He's the real live 007

He's the real live 007

Spare a thought for Sir Ranulph Fiennes as he turned 71 earlier this month. A chap in his eighth decade might reasonably expect a day of celebration with family and friends, featuring large quantities of agreeable food and quite possibly a libation or several.

Instead Ranulph’s day will be dominated by one event, exactly like every Saturday since last August – a minimum four-hour run, perhaps on Exmoor or the sand dunes of Merthyr Mawr, 20 miles west of Cardiff (Wales). But he will have no time to be exhausted, as he must bank another four-hour run on Sunday.

Having led 22 major expeditions to the extremities of the globe, the man generally acclaimed as the world’s greatest living explorer is one month away from being the oldest Briton ever to complete the Marathon des Sables. The toughest foot race on earth requires him to run 156 miles over six days in the 50-degree heat of the Sahara, carrying everything he needs on his back.

All for a good cause

Despite two heart attacks, a double heart bypass, a cancer operation and diabetes, Ranulph is aiming to raise £2.5m for UK charity Marie Curie, to provide more free care and support to people living with a terminal illness, and their families, across the UK. “There will be no cake or treats for my birthday this year,” says Ranulph. But he doesn’t mind that so much as the dreary business of getting older. “At 50, everything still worked perfectly well.

Running was running; it hadn’t descended into jogging or shuffling. I’m degenerating. If you train a lot when you’re getting on a bit, you find things start aching. You think you can give yourself a couple of days off, but you’re not meant to. Last Sunday, things were making themselves felt after my four-hour stint. In the old days that would never happen. But I can’t give up.”

Not true, of course. He could give up. But he won’t, and he will complete the race, according to his trainer Rory Coleman, veteran of 890 marathons and 11 Marathons des Sables. “Ran is the ideal person to coach,” reports Rory, 53. “He does what I tell him and he has no off switch. You point him in the right direction and he keeps going for ever. He’s fitter than most men of 40.

Very early we did a lot of lab tests to check out his heart, stress testing, blood tests – the lot. I don’t want to be the person who kills off a national institution. He’s a real live 007. He’s climbed Everest, traversed Polar ice caps. He is not interested in failing, or being the second to do anything. He is absolutely focused. And I love him to bits.”

It cannot be said that Ranulph is looking forward to the race. He functions perfectly in sub-zero temperatures, but has a profound dread of heat. “I won’t worry about being last, so long as I complete it,” he declares. “It is said that a Frenchman in his 80s was the oldest to do the race, but we’re not quite sure that he did complete it, so we’re finding out. I don’t care really. What matters is that I’m the first Brit.” So spare him a thought. He would thank you for it – but he would thank you more if you spared something a little more tangible for Marie Curie, too.

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