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Sahara marathon man leading outdoor activities on Gower

A fitness fanatic who's conquered the world's toughest footrace is back leading children on Gower outdoor adventures.

Tony Rees (Marathon des Sables)

Tony Rees, a senior instructor in Swansea Council's Outdoor Activity Service, recently completed the Marathon des Sables in the baking heat of the Sahara Desert in Africa.

The Marathon des Sables, an annual race that started in 1986, is widely considered to be the hardest footrace on the planet. Covering about 250km over six days, the race takes place in southern Morocco.

Tony, a 36-year-old former pupil of Glan Afan Comprehensive School in Port Talbot, finished in about 600th place out of 1,200 competitors.

The dad-of-three said: "When I was at school, I was told I was never going to excel academically, so I decided that I wanted to physically excel instead by pushing myself to the limit.

"I've been on climbing, trekking and kayaking trips in places like Nepal and Yosemite National Park in the past, but this was the first time I'd entered the Marathon des Sables - a race I'd been obsessed with since I first found out about it in the 1990s. 

"It was extremely physically challenging, with daytime temperatures getting up to about 50 degrees Celsius, but it was definitely worth it because of the scenery and the people I met who were also doing the race. It was an extremely varied group of competitors, including two world renowned lung surgeons and a hugely successful businessman who'd retired in his twenties. Even though we were competing against one-another, we'd look out for each-other too, making sure everyone was hydrated and had enough food. During the race, we'd carry our food, sleeping bags and first aid equipment with us.

"I did suffer from heat exhaustion during the first few days of the race, which meant I didn't place as well as I'd hoped at the finish. My plan now is to do it again and finish in the top 200."

Tony was following in the footsteps of Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell and explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who have also completed the gruelling race in the past.

An arduous training regime saw Tony pounding the pavements at all times of the day and night.

Tony said: "With work and three children, it was hard at times to fit the training in, so sometimes I'd finish my runs at 3am, or other times I'd be leaving in the middle of the night to get back home in time for breakfast. My training runs would range from anything between 8km and marathons, and my springer spaniel, Beau, would often come with me."

Some of the lessons Tony's learned are now benefitting hundreds of children who use Gower's Activity Centres at Rhossili and Port Eynon every year to take part in fun activities like rock climbing, abseiling, surfing and coasteering.

Tony said: "I actually visited the Gower Activity Centres as a child and it changed my life. I couldn't believe that you could take part in all sorts of exciting outdoor adventures so close to home, so I've now got my dream job because I'm responsible for planning the activities and introducing a new generation of children to all the fun.

"Experiences like the Marathon des Sables definitely help in my work. Some children may be a little sceptical about whether they can take part in some of the outdoor activities at first, but I know all too well how great you feel when you've broken down your barriers and have reached the other side. The Gower Activity Centres really are fantastic places to introduce people of all ages to the joys of the great outdoors."

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