Feeling the burn for charity

Father and daughter Clive and Holly Millar from the Scottish Borders are running the extreme desert marathon Marathon Des Sables (MdS) in aid of Cancer Research and Dementia UK.
Father and daughter Clive and Holly Millar from the Scottish Borders are running the extreme desert marathon Marathon Des Sables (MdS) in aid of Cancer Research and Dementia UK.

A Scottish Borders farmer and his daughter are on a year-long countdown to take on one of the world’s toughest physical challenges.

Clive and Holly Millar, of West Foulden Farm in Berwickshire are already in training to run six marathons in six consecutive days – with a 50 to 60-mile run dropped in on the middle day for good measure.

But this fundraising feat will not be undertaken in the hospitable environment of the beautiful Borders.

Instead the adventurous duo will travel almost 3000 miles to push themselves to the limit under the baking sun and unforgiving terrain of the Sahara Desert.

And if 120 degree heat and endless sand dunes were not enough, Clive and Holly will also be carrying everything they need for a week’s survival on their backs.

“Everyone thinks we are mad,” said Clive, an arable and poultry farmer who also has farmland in Coldstream and Kelso.

“It’s a serious challenge but we’re giving ourselves a year to prepare and I think we’ll need it.

“I wouldn’t have done this alone and I don’t think Holly would have either so it’s nice that we’re doing it together and will be there to push each other on.”

Holly, a 25-year-old podiatrist now based in North Yorkshire, said: “We have always been a sporty family.

“My mum Hazel is a PE teacher and my dad, who used to play rugby for Kelso, has run marathons and completed the Ironman.

“We also ran a marathon together as a family.

“But we’ve never done anything like this.

“In the summer, my aunt, Gillian Robertson, died aged 56 after battling cancer, and that really hit us hard. My grandpa also has dementia so we decided we wanted to raise awareness and as much money as possible.

“My dad heard about this challenge – it’s madness, basically.”

In exactly a year’s time, the Millars will fly from Heathrow to the African region of Ouarzazate.

Nicknamed the Doorway of the Desert, the area lies in central-south Morocco and is a four-hour drive from the starting point of the extreme desert challenge, Marathon Des Sables.

The event, which has been called the toughest foot race on earth, is a six-day multi-stage 250km ultra run in the Sahara.

Apart from being supplied with rationed water, competitors are fully self-sufficient for the duration, carrying all their essentials with them.

Holly and Clive, who will take part in the 33rd edition of the marathon, are aiming to run as much of the route as possible, in the hope of raising thousands of pounds for Cancer Research UK and Dementia UK.

Holly said: “One of the reasons we started preparing a year in advance is because 20 per cent of participants don’t make it to the starting line because of poor training.

“We want to give ourselves lots of time and are setting ourselves milestones along the way.

“By the end of next month, we hope to have done a 30-mile run. That will be longer than I’ve ever run before, so it will be good to get that under my belt.

“Then by the end of August, we’re hoping to have done the 50-mile run.

“We also have to build up the weight of the backpack we are carrying.

“We think that we will be running with between 13 and 15 kilogrammes on our backs in the Sahara.

“We recently ran 16 miles with just 3.5 kilograms on our backs and I was surprised how hard that was, but we will build it up.”

Clive said: “We have run 26-miles before but we’ve never done it day after day.

“I think acclimatisation will be the biggest problem.

“We’ll be training in the Borders and Yorkshire which obviously has a different climate and just before we go, we’ll also be coming out of the winter months at home.

“So when we’re training, we’ll be wearing extra clothes, taking hot baths and going to the sauna.”

And Holly joked: “If you see two numpties running while dressed in desert gear, give us a toot!”

Despite the challenges that await both body and mind, it is a challenge close to Clive’s and Holly’s heart.

“We still have family and friends affected by cancer,” added Holly.

“When you have been training and you’re sore, you think about the people who go through so much more with their illnesses and they come through it with a smile on their face.”

To follow Holly and Clive’s training, use the handle desert_thistles on Twitter and Instagram.

A fundraising site will be set up later this year, but anyone interested in sponsorship can email Holly at ah_millar@hotmail.co.uk.