Marathon man rolls back the years

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Ex-squaddie Ricky Hardman insists he’s not daunted by the prospect of taking on the world’s toughest foot-race.

The 42-year-old’s confidence in his ability to complete the 156-mile Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert is not without foundation either.

Twenty years ago he joined army colleagues on a marathon relay which took them all the way from wartorn Bosnia back to their Maidstone base.

He said: “In my mind I know I can do it. I’ve dealt with everything involved in the Marathon des Sables at some point in my army career - the distance, the heat and having to carry my own kit. I’m 20 years older now though so my body might disagree!

“These days I’m a crane operator for Hewden. It’s not a very mobile job and I just fancied a challenge. I’ve always been into stuff like this and I’ve been putting in 80 miles a week in training.”

Back in the mid 1990s, Ricky, of Portico, was part of a 10-strong team of soldiers who took on a 1,000-mile relay running challenge from Bosnia to the UK.

The team took it in turns to drive, navigate and run and used a camper van which had been donated by well-wishers.

As if it wasn’t already hard enough, the challenge got tougher and tougher as four of the team ended up dropping out.

Kind-hearted organisers even arranged for the soldiers to have to carry on running on a treadmill while crossing the English Channel on a ferry!

Ricky admits he was a bit miffed when he found out that Saints legend Paul Sculthorpe had also signed up for this year’s Marathon des Sables - as he wanted to be the first St Helens man ever to complete the course.

But, while Scully is set to call in a few favours to do some training in a heat chamber at Liverpool John Moores University, Ricky is doing all his preparation at his local council gym!

He said: “The hardest thing for me has been trying to fit my training around my full-time job. I sometimes works 12 to 14-hour days, so getting enough training in has been difficult.

“I’ve got to go up to Scotland on a job until the week before I go too, which will make things even tougher. I don’t think my body knows what’s hit it. I’ve picked up a few niggling injuries which have hampered me too.”

Ricky is set to take on the Marathon des Sables to raise vital funds for the local Helen Marie Friends charity.

He will not only be joined on the start line by Paul Sculthorpe either - explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes is also set to take on this year’s challenge.

Ricky added: “I wasn’t planning to do it for charity but a colleague told me about Helen Marie and how every penny goes to the charity. They were the perfect fit.”