It’s a case of unfinished business for Scole’s Duncan Slater as he prepares for his latest physical challenge — a six day ultramarathon in the searing heat of the Sahara Desert.
Dubbed the toughest footrace on earth, the 32nd Marathon Des Sables (MDS) covers more than 150 miles and takes place next month. Participants will be living off dehydrated rations and have to carry everything they need on their backs, too.
The double-leg amputee returned from Italy on Wednesday for the fourth time with his latest set of legs — which he believes will be the difference maker on this occasion.
Mr Slater bravely took on the gruelling challenge last year for the first time, the first double-amputee to do so. Injuries to his stumps prevented him from completing the event, with just one stage of the MDS remaining.
But a chance conversation with an Italian photographer during the challenge last year has seen Mr Slater travel to Europe for the game-changing equipment.
Prosthetics company Sigil-in told Mr Slater they wanted to get him across the desert.
I’m certainly not saying I’m going to breeze it, no way. But it will be a different experience, I thinkDuncan Slater
Worth about £5,000 each, they are also lighter than regular prosthetic legs.
But the key difference? A special machine is used, utilising high pressure air, to form a perfect seal — done so while the user is standing up, while the muscles are under load — resulting in a more comfortable fit and, most importantly, less friction.
“I’ve been going back and forth to Italy to keep on top of the fitting,” he told the Diss Express.
“The easiest way to put it, is as if you had a favourite pair of shoes that were hand made, comfortable, made to measure, perfect, but you could go work in them, go the gym, go hiking in Wales, do everything in them, and the feeling wouldn’t change. Walking across the gym floor would be exactly the same as walking up and down a hill. The sensation and feeling would be the same.
“Last time, I was heavily reliant on gritting my teeth and getting on with it and wearing woollen socks to pad things out. It was making the day a lot more difficult and longer than it had to be.
“I’m certainly not saying I’m going to breeze it, no way. But it will be a different experience, I think.”
Mr Slater, who lost his legs after being blown up in Afghanistan while serving in the RAF in 2009, is already the first double-amputee to ski to the South Pole.
“Everyone asks me if the MDS was harder than the South Pole,” he said. “Hands down it is.
“I found the heat a lot harder to operate in. It is so restricting and you are so hot all of the time that you never really get used to it.”
He conceded reaching and surpassing the part of the ultramarathon last year where he pulled out will be in the back of his mind — but said: “I’ll finish it on my hands and knees if I have to.
“I think psychologically once I hit that point, then I’ll be thinking ‘I’ve only got one marathon and a little bit to go’.
“I just want to get it done. Hopefully it will be fine.
“People have been so generous with their donations. It’s fantastic.
“It really does spur you on when you are out there.”
Mr Slater will start the MDS on April 7 and will be running for Walking with the Wounded. To sponsor him, visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Duncan.Slater