Tom Aikens is taking on what has been described as the toughest foot race on earth: six marathons in five days across the Sahara Desert. James Stagg asked him what made him want to take on such a challenge
Caterer What is the Marathon des Sables?
Tom Aikens It's an "ultra marathon" held in Morocco, taking place from 2 to 12 April. Basically it involves running six marathons inside five days across the Sahara. About 800 people are doing it.
Each competitor also has to be completely self-sufficient - the only things provided are water and salt tablets. I'll be carrying all the freeze-dried food I need as well as first aid and safety equipment. So the backpack will be 8-10kg. It's over one marathon every day.
Caterer What made you take up such an extreme challenge?
TA Perhaps I'm a bit more insane than the average person. It will be anything between 35-45°C. On an average marathon you will burn just over 3,000 calories but out there it will be closer to 5,000. We'll be running not only on sand and bedrock but dunes too, which will be hard going.
Caterer Which charity are you running for?
TA I'll be raising money for Facing Africa, a charity concerned with the prevention and cure of NOMA (an acute and ravaging gangrenous infection affecting the face). There's no actual cure other than surgery which is obviously expensive. This is where the charity comes in.
Caterer Apart from the distance, what will be the biggest challenges?
TA With the sand getting into shoes there is the chance of really bad foot injuries. It really is an intense challenge both physically and mentally. Boredom plays a big part. After three or four hours running just surrounded by sand it will become really monotonous.
Caterer How will you deal with the heat?
TA Hopefully being a chef working in a hot kitchen will have helped but it will still be hard. You really have to be conscious of taking enough salt and liquid and eating enough food. You obviously carry the minimum amount of food to keep the weight down as much as possible. I'll need a minimum of 2,500 calories worth of food a day but over each stage I will probably burn double that so I'll obviously loose weight during the race.
Caterer I imagine you'll take some time off to recover
TA No chance. I'm back on 12 April and am straight back to work on 14 April.
Caterer On a lighter note when will we see you on Iron Chef?
TA That will be broadcast at the end of April. It's a great programme and concept. I haven't done much television so what was exciting was that you could do what you like. You have to do everything from scratch, but as long as it's within the time it's all right. Because of that it gives a real impression of what it's like to work in a proper kitchen, with the stress and pressure.
To sponsor Tom Aikens visit http://bit.ly/y4vXh