This weekend, when most of us will be digging into chocolate eggs and hot cross buns, Melbourne man Graham Plant will set off on the epic adventure of a lifetime. This is not your average trip to Morocco that most of us would plan. This is travel with purpose.
Graham will embark on the equivalent of running five and a half marathons over six days in the Sahara Desert as he takes part in the Marathon Des Sables. Touted as the toughest footrace in the world, Graham is doing so to raise money for Alzheimer’s Australia, in honour of his late mother who passed away from the disease in 2013.
As a close friend of Graham’s, we are following his journey and know that the prevalence of this disease means that many of you are affected by someone living with Alzheimer’s also.
Graham is a runner, a traveller, a CEO, a husband, father and a son. He has committed to the race in the name of all of those titles and we sat down with him to find out more and to share his story with you.
1. I have been stuck on how to start this interview… All I can think of is WHY would anyone want to take on the “the toughest footrace in the world” in one of the most inhospitable places in the world?
About five or six years ago my mum, Cathy, became one of the many Australian’s fighting dementia, having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Sadly Mum passed away in late 2013.
She was diagnosed in her early 70’s and the onset of dementia was reasonably rapid; it was not long before she had to be moved into a permanent care facility while my Dad remained in the family home that he and Mum shared for over 40 years. Mum never liked the facility she was moved to and she didn’t like being away from her home. Don’t get me wrong, the people at the aged care home were lovely and Mum made some new friends and received regular visitors – but it wasn’t her home and it was not where she wanted to be.
It’s tough when someone close to you is living with dementia and you see them struggling to remember things or complete tasks that were once simple. There appears to be nothing you can do to fix things or help them. Having seen the devastating impact of this disease on someone special to me, I would not wish to see anyone suffer as my Mum did.
Since mum was diagnosed I’ve become more actively involved with Alzheimer’s Australia. My first effort was to run a marathon to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Australia and I was successful in raising a few thousand dollars. I was fortunate enough to complete this while Mum was alive and still remembered me. Maintaining fitness and healthy lifestyle is important in preventing dementia – so I’m kind of helping myself while fighting for a cause.
I realised then that fund raising for a cause is very humbling experience and I was amazed at just how generous and supportive people can be. That was when I realised how far reaching into the community this disease was. This time I decided to go for something much bigger.
2. So firstly, the challenge. What is ahead of you?
The Marathon des Sables is ranked by the Discovery Channel as the toughest footrace on earth.
Known simply as the MDS, the race is a grueling multi-stage adventure through a formidable landscape in one of the world’s most inhospitable climates – the Sahara desert. The rules require that I will be self-sufficient, to carry with me on my back everything except water that I need to survive. I will be given a place in a tent to sleep at night, but any other equipment and food must be carried.
Started in 1986 by Patrick Bauer, the 2015 race will be the 30th consecutive year. Places are expensive but much sought after. Under the scorching Moroccan sun, life-long friendships are fostered through a shared experience of unforgettable days spent running across saltpans, up desert-mountains, through ruined towns and through the occasional sand storm – testing mind, body and spirit.
Over seven days I will traverse the Sahara desert with nothing but rolling sand dunes for miles around. There is sand, mountains, rocky terrain and some of the toughest conditions in the world. They say you can’t feel the sweat dripping down your face because it’s evaporating in the baking heat. With temperatures reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees centigrade) this is an endurance event like no other.
When I complete the final stage of the Marathon des Sables, I will have run the equivalent of five and a half marathons in five or six days, a total distance of some 251 km /156 miles
3. Have you ever been to the Sahara desert before? How can you prepare for such a race in such different climatic circumstances?
No I haven’t been to the Sahara desert before – so this is going to be a very unique experience! In preparation I have been trying to find sand dunes, beaches and hot conditions to replicate as much of the condition as possible. Wilsons Prom, Waratah Bay and even the dunes of Portsea have been in the program.
Variety in training is important and I’ve supplemented running with many gym sessions to strengthen my core, back and shoulders for carrying the heavy back pack as well as plenty of leg work.
4. A total of 251 kilometres (equivalent to 5 and a half marathons) in 5 – 6 days… the mind boggles on how this will unfold, are you nervous?
I’m sure I’ll be nervous the day before, but once I’m at the starting line there will be no nerves. You mind moves into planning, action, monitoring and just focusing on the job ahead. The feeling now is more worry about forgetting something or not being able to get my pack sorted. I have faith in myself to do the best I can – what that means I don’t know just yet.
5. When did you start running long distances and why?
My first big distance was the Great Train Race against Puffing Billy in the Dandenong Mountains in Victoria (I’m running it this year as well for the 6th time). John, a mate of mine, convinced me to run it and I trained for it and really struggled up the mountain.
I then thought that maybe I could run a half marathon and ended up running the Gold Coast Half Marathon. While celebrating with some mates, I saw some Marathon runners out for dinner with their finisher’s shirts on – and decided then that I wanted one. Next year I went back to the Gold Coast and ran the marathon.
At the end I swore I would never do it again – that was in 2011. Since then I’ve run many, many marathons, ultra marathons and other events of varying distances. Running is special to me – it’s become more than a hobby, it’s now an intrinsic part of who I am and what I do.
6. How are your fundraising efforts going, how can people show their support?
Fundraising has been very positive with many generous sponsorships and donations being received. I have created a site for The Memory Jogger campaign, where there are links to donate and further information about the cause and the adventure.
7. Are you going alone or do you have a support crew?
The race is a self-sufficient run –which means no support crew to help you along the way. That said, I’ve got a pretty amazing support crew at home in my family and friends. My wife Diane will be joining me for the last leg of the MDS run which is a 10km or so solidarity run coordinated by the organisers for their chosen charity. It’s the last leg of the race and will be a nice way to end the run.
8. You have done countless running races around the world including The Great Wall of China Marathon; you’ve even run through a cyclone in the Tarawera Ultra Marathon and closer to home the Great Ocean Walk Ultra Marathon Trail run – they have obviously taken you to some wonderful places around the world, is this the way you like to travel?
I believe that you really don’t know a place until you’ve run it. Whenever I travel, my runners go with me and I go exploring. I love to travel and I love to seek out new and interesting experiences. Running gives me an excuse to seek out new adventures and hang out with other like-minded people – what could be more fun?
9. Will you take time to explore Morocco after the event? (if you can walk!)
Absolutely. A few days in Morocco pre race and post race will allow some sightseeing and acclimation. After Morocco it’s off to Spain for a couple of weeks – where I’m looking forward to replacing lost kilos with good paella!!
10. What would you say to people thinking about mixing an event with a holiday?
Do it! There are so many amazing events happening all year round that can be the perfect catalyst to take a holiday (not that anyone should need a reason to take a holiday). An event also ensures you’ll get to meet people with the same interests you can share the experience with. You can be sure that I have a few other adventurous events on my radar waiting to be explored.
You can also follow Graham on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thememoryjogger
Graham is hoping to (hopefully) raise around $10,000 for Alzheimer’s Australia for researching the causes, care, prevention and potential treatments for dementia with a view to creating a world without dementia.
Update: Graham raised his target amount and more, thanks to the generosity of his followers, including the Places We Go community. Thank you to each and every one who contributed. PWG x
You can support Graham’s adventure with a cause at http://thememoryjogger.com.au/show-your-support – all donations and support gratefully accepted.