Ranulph Fiennes, 71, set for world’s hardest race

HE HAS climbed the north face of the Eiger and Mount Everest despite a fear of heights and amputated his own frostbitten fingers in his garden shed.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes undergoes medical tests at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Picture: PASir Ranulph Fiennes undergoes medical tests at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Picture: PA
Sir Ranulph Fiennes undergoes medical tests at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Picture: PA

Now the man described by the Guinness Book of Records as the “world’s greatest explorer” is to embark on the “toughest footrace on Earth”.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes is to take part in the Marathon des Sables in Morocco later this year in a bid to raise millions for charity and become the oldest Briton ever to complete the arduous race. At an age when many men consider bowls to be an energetic pursuit, Sir Ranulph is preparing to run 156 miles across the Sahara in 50C heat to complete the six-day ultra-marathon in April – at the age of 71.

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But the man who smashed records by completing a 35,000-mile trek around the world via the two poles in 1982, and later completed the first unassisted polar journey across the Antarctic, has described the race as a “small project” for a good cause.

Yesterday he said: “Everything is relative. Relative to some of the other things, this will take less time to train for – only six or seven months of running, five days a week.”

He hopes to raise £2.5 million for Marie Curie, which provides care and support to terminally ill people and their families.

The ageing expeditioner has been given the all-clear to compete by cardiac experts. However, having already suffered two heart attacks and undergone a double bypass and a cancer operation, he is realistic about the challenges he faces. He said: “It depends on how the bits of my body can stand up to it.”

He added a run on a windy day in England is enough to make him break out in a sweat, so “having to keep a shirt on because of the heat is going to be rather annoying”.

As part of his preparations with Cardiff-based trainer Rory Coleman, Sir Ranulph must run for an hour or more most days, and at least once a week must go on a four-hour run.

Mr Coleman described his charge as “a real machine”. He added: “Although he has admitted to not liking the heat very much, he really has no Off button when it comes to giving it everything he’s got – he’s a coaching dream.”

Sir Ranulph shrugged off the praise, saying: “The trainer has trained a great number of geriatrics and he knows that he has to be very sort of brutal … I’m ex-military so I’m used to doing what I’m told.” Sir Ranulph served eight years with the Royal Scots Greys and, at one point, was seconded to the Special Air Service. Over a lifetime of adventuring around the world, he has raised more than £14m for charity.

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It was while attempted to walk unsupported to the North Pole in 2000 that he developed frostbite on tips of the fingers of his left hand. On his return to Britain, he became impatient when surgeons said they wished to wait several months before amputating the tips, so he did it himself … in his garden shed with a fretsaw.

While appearing on Top Gear, he claimed to have been on the shortlist for James Bond. However, Cubby Broccoli said he had “hands too big and a face like a farmer” and chose Roger Moore instead.