Desert race set to test farmers’ chief to the limit

NFU Yorkshire director Barney Kay
NFU Yorkshire director Barney Kay
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Like most of the region’s farmers, Barney Kay is more than acquainted with physically exhausting work in unrelenting elements.

But the northern director of the National Farmers Union is now gearing up for a completely different set of elements and challenges which will test his endurance to the absolute limit.

Mr Kay, based at the NFU’s York offices, is preparing to take part in the Marathon de Sables, one of the toughest endurance events in the world.

The six-day, 151-mile run across the Sahara Desert in Morocco, in April, will see him swap the pouring English rain and rolling hills of Yorkshire for the sand-dunes and blistering sun of desert Africa.

Like the farmers he works for across the region, he is currently shivering with the snow and ice but in just two short months Mr Kay will be battling temperatures pushing 50 degrees Celsius.

During the race he will have to carry all his own water, food and supplies as he tackles the unenviable task of running the equivalent of a marathon a day.

It is all being done in support of the Farm Africa charity which helps provide infrastructure support to poor farmers in the continent, a cause dear to Mr Kay’s heart, having spent time in the region and seen the vital work it performs.

In preparation, he has put himself through a gruelling training programme, which has seen him cover scores of miles each week. While the rest of us were eating our turkey on Christmas day, he was out running a half-marathon.

Despite the demands of the training, however, he is now raring to go.

“There’s a two-year waiting list for it,” he told the Yorkshire Post. “I’ve been wanting to do it for ages, it’ something which has always been at the back of my mind.”

Mr Kay is no running novice. He completed the London Marathon in 2001 but admits that “seems like a long-time ago now”.

“I am going to have to run 150 miles in 40 to 50-degree heat. You have to carry everything and it equates to pretty much a marathon a day.

“You have to do it in six days. It will involve running across sand dunes with a few flattened stretches. I am expecting some simply amazing vistas.”

The race is so challenging the actual route will not be determined until very close to the event itself, due to the ever-changing terrain of the desert.

Mr Kay’s primary focus now is on preparations for the run.

“There will be something like 700-800 people doing it and places are pretty limited, so at least I will be with others in the same boat,” he said.

“There are a few water stops but we will be carrying as much water as we can.”

The toll of running so many miles through red-hot sand will invariably be tough but Mr Kay has found unexpected solace from his background in agriculture.

“There is a product you can use for your feet which is similar to one that is used for sheep, it turns them into a tough yet supple leather.

“My biggest problem is my knees, it’s the one thing I’m losing sleep over. I know my knee will try to let me down. I’ve had this kind of thing before. Aerobically I should be fine.

“It is often sold as the toughest race in the world, I am looking forward to it.

“The aim is just to get as many miles in beforehand as I can. I am working with 50-plus miles a week at the moment.

“On previous races I’ve always been obsessing about my time but this year I am simply going to run at my own pace.”

Naturally the frozen landscapes of Yorkshire do not provide the best conditions for training for an endurance event in Saharan Africa.

“It is not the best climate for training for this in, given that we have had any sunshine for a while,” he added.

“I am looking at socks which wrap around your toes individually. Getting your feet right makes all the difference.”

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