Last week, Jack Folkestone achieved something beyond words.
He completed the Marathon des Sables 2021, regarded worldwide as ‘the toughest footrace on earth’.
Not only that, but he finished 32nd out of 753 competitors. He was the 6th British competitor to finish and 1st in his age group.
Moreover, so far, including Gift Aid, he has raised £50,000 for Horatio’s Garden!
The Marathon des Sables is an epic ultramarathon which involves running six marathons in five days and all in the blistering heat of The Sahara Desert. Two of the marathons are run in one day, meaning Jack traversed over 82 kilometres of impossible terrain in the space of 24 hours. In fact, he took just 15 hours to make it over the finish line.
Jack was due to take on this incredible challenge back in April 2020, however due to Coronavirus the 35th edition of the event was postponed to April 2021. It was then postponed again to this October, meaning 22 year-old Jack has now been training for over two and a half years; constantly prepared, before being understandably let down at the last minute.
With the run put back to October, temperatures were consistently higher than usual, with every day of Jack’s extraordinary feat being completed in temperatures of over 50 degrees.
Despite having never run a marathon before and all the adversity Jack’s faced, he was totally set on completing the challenge to raise vital funds for the charity. Throughout his thoughts have been with patients and their loved ones facing extraordinarily difficult times adjusting to spinal cord injuries, something which motivated him to continue with his training and in the race’s toughest moments.
He has also been totally dedicated to completing the challenge too after so many people generously donated and left countless supportive messages on his JustGiving page. Jack, his family and we have all been overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness and we are immensely grateful to all those who thoughtfully donated.
There is of course still time to donate too!
Like us, many of you have been following Jack’s progress on his Instagram page, where a team back here in the UK have been posting daily updates about his monumental adventure.
However, for those of you wondering how his week went, here’s a little chronicle of what he got up to in the desert.
Standing at 6ft 5” and emblazoned with his running number, 543, Jack was easy to spot amongst the pro runners throughout this year’s Marathon des Sables!
He crossed the finish line on day one in 52nd place, 1st in his age group, starting the week by conserving his energy as much as possible for the mammoth task still ahead of him.
Having completed his first marathon, he was in good spirits and was pleased with his result.
We’ve since learned that his shoelaces also snapped during this first leg, meaning he continued on with shoes full of sand. As he put it in one of his emails to home, “nowhere to buy spare laces in the desert, Mum!”
Having finished in 52nd place the day before, Jack was going into his second marathon in a strong position.
However, his family and all of us at home couldn’t quite believe it when he managed to claw his way up to coming 23rd on the second day of the race! This put Jack into 26th overall, leaving everyone feeling enormously proud of his efforts.
In terms of fundraising, his total had also increased by £1,000 at this point, putting the grand amount raised at over £35,500!
Nevertheless, there was still a little way to go until he reached his ambitious £40,000 target, something which spurred him on into day three…
Jack continued to sit comfortably in the top 50, up there with the 150 pro runners taking part and maintaining his position despite there being over 700 athletes involved.
After finishing so high in the rankings, he was going into stage four starting with the professionals; a major deal as day four is the most demanding, with competitors running two marathons in one day, equivalent to 82.5 kilometers.
Day three was also a really difficult one, but thanks to everyone’s enormously kind messages and thoughtful donations, Jack remained positive, sending the following email to those closest to him:
‘Thank you so much for the email updates. They help me so much, you would not believe. It is my only contact with the outside world! With it normally meant to be in April, no one expected it to be this hot! Every day has been over 50 degrees! It is sweltering but I am feeling good. Not quite sure where I am coming but I am keeping up with some of the pros! Think I might even be in the top 50, how cool is that, seeing as there are like 150 pro runners! Love the fundraising updates, they are keeping me motivated and push me every day! Sending my love to you and everyone at home. I am safe and not ill at all by the way, so no need to panic! I will make it back in one piece. 82.5km tomorrow! Gonna be a big one and I am going to smash it! Keep the fundraising people updated as I am sure you will and let them know I am going to smash this race! Top 50 here we come!’
Double marathon day.
With three marathons already under his belt, Jack was ready to face his biggest challenge yet.
Setting off at 11am BST in scorching temperatures of over 50 degrees, Jack was remarkably still running at 21:45pm BST. Nearly 11 hours into the 82.5km journey, he continued to make good ground and was keeping pace with the pro leaders of the stage.
He ran through the night, crossing the finish line of his second marathon of the day in just over 15 hours. Phenomenally, he was still holding onto his top 50 place, one that was most certainly more than deserved.
In recognition of his astounding achievement, the donations continued to flood in, with the hope being that Jack would successfully reach his £40,000 fundraising target either before or after the final stage of the race.
After running through the night, day five is designated as a rest day, with all the runners taking time to recover ahead of the final marathon on day six.
It was confirmed that Jack was coming 36th in the race after his staggering performance in stage 4, meaning he was once again starting with the pros going into the final phase of the event.
He sent a funny email home telling everyone that the pro runners looked very bemused every time Jack asked them what charity they were representing! It seems no one was expecting a fundraising newcomer to be on the professional start line, but they were most certainly pleased to have him there and Jack made many new friends from across the globe throughout the week.
By the end of the day, Jack was within touching distance of his target, with his JustGiving total rapidly rising to £39,545.
The runner’s sixth and final marathon commenced at 9:30am BST and it was an incredible spectacle to see everyone making their way over the start line.
Just a few hours later, Jack was crossing the Marathon des Sables 2021 finish line, placing 32nd overall, which was the unexpected icing on the cake and a testament to all his training and hard work over the past two and a half years!
Amazingly, by the time he accomplished his inconceivable adventure, Jack not only looked totally fine, but he had also successfully reached and far surpassed his £40,000 fundraising target! By this point he’d raised over £43,600 and it continued to climb all over the weekend.
Whilst the race was officially over, it’s Marathon des Sables tradition to get involved in an extra ‘fun’ charity race the day after completion, which is roughly 7 kilometres; just enough to finish off everyone’s legs!
Jack naturally took part and as he was busy making his final meander through the dunes, countless others were busy leaving comments and donations as a show of support for his awe-inspiring performance.
Jack has earned his place as a true Marathon des Sables and Horatio’s Garden legend.
We have been astonished by his commitment to the charity, by his extraordinary heart and determination to help people across the UK and by his continual kindness and appreciation of all those who of have generously donated.
It’s one thing to complete the ‘toughest footrace on earth’, but it’s quite another to do it humbly and with unwavering good grace.
Thank you, Jack.
You have achieved something truly extraordinary and we all wish you huge congratulations!
Jack in the Press
If you would like to hear Jack and his mother, Lady Radnor, talk about his Marathon des Sables adventure on
BBC Radio Wiltshire, please click here.
You’ll find their interview approximately 1:53:04 into the programme.
If you would like to read more about Jack’s adventure on the LoveSalisbury website, please click here.