Olivier Lacoua set to tackle the toughest race in the world

Olivier Lacoua, general manager of CQ Hotels Wellington, will head to Morocco in early April to compete in the toughest ...
KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ

Olivier Lacoua, general manager of CQ Hotels Wellington, will head to Morocco in early April to compete in the toughest ultra-marathon in the world.

Olivier Lacoua is bound to get sick of hearing AC/DC's Highway to Hell.

That's the song played at the starting line of each leg of Marathon de Sables, known as the toughest race in the world.

Lacoua, general manager of CQ Hotels Wellington, leaves in early April for Morocco and then an unknown location in the Sahara desert, where he will tackle the six-day, 250-kilometre race.

Lacoua will carry everything he needs, including food and water, with him throughout the 250km race.
KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ

Lacoua will carry everything he needs, including food and water, with him throughout the 250km race.

Though the distance is the equivalent of six marathons, the 46-year-old will count it as only one towards his larger goal: to complete 100 marathons before 2020 while fundraising for the New Zealand Red Cross.

READ MORE:
*Hotel manager to tackle 250km Marathon Des Sables as part of 100 marathon goal
*The Wellingtonian interview: Olivier Lacoua
*Kiwi survives ultra-marathon ordeal

He began in 2008 and has ticked off 76 so far, mainly in New Zealand, with one each in Australia and Hawaii.

He has been running on sand as part of his training - with his all-important sand shoes.
KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ

He has been running on sand as part of his training - with his all-important sand shoes.

Marathon de Sables is a whole different beast. Competitors must be entirely self-sufficient, carrying all their food and water with them during each of the five stages. 

Temperatures can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius during the day and 3C overnight.

Lacoua, a Frenchman, says he wanted to set himself a "crazy goal". He was drawn to the Marathon de Sables because he wanted a bigger challenge than standard marathons.

Twenty-three sponsors, much more than his original goal of 10, gave him $1000 towards the event and each matched this with another $1000 for the Red Cross.

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He became passionate about supporting the Red Cross after a personal experience – during a trip to Spain as an 18 year old, a jug of boiling milk fell into his lap. 

A Red Cross-managed hospital helped with his first aid and getting back to France.

His original fundraising goal was $26,218 to represent the length of a marathon in miles, but having surpassed that, the new goal is based on the distance in metrics: $42,195.

Lacoua admits it is impossible to simulate the Sahara in Wellington but his training has involved a lot of early mornings, to run before work, and weekend runs on the sand near his Kapiti Coast home.

The Wellington weather has produced many unhelpful, rainy days. "The Sahara will not be raining."

The course is entirely unknown – he'll be given the details only the day before the race.

"Some of the days will be 20 kilometres and others will be a marathon." 

"What I know is in the middle of the race there's one distance which will be over 90 kilometres and you've got two days to complete it."

But he's not worried about the distance. "The challenge will be running every day in different conditions and a lot of heat, and carrying the bag.

"It is a bit [scary] but it's probably what gives me the buzz, I guess – to know that's it's going to be a challenge. It's like anything else, you just need to push yourself."

Lacoua, who admits to checking the marathon schedules of his holiday destinations, insists he does rest.

He will travel to Africa alone, leaving his wife behind for two-and-a-half weeks – the longest they have ever been apart.

She and his two daughters were initially surprised he signed up, but they've come around to the idea, he says.

With 24 marathons to go, Lacoua admits it may be a "moving goal".

"I'm sure that 100 will not be the last one," he says. "I doubt I'll just stop."

He hasn't planned a celebration for after the Marathon de Sables, but it might involve another run, as he's already signed up for the Hawke's Bay Marathon on May 13.

 - Stuff

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