Running through books #2: Heat by Ranulph Fiennes

They say you should never meet your heroes. And in the case of me and Ranulph Fiennes, I think they would be probably correct. Intimidating doesn’t cover it.

Fiennes’ racing in 2015′ Marathon des Sables

This is the man who got a nasty case of frostbite while on expedition and, when he was in too much pain to wait out the required five months before the doctor could remove his fingers, performed self-amputation in his garden shed. With a micro-saw.

This is the man who in 2003, mere months after having a double-heart bypass, agreed to run seven marathons in seven continents in seven days.

This is the man who entered and completed the Marathon des Sables, notoriously the toughest foot race in the world, aged 71, making him the oldest Briton to complete it.

Frankly, I’d be terrified of meeting the guy. You don’t get to be the first person to cross Antarctica on foot by being cuddly.

(I also discovered while writing this post that he was also once a patron of UKIP – and even though he abandoned the party over their stance on leaving the EU, which he called “utterly stupid” – I imagine we would still have a slight difference of political opinion.)


I’ve never even seriously considered signing up to one (give me another year or so), but ultra marathons intrigue me no end. Reading about the hardships that people put their bodies through is endlessly fascinating, and more so because it’s in a sport that isn’t crowded with huge salaries and audiences hanging on your every win. Sure, there is glory out there, but only in a small – though rapidly growing – arena.

The average person on the street knows exactly who Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe and Usain Bolt are. Names who can draw millions of eyes to their events, and fill stadiums. Who outside of running circles and keen sports readers has heard of Dean Karnazes, Lizzy Hawker, Scott Jurek? But in the ultra marathon world they’re legends, crowd pleasers and very distinctive personalities.

It was this fascination which led me to Heat, Ranulph Fiennes’ latest memoir, published after he completed the Marathon des Sables.

But if you’re thinking about reading it for an in-depth account of the MdS, then you’ll be disappointed – the race is confined to the final chapter, with only the most perfunctory coverage of Fiennes’ multiple blisters and health scares during the six-day trek.


Instead the book recounts the explorer’s other adventures in swelteringly hot countries, mainly centred around his time in the Sultan of Oman’s army, soldiering in the inhospitable Arabian deserts long before modern Dubai and its many glittering towers rose from the sand.

It probably helps if you have a basic knowledge of Middle Eastern politics to really get a grip on who was fighting who and why, but Fiennes’ prose pulls you along well enough, while his exploits – from the plan to blow up a film set, to a treacherous quest to find the source of the Nile – might give you dangerous ideas about your next holiday.

The book certainly gives you an interesting insight into the mind of someone who would attempt to trek solo and unsupported to the North Pole, and volunteer for such an thankless task as fighting insurgents in the notorious deserts of the Arabian peninsula.

I might not want to actually meet the man, but I’m happy to admire from a distance.


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