Before last month, Alice Morrison had never run a marathon, and technically, she still hasn’t. Her first major running event was the 2013 Peak District Challenge, a 50K ultra-distance race through the northern portion of her native Derbyshire, England.
She’s not exactly easing in, but given her ultimate goal, it makes sense that she’s skipping some steps.
Come April, Morrison hopes to participate in the Marathon des Sables, “the toughest footrace on Earth,” the United Kingdom’s Buxton Advertiser reports. While plenty of races feature tough terrain and crazy mile counts, the Marathon des Sables (French for “Marathon of the Sands”) may actually be the most daunting of all.
Over the course of six days, participants run six marathons—one of those a double—and as if that weren’t enough, they do so in the Sahara Desert, where temperatures sometimes soar to 50 degrees Celsius, or 122 Fahrenheit. Oh, and they carry their own food and supplies.
“In school I hated sports,” Morrison told the Advertiser. “One of my ambitions is to show people that we can all do great things if we just focus a little bit.”
Her main ambition, however, is raising money for MENCAP, a U.K. charity billed as “the voice of learning disability.” Working closely with sufferers, the agency aims to “change laws, challenge prejudice, and support them to live their lives as they choose.”
While Harrison isn’t exactly an exercise novice—in 2011, she cycled from Cairo to Cape Town in the Tour D’Afrique—she knows that the Marathon des Sables is a different sort of beast. That’s why she’s taking her training “in stages” and starting small—relatively speaking—with things like the Peak District Challenge.
“I wake up every morning and it’s the first thing I ever think about,” she said. “I’m really aware that in order for me to complete this I have to be strong, healthy, and fit, and I have to be used to carrying a ten-kilogram pack.”
It’s a tall order, but she says it’s nothing compared to what the 1.1 million U.K. residents diagnosed with learning disabilities struggle through on a daily basis.
“I’m an ordinary person doing an extraordinary thing, but a lot of people with learning disabilities have to make an extraordinary effort every day,” she said.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg