University facilities prepare fundraisers for gruelling Gambian run

Nic Berger, Senior Lecturer Sport & Exercise, with fundraising runners Michael Bleasby and Tom Walker in the environmental chamber

A fundraising duo running across Gambia in just ten days prepared for their gruelling trip by acclimatising in the environmental chamber at Teesside University.

Tom Walker and Michael Bleasby aim to run 260 miles, completing ten marathons in ten days, in support of Mind, Darlington Memorial Hospital’s chemotherapy unit and projects in African villages.

As part of their lengthy preparation for the trip, the pair completed a series of acclimatisation sessions in the environmental chamber in the University’s School of Health & Life Sciences in a bid to experience the same conditions they will face in Gambia.

The environmental chamber can simulate almost any environment on earth and is often used for athletes to experience extreme environmental conditions.

Tom and Michael spent time in the chamber running on a treadmill and using an exercise bike to experience the adverse climates which they can expect to face, having set off on their fundraising run on 1 December.

Michael said: “It is really hard to replicate the type of conditions and heat which we will face in Africa, so being able to use the environmental chamber has been vital for us in helping to prepare.

“It is important for us to be able to experience running in those conditions and we really appreciate the advice we have had from the University’s expert Sports Science Service staff.”

Dr Nicolas Berger, Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology in the University’s School of Health & Life Sciences, said: “Our world-class facilities are used not only by our students, but have also been used by a variety of athletes facing extreme challenges such as Olympians, Paralympians, climbers scaling Mount Everest or Kilimanjaro and ultra-endurance athletes running across deserts.

“It is always rewarding to help athletes travelling to extreme locations to acclimatise to often brutal environmental conditions.”

He added: “Michael and Tom face a tough challenge running across Gambia in such a short space of time, and the hot and humid conditions will make the task even more tiring.

“In addition to acclimatising to the high temperatures, I have made some suggestions about their nutrition and hydration.”

Michael and Tom will be returning to the University following their trip to give a talk to students about their experience and to act as extreme athlete case studies for the Environmental Physiology module.

Dr Berger said: “It will be very valuable for our students to hear about their experiences in Gambia as it will offer them an in-depth look at what it takes to complete such a challenge and how science can help athletes perform better.”