St Andrews scientist set to tackle desert marathon

Paul Webb in training for the Marathon Des Sables.
Paul Webb in training for the Marathon Des Sables.

Training to run 150 miles through the blistering heat of the Sahara desert with a 10kg pack strapped to your back takes over your life.

But Paul Webb is taking the ‘world’s toughest foot race’ in his stride.

And the reason it is all worthwhile is that Paul is attempting to raise more than £20,000 for St Andrews-based charity Worldwide Cancer Research.

Paul (41) puts his determination down to an obsession to test himself beyond anything he has done before but, more importantly, raise money for a cause that is very personal to him.

“My challenge is to run a marathon on every continent, visiting Worldwide Cancer Research-funded scientists wherever I travel,” he said. “I have already competed in a few normal marathons – London and New York – and done more varied races, including the Great Wall of China, as part of my fundraising and preparation.

“But without doubt the Marathon des Sables (MDS) will be my toughest challenge ever.”

The MDS is an epic multi-day event through 150 miles of the Sahara – sandstorms, severe dehydration and extreme blisters are common – and competitors must be self-sufficient during the race, carrying everything they need.

“You’re pretty much on your own, so it’s as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one,” said Paul, who is a scientist at Sasol Technology, an international energy and chemical company with a research and development lab at the University of St Andrews.

This year is the 30th anniversary of the race and explorer Ranulph Fiennes OBE will be among the 1500 runners setting off on April 5.

Training has taken over Paul’s life at the moment – he currently runs between 10 and 20 miles six days a week, with up to 10kg on his back.

Winter in Scotland, however, is hardly ideal training for a gruelling desert race – he has had to run in the snow.

Also testing him is working out what equipment and food to take – kit includes everything from a stove and sleeping equipment to desert goggles and first aid items, and he is reckoning on needing around 3000kcal a day, with high-calorie almond butter and Peperamis as his secret weapons.

Worldwide Cancer Research, based in South Street, is the only UK charity that funds pioneering research worldwide into any cancer type.

You can support Paul’s bid to raise £20,000 by donating at