Cancer sufferer prepares for his part in toughest race on earth

Dean Clifford
Dean Clifford
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Dean Clifford is used to pushing himself to the limit.

His hobby is summiting unclimbed mountains, but now he is taking on his biggest challenge yet.

Two years ago Dean, 39, from York was diagnosed with thyroid cancer which had spread to his lungs and skull.

He had just returned from a climbing expedition to Kyrgyzstan where he got to name two previously unclimbed mountains.

“It was a couple of weeks after we got back and my wife said that I had a lump on my neck, I thought it had been there for ages but she suggested that I get it checked out.”

Dean’s doctors wasn’t unduly worried but decided to send him for an ultrasound scan which revealed a lump the size of an apple in his throat.

“I had absolutely no idea. I felt fine and had no discomfort.”

When the tumour was removed from Dean’s thyroid it was found to be malignant and had also spread to his lungs and skull.

“I had to undergo four lots of radiotherapy which meant I had to spend four days in isolation at St James’s each time.”

Dean is so grateful for all the treatment he has received in Leeds and York that he decided he wanted to give something back. And what better way than tackling what has been dubbed the toughest foot race in the world, the Marathon des Sables.

“I am used to pushing myself both mentally and physically and I suppose this is the ultimate.”

Dean is running two marathons a week in preparation for the event in April. It will see him run the equivalent of nearly a marathon a day for six days across the Sahara Desert.

He is more than aware of the challenges ahead but feels it is something he needs to do.

“Temperatures could in excess of 40 degrees and we have to carry everything on our backs so I have been practising running marathons with a backpack on which is tough.

“But we are training in winter so nothing can prepare me for the heat I am going to experience and all the risks that brings with it, such as dehydration.

“I have done running before but nothing like this endurance event. The risk is that if you set off too quickly then by day three or four you have nothing left. It really is a case of pushing yourself to the limit both mentally and physically. I’m used to that but even my wife says I have gone a bit far this time.”

Dean, a plumbing and heating engineer, has been in training with a friend who has done the Marathon des Sables eight times and so has been giving him some top tips.

“A lot of people don’t even managed to finish the event and for others it is just a case of getting to the end. But I am competitive and I am aware this is a race. I want to finish but I don’t want to have walked the whole way.”

As well as the dehydration, other dangers include snakes and scorpions as Dean will be sleeping under a tarpaulin in the desert.

“We have to carry a venom pack with us at all times in case we get bitten,” he says.

Dean is aiming to raise at least £3,000 for Cancer Research UK.

“While I have been getting treatment for my cancer I have seen so many people much poorlier than me. I just want to raise some money to help the research into cancer.”

Dean still has to undergo scans to see whether his cancer has returned.

“I have another scan at the end of February as they think the tumour in my lungs might have started to grow again.

“But whatever they find I am still going to take part in the Marathon des Sables.”

Anyone who wants to sponsor Dean should visit www.justgiving.com/dean-clifford

Race equivalent to six marathons

The Marathon des Sables is a race across 151 miles of the Sahara Desert run over six days – the equivalent of nearly six regular marathons. Temperatures reach in excess of 40 degrees and in addition to that, competitors have to carry everything they will need for the duration (apart from a tent) on their backs in a rucksack (food, clothes, medical kit, sleeping bag etc). Water is rationed and handed out at each checkpoint. It is run ever year and has been dubbed the toughest foot race on earth. While some take part to win, others compete just to complete it.

www.sahara marathon.co.uk