An Uplawmoor runner has shared his incredible story of conquering the “toughest footrace in the world” while raising vital funds for a good cause.

John O’Donnell flew into Morocco last month before travelling for six hours by bus into the Sahara Desert to begin the Marathon Des Sables (MDS).

The epic adventure saw him cover 252km over the course of a week and emerge 32nd out of nearly 1,000 participants.

He was also the 4th British person and 2nd person over 50 to cross the finish line.

Not only did his efforts see him secure a remarkable placing, but they have also coined in an impressive amount for Scottish Action for Mental Health (SAMH).

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John told the Barrhead News: “It went really well and better than I could ever have imagined.

“I went with the objective of just surviving and finishing it, but they would print a league table and put it up in camp every night so you could see where you were in relation to everyone else and after about day two it felt like the race was on.”

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An experienced ultra runner, John trained for two years in preparation for the race, which saw him tackle distances each day from 20km to 85km, all while carrying all of his own supplies.

Some days participants would run the distance and come back to the same camp and on others they would finish in a completely different point in the desert.

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In total, he completed the event in a combined time of 30 hours and ten minutes, and reckons he ran about 80% of the course which at times necessitated a shift to a power hike to get over energy-sapping sand dunes.

Remarkably despite the incredible ground covered, John didn’t develop a single blister during the route which is said to be notorious for destroying people’s feet.

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The 50-year-old, who runs personal running coach service Run Llama, says he owes this to wearing some well-worn trainers and the volume of training he put in ahead of time.

“The running itself and the distance, it didn’t worry me too much if I’m being honest because I do a lot of ultra running,” explained the 50-year-old.

“The hardest part I think was coping with the extreme conditions every day, sandstorms or 50 degree plus heat and having to exist on very limited rations.

“You’re eating on average about 2,500 calories a day, but the reality is you’re burning between 5,000 to 7,000, so it was about just trying to manage that as best we could.

“I lost half a stone and I didn’t really have half a stone to lose because I went there quite thin.

“Camp life was very basic and the clothes you wear on day one, you are still wearing them on day seven, so you just have to make do with what you have in the bag on your back.”

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Whilst the race was extremely tough on the body, mentally he found it okay because of the constant business of running, preparing food and taking in the incredible landscapes.

“Your mind was kept very busy,” he explained.

“We weren't just in sand dunes for seven days, there were mountains and canyons and open desert.

“The landscapes were like something from the movies, so there was a kind of general buzz because you didn't know what the next day was going to bring and there was anticipation about that.”

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As well as the varied scenery, he also enjoyed meeting and interacting with participants from across the globe.

“There were people from the UK, France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco and the rest of the world,” he explained.

“In in my tent, I had four young lads from London and one guy from Johannesburg who had been halfway up Mount Everest, an Argentinian lad who walked the entire thing other than the last day and a guy from Manchester.

“We also made friends with the Japanese team and the American guys.

“It was an incredibly mixed collection of folk with some really wild stories to tell."

So far thanks to his MDS efforts and the running festival he ran in Uplawmoor last month, John has coined in well over £2,000 and counting for SAMH this year.

In doing so, he has smashed his original fundraising target of £1,000 with around £500 of the money generated through the running festival.

Barrhead News: This year's Uplawmoor Running Festival was a huge successThis year's Uplawmoor Running Festival was a huge success (Image: Sourced)

“The return of the running festival in Uplawmoor was great,” added John.

“It was our biggest turnout yet.

"We had close to 40 runners this year right across the different age groups.”

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