Rathcoole endurance athlete Gary Bloomer has proved his mettle in a gruelling six-day race across the Sahara desert.
The 40-year-old father-of-one pushed his physical and mental stamina to the absolute limit to complete the 2014 Marathon des Sables, which has been described as “the toughest footrace on earth.”
“It was a big learning curve for me,” Gary told the Times on his return from Morocco. “There were a lot of things that I wasn’t expecting and a lot of hurdles that I had to overcome. The race certainly deserves its reputation.”
Gary, who works as a commercial diver, said that running 150 miles over sand dunes, rocks, hills and mountains carrying a backpack weighing more than 8kg had pushed him to breaking point.
With daytime temperatures exceeding 45 degrees, he lost an incredible 11lbs in body weight over the six days and suffered serious problems with his feet.
“The race lived up to its reputation no end. Not only do you have the difficulty of the terrain, heat and distance, but the sleeping rough aspect takes its toll too. It’s nigh on impossible to get comfortable lying on the desert floor each night.
“The terrain was absolutely brutal - it’s just so unforgiving. It’s terrain that you would just never encounter on this side of the world. It doesn’t matter how much training you do for the heat, the terrain is just brutal,” he explained.
“Staring down the barrel of 51 miles on the long stage with feet that were in agony with each step was a sobering thought, but this was why I had come to the MdS. I wanted to see how much mental strength I had to keep pushing when the body would be screaming to stop. To finish the long day was a mini triumph in itself, and even better, I had earned a bonus ‘rest day’ because of finishing that same night.”
Gary ran most of the race alongside two students from Edinburgh University, Rory Dowie and Oliver Robinson, who at 20 years old are the same age as his son. They were the youngest finishers in this year’s event.
Despite having had to overcome an ankle injury which disrupted his training for the event, Gary finished in 323rd place overall, out of a field of more than 900 competitors - a result he said he was “over the moon” with.
The experienced triathlete and iron man competitor described the multi-stage adventure as one of the most amazing weeks of his life. But he says it’s an experience he doesn’t plan to repeat.
“My wife Nadine’s last words to me before I left, apart from telling me that she loved me, were ‘Don’t come home without that medal’. Those words rolled around in my head on every stage, especially when I was at my lowest, lost in the depths of pain and exhaustion. I got to the finish and I got the medal. Good enough for me. No further attempts necessary,” he said.
Gary’s gruelling challenge, along with a sponsored marathon run by his wife Nadine, has raised more than £1,000 for the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team.