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Student faces Sand Marathon challenge

Press release issued: 13 March 2003

A fourth year medical student has been training for the past two years to take part in this year's Marathon de Sables, the 'toughest race in the world'.

The Marathon de Sables (Marathon of the Sands) has earned the title of "the toughest footrace on earth." Competitors have to run six marathons in seven days through the Sahara desert, carrying all their own food, equipment and clothing for the week. Who would be brave (mad?) enough to enter such a race? A fourth year medical student at the University of Bristol quietly raises his hand...

Akbar Lalani, 21, has been training intensely for the past two years and will run the race in April this year. He aims to raise £25,000 in sponsorship money for the Madrasa Preschool Programme that supports pre-school education in East Africa.

Akbar was inspired to take on the challenge after seeing a television programme about the race some time ago: "I watched in awe as some of the fittest athletes in the world struggled up and down the monstrous sand dunes and wondered if someone as unathletic as myself could finish the race. I went out for a run that afternoon; after twenty minutes, my legs had turned to jelly and my chest felt like it had broken glass in it."

Two years later, having meticulously followed a self-designed training routine, Akbar recently completed a 50 kilometre run carrying 15 kilograms through the difficult terrain of the Brecon Beacons. He ran the entire distance at night in just eight hours. "Such rigorous training has allowed me to develop the mental stamina I hope will allow me to complete the Sand Marathon," he added.

Aside from the personal challenge, Akbar entered the Marathon des Sables to raise money for the Madrasa Preschool Programme, an initiative run by the Aga Khan Foundation, a registered development charity, which aims to deliver quality pre-school education in East Africa.

Akbar said: "I was attracted to this particular project because of the enormous impact a very small sum of money can have. A child who receives education early in life is more likely to go on to further education and less likely to have health problems. The cost of sending one child to pre-school for a whole year is just £5. For the cost of a couple of drinks or a cinema ticket you can dramatically change someone's life for the better.

"In addition, there is a fund matching scheme provided by a body of funding partners such as the European Commission and the British government so that for every £5 donated, the programme actually receives £20. So just a little really does go a long way!"

Akbar has set up a web site, which describes in more detail the Marathon des Sables and the Madrasa Pre-school Programme and has a secure facility to sponsor him via credit or debit card. Also on the web site, will be a race diary updated daily from the desert, allowing readers to follow his progress from the comfort of their armchairs. The race will run from April 6 to April 13 2003.

"The Marathon des Sables holds many unknowns for me," says Akbar. "One thing that's certain is that the race will test the absolute limits of my physical, mental and emotional capabilities. This is the toughest race in the world, and I urge people to sponsor me so that the pain and personal sacrifice I endure in running the race will not be in vain."

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