A Bushey runner who ‘couldn't run a mile’ three years ago will take on the 250km Marathon des Sables ultra marathon across the Sahara Desert next April.
Alistair Flowers, 30, only took up running in 2011 and has entered just one marathon since, finishing the Pisa Marathon in Italy in 3 hours 21 minutes in December, despite suffering with a broken toe and a cold.
Flowers has come a long way in a short time after being tipped into action when a friend offered him a once in a lifetime opportunity out of the blue.
“I started running because I was doing a social work masters at the time. I decided it wasn’t for me and I just walked away from it and I was a bit depressed. Instead of drinking myself into oblivion, my friend decided to present me with a ticket to go and climb a mountain in the Swiss Alps,” explained Flowers.
“He said: ‘You’d better get fit and ready for that’, so I said ‘how do I get fit?’ and he said ‘run, swim, eat well and repeat’.
“So that’s what I did from April 2011 until we went to Switzerland in 2011.”
The mountain climb was a success, in the words of Flowers: ‘just steep hiking really’, and since then, the challenges have kept on coming with Flowers taking on the London 10,000, the Bushey 10k and the Westminster Mile.
On his 31st birthday, Flowers will undertake just his second marathon in Frankfurt, Germany.
Despite his novice status as a runner until recently, Flowers knew of the Marathon des Sables but never expected to take on the prestigious race himself.
He said: “I was already aware of the Marathon des Sables from a book in 2007 which had a pictorial article about the marathon.
“I thought, ‘I’m never going to be able to do that; isn’t it mad people can do that’, then ‘maybe I can do that’, so then I signed up for it and I got a spot.”
Places at the start line are in high demand and by his own admittance, Flowers has been able to secure his place much sooner than he had expected.
“There’s a waiting list. I signed up in September last year and you usually wait for two years,” he said. “I signed up as being interested in 2015 and 2016 and in all honesty, I thought I might get offered to register for 2016.
“I got an email out of the blue after finishing a run from work to Euston to say I’d been invited to pre-register. Registration opened on May 27 at 10am on a first-come-first-served basis, so I was sitting there, poised, at five minutes to ten and I jumped in and put in my details and bang, I got a spot,” Flowers explained.
Flowers is aiming for a top-100 finish or to be in the first 50 Brits to cross the line, targets which he nonchalantly describes as ‘tough’.
Condition specific training began in earnest this week, with Flowers and girlfriend Gabby, who has taken up running since the couple met, travelling to Cornwall for a training trip on Thursday morning.
“I only got my spot three weeks ago, so I’m in the early planning stages,” says Flowers.
“I’m going to Cornwall to run on some beaches and up some sand dunes. I’m in contact with Kingston University about their heat chamber and I’m going to try to book into there.
“It’s an expensive endeavour and I’m self-financing so far, so I’m probably going to have to look into a loan to cover the cost of the equipment and training. It’s a dream and you can’t put a price on a dream.”
Flowers is running all of his races this year to raise money for the London Air Ambulance service and is looking for sponsorship to help fund the cost of the Marathon des Sables. For more information and updates on his progress, visit alistairflowers.wordpress.com.