From Southland to the Sahara

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BATTLING temperatures exceeding 50degC, sandstorms and possible encounters with snakes and scorpions while tackling multiple marathons back-to-back is all part of the challenge for Southland woman Jan Taylor.

The 52-year-old kindergarten teacher/marathon runner is set to take on her biggest challenge so far – the Marathon Des Sables, or Marathon of the Sands, in the Sahara Desert next month.

She is one of five New Zealanders taking part in this year’s event.

The annual race, which starts and finishes in Ouarzazate, Morocco, involves completing five and a-half marathons, about 254km, over five days, with one rest day after the longest leg. The route is changed every year and kept secret until the day before the event starts.

The ultra-marathon event, which started in 1986 with 186 competitors, now attracts more than 1000 runners/walkers every year.

The question is: why would you want to?

“It’s the challenge and being with like-minded people,” Mrs Taylor said.

“[Doing a marathon] was a great time to think and, from a Christian perspective, a great time to pray for others and have that time with the Lord.”

Marathon running is not new to Mrs Taylor.

She has already completed six marathons on six continents and seven half-marathons in places including New York, Paris, South Africa and China over the past seven years.

Competitors in a previous Marathon Des Sables event. Photo: www.runultra.co.uk

However, nine years ago, taking part in, let alone finishing, a marathon was the furthest thing from Mrs Taylor’s mind.

“I was so overweight I couldn’t walk to my gate,” she said.

But when she sets her mind to something she sees it through.

“My husband would say it was pig-headedness.”

With the help of Weight Watchers, she lost 63kg in one year and was named 2008 Slimmer of the Year.

Incorporating exercise into her weight-loss programme had been her biggest hurdle, something she had definitely not wanted to do, she said.

She started by walking to her gate and then set herself small goals to walk on to a lamp post, progressing one lamp post at a time.

And that was how she intended to tackle the challenge of Marathon Des Sables – by breaking it down, setting small goals and taking it one step at a time, she said.

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