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Lauren, queen of the desert

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

SUPERMUM Lauren O'Malley conquered the notorious Marathon Des Sables last week by completing six marathons in five days in aid of Belfast's Royal Children's Hospital.

Contesting against the searing Saharan heat and competing in the most inhospitable racing conditions on the planet, the euphoric Newry mum told the Democrat of her joy at crossing the finishing line on "the hardest thing I've ever done".

She said: "I'm not going to lie, I was overwhelmed at the start - it's the hardest thing I've ever done - there is no question, but thank God I had taken it seriously from day one and really committed to the training.

"It was six marathons in five stages - which is five days - so there's a double marathon within that, on stage four I had to run right through the night and you have that day as your rest day," added Lauren.

She said: "You had 34 hours to finish the 56miles, so we started that race at 8.30am and got in the next morning at 7.30, so it was 23 hours running, thank God I was 11 hours ahead of the cut-off point so I got that rest-time."

Whilst taking on the gargantuan task of running two marathons in a day seems daunting enough in itself for most us, Lauren also had sand dunes and the scorching heat of the arid desert to contend with - whilst also lugging a 20kg backpack throuhgout the entirity of her 156 mile trek.

"There's no comparison to a marathon, every step is like seven or eight steps because the sand is just so unforgiving and the dunes are humungous," she said.

“I found out the hard way that road marathon's just doesn't prepare for this race, because of the sand and the climbing aspect of it. In fact, in parts it was actually so steep that it had to be roped, which was crazy. You're running up rock at such an angle that you think, 'this is just crazy'."

Amongst her friends and family, Lauren's stoicism in the face of adversity is no surprise, but even her indomitable spirit was tested to the limit at times throughout the race, but though through sheer willpower, tenacity and resolve, she managed to push through the moments of self-doubt.

She explained: "I've done long-stage stuff before and I know that you always have low points and high points. For me, the low point was the last 5km of Stage 3, when it hit 54 degrees and was in a dried-up river bed. It's impossible to explain but it was almost like being in an oven, as the heat was trapped and you felt trapped and I ran out of water.

"Thankfully though, I was able to get back to camp and get some electrolytes into me to balance out the salt loss in my body, so I didn't go down too much."

Whilst those dark moments sapped her of energy and stretched her belief to its limits, the race also became a validatory, self-affirming challenge for Lauren, where she met new friends and pushed herself beyond her own pre-conceived limits.

She befriended an Irish ex-pat group that drew strength from, and helped, each other in desperate times providing welcome comic relief and camaraderie that was a saintly juxtoposition to the devilish desert.

Lauren said: "The high point for me, for sure, was the night stage of the double, after doing the marathon that day and running right through to sunset and the heat finally passing, I just got a real boost of adrenaline and I thought, 'I am not going to stop, I'm going to push right through the night'.

"I've made mates for life, I was very fortunate I shared a tent with three Irish guys, whilst in the tent next to me there were four more Irish guys and two Irish girls, so the ten of us together had a great time - it was such good craic and not one of us dropped out," said Lauren.

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