Graduate ready for ‘toughest footrace on earth’

A University of Dundee graduate is to take on the endurance feat of a lifetime by running an ultra-marathon in the baking heat of the Sahara Desert.Stewart Bell will experience temperatures of up to 50 degrees centigrade as he attempts to run more than 150 miles across shifting sand dunes and white-hot salt plains.

The Dubai-based architect, who graduated with a Masters in Architecture from Dundee’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in 2007, will have just seven days to complete the six gruelling stages of the Marathon Des Sables, all whilst carrying his own supplies.

The 35-year-old, originally from Alva in Clackmannanshire, is running the ultra-marathon to raise funds for charity MND Scotland and says that an experience during his studies at the University of Dundee encouraged him to undertake this latest adventure.

“In my final Masters year we took a study trip to Egypt’s Western Desert,” he said.

“We were investigating traditional desert architecture and camping under the stars every night really gave me a taste of desert life.

“I made lifelong friends at Dundee and just as we finished, a group of us set off on a fundraising walk along the West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way – 175 miles from Glasgow to Inverness – in memory of our friend Hugh Williams, a fellow student who passed away in the summer after our third year.

“It may have been more leisurely than the Marathon Des Sables, but it certainly made me want to try another expedition.”

Dubbed ‘the toughest footrace on earth’, around 1,300 competitors are expected to take to Friday’s start line in Morocco.

With water supplies strictly rationed, racers will run, walk and climb their way across more than 150 miles of the Sahara, sleeping overnight in communal tents.

To help him complete the gruelling challenge, Stewart is seeking motivation from memories of his grandfather and aunt, both who lost their lives to Motor Neurone Disease, prompting his decision to raise funds for the charity MND Scotland, which supports people living with the condition.

Acknowledging the magnitude of the challenge that awaits him, Stewart said that his biggest fear has nothing to do with the gruelling conditions he is about to face.

“I’m not a natural runner, but I love the outdoors and this will be a huge adventure for me,” he added.

“I’ve been training since last summer, beach running in Dubai and trail running back in Scotland, including a couple of ultra-marathons.

“I know this will be really hard, but my biggest fear is getting injured out in the desert.

“I can cope with the heat, blisters and exhaustion, but I’ve put so much into preparing for this that if I sustained an injury that forced me to withdraw then it would be devastating.”

Anybody wishing to contribute to Stewart’s fundraising efforts can do so by visiting

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