided to embark on one of the toughest challenges in the world he wanted to keep it quiet.

But sons, Jacob, aged eight, and Joe, aged six, had other ideas.

The duo took to social media to contact Downend Voice to let us know exactly what their intrepid dad was up to to raise money for Christchurch infant and junior schools where they go to school.

For Nik, 46, will take on the Marathon des Sables (MdS), a gruelling six-day race through the Sahara Desert, running 156 miles in temperatures as high as 50 centigrade.

Jacob and Joe, who have been training with their dad, are so proud of what he is doing for their schools they wanted to spread the word.

Via Downend Voice's Facebook page, they told us: "Our Daddy is running in the desert in April to raise money for cool playground things for us to play on. The playgrounds are very muddy and a bit sad at the moment. We have been chatting to the headteachers about Wigwams balance beams, monkey bars, hopscotch and lots of fun things. We love playtime with our friends."

Their message went on to say: "Maybe you could put a picture in your magazine and help us raise our target?? We would sooooooo like to be in Downend Voice."

The lads went on to spill the beans good and proper, telling us their dad has a toy camel called Carlos who will be running with him.

Nik said: "I must admit, I wanted to quietly do the MdS and that would be it. My wife however quite rightly pointed out it was a great opportunity to try to raise funds for Christchurch schools. They are in much need of new outdoor equipment and at a time when government grants and funds seem to be cut, it seemed a great idea."

Mum Ruthie Carstairs said: "They said to me 'Mum, we should contact the paper!' The boys are just really proud of their daddy."

The "Marathon of the Sands" first started in 1986 with just 186 competitors: 32 years later the race now attracts more than 1,000 runners, 200 members of the media and a support team of at least 400. 

The race starts on April 8 just outside Morocco and runs a course of more than 150 miles through the Sahara Desert over tough terrain. Each day, competitors will run a set amount of kilometres, averaging one to two marathons per day and carrying their water and everything they need on their back. 

Nik has been in training for 18 months, both in the UK and the Canary Islands to get used to running in high temperatures and on rough ground and sand.

"You have to carry everything you need for the week except a tent and water which you get at checkpoints each day," Nik said.

Nik's chosen fundraising activity seems all the more surprising because he is not a keen runner, and is neither a fan of sand or the heat.

"I wouldn’t class myself as a runner at all; it’s not my favourite activity. I think of myself as more like the fat rhino at the back of the animal stampede in the film Jumanji.

"So I started out short distances, looked at completing 10kms at first then slowly increased the distances until I managed to complete the Bristol to Bath marathon a couple of years back. I found the actual event hard and struggled, the last 10k were just painful but it was my first challenge so I was happy with a 4 hour 35 minute finish. I couldn’t walk properly for a week."

Nik heard about the MdS from friends and remembered seeing it on the Discovery Channel many years ago.

"It was so far out of my reach though. I thought only proper athletes and elite runners took part."

It wasn't until two friends signed up and successfully completed it that Nik became interested: "I was hooked. I wanted in but I felt very out of my depth given that I struggled at the marathon. I don’t like sand, I’m not very good in heat, and I don’t much like running!"

Not being one to give up easily Nik set about increasing the length of his training runs and even went over to Club La Santa in Lanzarote to a specific training camp run by an expert team of coaches where he covered 186km in six days.

"I was pretty fried by the end but had achieved my aims, tested my kit and given myself a massive confidence boost. I’m now up to 2,500 kms in training runs since signing up to MdS."

Nik, who has already raised more than half of his £4,000 target, said he was confident he would complete it.

"There are things that are out of my control but I’m very positive. I looked at the MdS because of what it is, for me it’s the hardest thing I can attempt. I want see how I react and deal with the harsh conditions and the challenge. I believe I can do it. I’m under no illusion, it’s going to be hard and I’m probably going to come home with a pair of ruined feet but to me it’s worth it.

"The Just Giving page is doing really well and I’m overwhelmed by the response. There have been so many donations by people I don’t even know so a huge thank you to everyone."

Funds have been boosted by a quiz night organised by Ruthie and pupils at the Christchurch schools will be taking part in sponsored assault courses.

Ruthie said she understood why Nik wanted to take on such a tough challenge.

"It's crazy but cool! He's 46 and wanted a big challenge for himself. 

"He wanted to do the MdS a few years ago but thought the children were too little. He was upset he didn't do it but this year thought 'Yes - let's go for it!' He really doesn't like the sun or the sand or even running that much so it really is a big challenge."

Nik said he is also motivated because he wants to show Jacob and Joe that all things are possible if you put the work in.

He said: "Maybe my two young sons don’t fully comprehend the scale of the event at the moment, but I hope one day they will take something from it and understand that nothing is impossible if you work hard and keep plugging away, even when it’s a struggle." 

If you would like to sponsor Nik, please visit his Just Giving Page: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/nikrunsmdsforchrist

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