Feet of Achievement
If only mad dogs and Englishmen venture into the midday sun then Steve Partridge could be considered certifiably insane, running more than 150 miles across the Sahara under a blazing African sun to raise money for charity. In fact, this superman has found a new clarity by pitting himself against the planet’s harshest environments…Extreme marathon runner Steve Partridge has outrun death.
Taking part in a non-stop 150 mile race in the Mauritanian Sahara Desert, the City entrepreneur woke to find he had been accidently left behind in the vast plains of the ‘empty-quarter’. Alone, with just one bottle of water, no map or GPS and 30km of baking hot sand between him and the next checkpoint, Steve had to rely on his nerve and keen internal compass to pick his way through moving dune-scapes in pummelling heat and reach the next stage-point.
“If I got that decision wrong I would be dead. In the desert airplanes have lain undiscovered for fifty years – a dead body would never be found,” says Steve.
These kind of life-edge episodes are the stuff of extreme running; the same race saw Steve held at gunpoint three times in four days, tiptoe through a minefield and take part in an airport riot to board the only plane leaving that week. Why does he do it? Philanthropy for one reason – he and his Sandblasters Team are currently raising £1 million for west London charity Small Steps School for Children that supports kids with cerebral palsy and other forms of motor or sensory impairment. The team of four are taking on Mother Nature at her crabbiest; running six marathons in six days in the hottest, coldest, driest and windiest parts of the planet as well as completing the toughest footrace in the world: the unforgiving Marathon des Sables. To date they have raised £410K and have two more events to go - Atacama and Antarctica.
“This is not to be taken lightly; everyone in the team has been injured, and we still have two events to go,” says Steve. “We started out with four in the team and currently there are two. Gavin Pilcher broke his leg a couple of times, Colin Lyall has had a stroke, I was injured for over two years and Paul Mott finished the Gobi on a fractured shin.”
Such injuries elicit no sympathy, says Steve. In the macho world of elite running these horror stories are simply “good anecdotes” for the rest of the extreme runner group. In fact, injuries are fundraising gold: “We add interest by raising extra money for every broken limb, blister or injury that happens to us whilst we are doing this,” he says.
Doing good for others is clearly rewarding, but pushing one’s body to extremes in relentless climes brings with it a bounty of life-enhancing treasures, such as life-long friendships and a closer connection to the planet. Steve says: “Out in the desert, yes, you are all competing in the same race, but you are competing against the desert rather than each other. Hopes, dreams and fears are shared; and you find support amongst each other. You get to know someone more deeply out there in four days than you do in London in 15 years. It’s like finding a huge supportive family.
“Most people live in a comfort zone; in the desert that is stripped away. Those who choose to go on adventures are not afraid to look at themselves closely.”
Elite runners are part of an exclusive club, venturing to places that few people have heard of and in which even fewer have stepped, or their case, run. Such travels are life-changing says Steve.
“My experiences have changed me and the way I look at things. I see a much bigger picture and notice what others don’t. I feel like I have lived, I feel privileged and alive.”
These soul-affecting souvenirs have a daily impact back in the real-world for Steve in his role as a Programme Manager working on Government and financial projects, including on some of London’s most famous landmark buildings such as Buckingham Palace, 10 Downing Street and the House of Lords.
“The greatest benefit is the problem-solving skills acquired on the events. It allows me to think strategically about business - I can quickly weigh up situations and make decisions. I have successfully done this so many times when my life depended on it, so making good decisions is now second nature.”
Steve’s colourful experiences have also opened the door to an additional career in public speaking and presentations; he has acquired knowledge worth sharing. Being close to desert communities has given him huge insight into how they operate and the help they need and has shaped his philanthropic ambitions.
“I no longer raise money for medical research, because more emphasis is given to ‘finding a cure’ than finding the cause. We cured cholera by improving drainage and water systems, not by taking expensive patented medicines.
“By far the most important thing is clean water. Drilling wells and letting the locals continue to live in those areas is by far the most important thing.
“The problem with a lot of philanthropy is that it is linked to business, and so the solution is often what is a good business deal rather than what should be done. For example, vaccinations and tablets for sterilizing water benefit corporations, whereas drilling wells benefits people. You have to tread carefully as we are all different; often we don’t understand how other cultures view life. We may go in with the best intentions but end up making matters worse. So sensitivity and real understanding are what are required first. Going in as the student and learning rather than the lecturer is a far more successful strategy.”
Once the Sandblaster’s campaign is complete,
Steve’s next step is to raise money for drilling water wells in Africa.
“I think that is ever more important. The world population is growing, and so are deserts. Desertification is increasing at a rate of 30 to 40 metres a year - in all directions. So, taking the Sahara as an example, in my lifetime a band 3km wide by 11,000 km long of good land will become desert.”
The dry Saharan plains have, perhaps strangely, been a nurturing environment for Steve. “Adventure travel will change you if you allow yourself to be open to new people, places, and experiences. It will help you grow as a person and to learn respect for other cultures; by understanding their intrinsic value you learn so much more about yourself.
“I have been to countries that many people don’t even know exist or their only understanding comes from the news. Often the picture we get is completely misleading or downright wrong.
“We talk a lot about being green, but don’t know what recycling really means. I have found the poorest people in the poorest places to be the greenest, because they have no choice. Everything is reused.
So the villages are spotless - no rubbish and everyone is smiling and happy. As you leave those areas and come back into civilization, you find more rubbish and everyone seems to be sadder.”
Steve however is blazing a trail for a happier world.