HARD-CORE runner Ziggy Heron ran through scorching Saharan sand dunes to complete a gruelling desert ultra-marathon.
The 46-year-old from Hetton took part in the formidable Marathon des Sables, which sees competitors cover 156 miles of Moroccan desert across six days, carrying everything they need to survive on their backs.
Ziggy, whose parents Bob and Julianna are Mayor and Mayoress of Sunderland, said he lost 30 per cent of the skin on his feet as he ran through one of the world’s most inhospitable climates in just over 49 hours.
The former Hetton Comprehensive pupil snacked on fatty macadamia nuts and pork scratchings for energy but still lost two stone during the intensive endurance race, where the temperature soars to 50 degrees C.
He said: “The race starts and ends in Morocco, because those are the highest sand dunes in the Sahara.
“Some of them are the size of Penshaw Monument.
“There were also mountains up to 1,000 metres in height, which were so steep that towards the top you have to use rope to hang on to. I’ve been training for nine months. You have to do a lot of running.
“When you are actually in the race, you have to carry a week’s worth of food on your back and you have to carry a venom pump in case you are bitten by a snake.
“My rucksack weighed about eight kilos, because I only wanted to take the bare essentials with me.”
His worried friends and family were able to watch his process online, as all the race’s competitors carry a tracking device.
The IT worker, who now lives in Cornwall but is about to emigrate to New Zealand, was inspired to sign up for the race, in its 28th year, after hearing British Olympian James Cracknell say it was the hardest thing he had ever done.
Despite its demanding nature, places in the race are highly sought after and the annual ballot usually fills up within 10 minutes of opening.
Known simply as MdS, the marathon is open to individuals and teams of amateur and elite runners, who come from all over the world to run a marathon a day and a double marathon on the final day.
Strangers sleep eight to a tent and many tackle the brutal course for charity, with Ziggy raising $2,500 for Unicef.
Drop-out rates are high as runners suffer from injury and exhaustion, and Ziggy estimates about 250 people failed to cross the finish line this year.
He said: “On the day of the long run, I ran out of water and got into a bit of distress and the medics wanted to put me on an IV drip.
“I had a bit of a row with them because if they put you on a drip, you get a time penalty. I just wanted to drink the water and get running.
“I was just pleased to finish and get my medal.
“I lost 30 per cent of the skin on my feet but I might have another crack at it in a few years.”