John Cahil is about to begin one of the most arduous challenges on the ultramarathon calendar to raise money for the Construction Youth Trust. As he prepares to head out into the desert, you can read about his race-preparation from the comfort of your PC screen.

17 months to go:

November 2004 was the date that I applied and was accepted as a participant in the 21st Marathon des Sables(MdS). I had heard about the MdS from an army friend who told me "I would enjoy the challenge of being pushed to my limit, and then some". It was this challenge, and his description of the event, that made me sign up for what was without question the hardest event I had ever entered.

12 months to go:

Up until this point my training consisted of what I usually did, which was going to the gym three or four times a week. I then decided as I had never even run a standard marathon before, that maybe I needed to research what I could find on the MdS, and ultramarathons in general. To this end I bought some books and started to prepare in earnest. I began by testing what type of food I would carry - something both light and nutritious - and what was the best isotonic powder to bring. And I started to run three times a week as well as going to the gym. During this period, I completed the Three Peaks Challenge and The Mourne Mountain Marathon and used these events to test my choice of food and equipment, and to gauge whether my training was suitable.

Six months to go:

I decided for this period to spend time increasing my stamina and all round fitness. My training plan consisted of running 10km every morning before work and on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays hiking for two hours with a 20kg backpack. On Saturdays, I went to the gym for some strength work and on Sundays I would run 25-30kms.

Three months to go:

Increased my morning runs to 15km, and increased my hikes to three hours. My weekend training regime remained the same. At this time I suffered an ankle injury and started to go to a physio once a week for this injury and for general maintenance. On the research front, I started reading personal accounts from previous year' s runners and spoke to friends and others who had completed the MdS previously for any final tips (ignoring the ones of "don't do it"). At this point I decided which charity I would like to support. As I work in the construction industry, I wanted to do something that would benefit the industry that has supported me most of my adult life. I discussed this with one of my fellow directors, Rodney Bennion, who suggested The Construction Youth Trust. A colleague of mine, Sarah Beavis, then liaised with the CYT and got everything set up. I am very grateful to Sarah for all the hard work and effort that she put in organising this element of my challenge whilst working in a very busy department of McNicholas plc.

I decided at this time to search the list of competitors for any other mad Irishmen willing to run across the Sahara. I have make contact with two fellow competitors, and it is my intention to run with these guys and for us each to support the other when the going gets tough.

One month to go:

Continuing on training regime and have now got and tested my equipment. I will also be arranging to go to the doctor to get all my jabs up to date. As the time gets closer, my enthusiasm gets greater!

One week to go:

Last week I started my taper week to the event. The advice I received was to take it very easy for the last two weeks and get plenty of rest. I have now stopped running completely and only use my rowing machine to row 5000m a night. I carried out some last minute checks on my equipment and have everything packed and ready to go. One scary thought this week: when I received my flight tickets the accompanying letter stated that luggage does get lost, and advised passengers to bring what they can in your hand luggage. The thoughts of entering this event with some borrowed gear because mine was lost and travelling the world on its own was a sobering thought. Well nothing else to do, but turn up to Gatwick next Thursday and enjoy my holiday in the sun.

I hope to be able to get reports back from the event to keep my family, friends and generous supporters up to speed with my progress.

John Cahill is running the Marathon des Sables, for the CONSTRUCTION YOUTH TRUST from the 7th - 17th April 2006 . Go to <> to find out more about his challenge and to make a donation.

The who, what, where and why of John's challenge

The MdS, know as “the toughest foot race on earth” is a multi-day, 151-mile endurance race across the Sahara Desert in Morocco, normally taking place at the beginning of April. Previous competitors have ranged in age from 16 t0 78.
It is made up of legs of 25, 34, 38, 82, 42, 22km over six (or for some seven) days, equivalent to more than five regular marathons. That's a speed of between three and 14 km an hour.
During this time the competitors (myself included) have to carry all food, cooking equipment, survival equipment, etc over ground ranging from sand dunes to uneven rocky ground in temperatures up to 120°F.

As a construction professional I know that one of the biggest challenges facing my industry today is the availability of trained people. Therefore, we need to provide the right advice, guidance and support to our youth, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who wish to pursue a career in construction, and this is the function of the Construction Youth Trust.
I have worked in this industry for most of my adult life which is why I decided to support the Construction Youth Trust as my way of providing other people with the opportunity to work in our exciting, challenging and rewarding industry.
The Construction Youth Trust (formerly known as CITY) is a UK-wide charitable trust that aims to enhance the lives of young people across Britain. We encourage and assist those under the age of 30 to acquire construction industry skills by helping individuals and communities overcome barriers arising from lack of opportunity or personal circumstance.