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Ultramarathon effort for autism

Press release issued: 6 April 2005

Two Bristol medical students leave tomorrow for Morocco where they will start the 20th Marathon Des Sables.

Two Bristol medical students, Tommy While and Ross Spackman, and their team-mate, Trudi Knight from Chippenham, leave tomorrow for Morocco where they will start the 20th Marathon Des Sables at 11am on Saturday 9 April. The event is a 150-mile ultramarathon in six stages over 7 days –  the equivalent of 6 marathons.

Tommy and Ross are both third year medical students at Bristol University. Trudi is an ex power-lifter and mother of two.

This year, 795 competitors form 25 countries take on some of the harshest terrain on the planet, from huge dunes to rocky flats, in intense heat.  Midday temperatures can reach 120°F and are close to freezing at night.  As if that wasn’t hard enough, the runners have to carry all the food and equipment (except water) that they need for the whole event.

The three, calling themselves ‘Team Extreme’, are sponsored by NatWest and have been training since last June for the event.

Ross said: "The training has been tough but hours of running in the cold will soon pay off, and at last I can get rid of the woolly hat."

Training has included marathons over Exmoor and a 50 mile run in the snow along the Ridgeway. 

Tommy said: "I just can’t wait to see the desert. We’re all excited and a bit nervous because it’s the challenge of a lifetime.  I’m sure once we’re on the start-line with 150 miles of sand to go the nerves will go and the adrenaline will kick in!"

The team hope to raise well over £10,000 for the National Autistic Society and are already on their way thanks to kind sponsorship from NatWest.  The link with the charity is Tommy’s younger brother who is one of more than half a million people in the UK with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

For those wishing to find out more or sponsor the team should contact them via their website or email

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