Grandfather set for Ultramarathon
Published 19/05/2015 | 13:06
An 80-year-old British grandfather is hoping to beat his own record of being the oldest person to finish an ultra-marathon in the United States, billed as one of the toughest foot races in the world.
For the 15th time, Jack Denness will line up alongside 90 other competitors at the start of the 135-mile endurance challenge through the inhospitable Death Valley in California.
Regarded by some as the world's toughest foot race, the Badwater Ultramarathon pits runners, triathletes, adventure racers and mountaineers against one another in searing heat.
The race route starts at Badwater across the floor of Death Valley 282ft below sea level, where daytime temperatures can hit 51C (125 degrees Fahrenheit), and finishes at the 14,494ft Mount Whitney.
Mr Denness, who was awarded an MBE two years ago for his charity work, has already been inducted into the ultra-marathon's Hall of Fame after becoming the first 70-year-old and then 75-year-old to finish the race.
Now, five years on from setting his last record, the "Death Valley legend" from Rochester, Kent, is preparing for what he promises will be his last endurance race after recently fighting off a lengthy chest infection.
Speaking at his family home, part-time school caretaker Mr Denness said: "I thought it would be great to do it at 80 years old, as that would put the record well out of reach.
"It's a horrendous challenge, with the heat and the hills. When I'm doing it, I'm left thinking, 'Jack, what are you doing it for?'
"But it's for the actual challenge - it's an addiction. I don't do it for the glory. At my age I'm going to be extremely lucky to get through the 135-mile distance in time because I'm only walking, I'm not running.
"My immediate goal is to do 100 miles but I want to do the 135. It's an evening start this year, whereas previous years we've been setting off at 6am and going through the heat of the day."
In readiness for the challenge, Mr Denness has been going on regular long runs and walks with his dog near the home he shares with his wife Mags.
But perhaps surprisingly he does not follow any special dietary routine - but insists on taking regular supplies of cod liver oil tablets to help keep his joints pain-free.
He took up running only in his 40s after being inspired from his armchair by the runners he witnessed in the first televised London Marathon.
Then Mr Denness, who has competed in marathons in New York, Los Angeles and the Sahara, quit a 50-a-day smoking habit in his early 50s.
In the same year, after completing the San Francisco marathon, he and his wife drove to Lone Pine to hike up Mount Whitney and drove across Death Valley.
They were amazed to see a man dressed all in white walking alongside, and realised he must be one of the competitors in the Badwater Ultramarathon.
Mr Denness stopped, got out of his car and spoke to the competitor, who told him he should give it a try, telling him: "Go for it, Brit."
By then, Mr Denness said he was hooked on the idea and in 1991 he finished 12th in his first Badwater race, raising £4,500 for his local hospital cancer scanner appeal.
The grandfather of two aims to return to compete in the 48-hour race, which starts on July 28, in aid of the Wisdom Hospice in Rochester.
On whether it will be his last one, he quipped: "It's got to be, unless some bloody idiot wants to try to take my title."