Desert challenge for Jamie

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MONTROSE marathon runner Jamie Flanagan is facing the toughest physical challenge of his running career - covering 160 miles in the searing heat of the Egyptian Desert over just four days.

In February Jamie, who now lives in Edinburgh, will take part in the Ocean Floor ultra marathon which follows a set route through the White Desert with checkpoints 15 miles apart. Runners navigate between them using a global positioning system (GPS) and, as if that was not gruelling enough, Jamie will carry his food, water and other supplies as well as his sleeping bag with him.

Entrants can replenish these at checkpoints and each is left to manage his or her own time regarding rest and sleep. They can either rest along the route, in the checkpoints or not at all.

Given that the White Desert, part of the vast Sahara, features some of the most dramatic landscapes in the world, Jamie has decided that he wants to sleep out to make the most of the experience.

The event takes its name from the Tethys Ocean which covered the area more than 200 million years ago and what used to be the ocean floor bedrock has been carved into fantastic shapes by the wind and sand over millions of years.

Although he is preparing and training as best he can, Jamie said this week that it is difficult to know exactly what to expect although he has stepped up his training regime.

He said: “It’s mostly sand, but given it’s a former ocean floor the terrain also consists of hard, salty sand and rocks. One problem will be heat but the average temperature’s about twenty-seven degrees during the day and varies between five and fifteen degrees at night.

“I’ve had a long-term goal to cover a distance of 50 miles or greater. The logic behind this is that I’m turning 30 and a lot of people celebrate by going to lie on a beach somewhere, so I thought ‘why not run across a very big beach’ although I’m starting to think it’s a bit mad.

“I ran the Dundee marathon recently and wanted to see if I could do three in a row, so ran a marathon distance each day for three days. I just wanted to see for myself what my recovery would be like and what it would be like to get up and run that distance the next day. I did well in the recovery stakes, but the miles were getting pretty tough towards the end.”

A regular runner for charity, Jamie has completed four marathons already this year and will be running in Berlin next weekend in aid of Vasculitis UK.

He entered the Ocean Floor Race to raise money for the Lauren Currie Twilight Foundation. The organisation was established in 2010 in memory of Kilmarnock teenager Lauren Currie who died two days after being diagnosed with Wegener’s Granulomatosis, a rare and aggressive form of vasculitis.

Jamie (29) was diagnosed with the same condition in January 2000. The condition causes the immune system to attack an otherwise healthy body and affects mainly the kidneys, lungs and liver, as well as the ears, nose and eyes.

The first symptoms began to appear late in 1999 when Jamie lost most of his hearing in his right ear.

Once the condition was diagnosed by consultants at the ear, nose and throat department at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, Jamie was put on an intensive programme of treatment that included chemotherapy and surgery.

Despite the loss of his hearing and the medical treatment Jamie pursued his ambition to become a professional percussionist and, after he went into remission in 2002, he studied for a BA honours degree in applied music at Strathclyde University, graduating in 2007.

He was left with mild to moderate hearing loss, however, and left the music business in 2009 as he felt it was hampering his career. He now works as an assistant manager with an Edinburgh wine merchant and focuses his energies on running in his spare time. Although he usually runs without a hearing aid, he felt that it would be wise to do so in the Ocean Floor event, but this presented some new problems.

Standard aids would have been hampered and damaged by dust and sweat but he has been helped out by electronics and engineering firm Siemens, which has created the unique and entirely dust and waterproof Aquaris hearing aid.

Jamie said: “I contacted Siemens who have created this device which is meant to be indestructible. When I run I usually run deaf but didn’t really fancy that for this event, so I e-mailed them asking if they could help me out and they’ve supplied me with some top of the range gear.

“Part of my motivation is to take away the stigma of hearing loss and some people still find someone wearing a hearing aid strange. It’s strange, because no-one thinks anything of someone wearing glasses. But if other people see that I can do it, then hopefully it’ll encourage them to take up sport themselves.”

The pairing of Jamie’s physical challenge and how the technology is helping him to cope has created enough interest for the BBC to film a documentary of his experiences. He has been working with a film crew this week and the programme is due to be broadcast in November.

Anyone wishing to contributed to his fund-raising campaign can do so online at justgiving.co.uk/jamie-ultra.