Chief inspector takes on the toughest footrace on Earth

Chief Inspector Leigh Norris is preparing for the challenge of a lifetime in March as he competes in the 36th Marathon des Sables – a brutal 156-mile race across the Sahara Desert.

Leigh, 46, is raising money for the charity Scope and hopes his experience as an endurance athlete will help him tame what’s regarded as the toughest footrace on Earth.

Runners must battle temperatures of over 40C for six days in the desert near the Morocco-Algeria border while carrying their food, water and other essentials on their backs.

The sand and gravel terrain takes its toll on competitors’ limbs and overnight accommodation is nothing more than a tent in the desert shared with other runners.

The longest leg, on day four, is a mammoth 53 miles.

The last time the event was held in October 2021, temperatures hit 56C and just 353 of the 753 runners finished.

Leigh has enjoyed a 25-year career with Essex Police and is currently responsible for emergency services collaboration as well as being Operations Officer for the Essex Resilience Forum.

As an athlete, he has completed more than 20 marathons, and ten ironman triathlons which have gained him ‘All World Athlete’ status, meaning he’s in the top 10 per cent of ironmen in his age group worldwide.

Leigh has also been just been selected to represent Team GB in his age group at long distance aquabiking, and is on the verge of a call-up to the Team GB age-group triathlon team.

After recovering from a serious foot injury which left him out of action for nine months, he decided it was now or never for the Marathon des Sables.

He said: “It’s been something I’ve talked about doing for many years. I know it’s going to be difficult but it’s achievable.

“I know there are risks but it’s 20 per cent effort and 80 per cent in your head to see it through. I have that persistence and determination. You could say I’m a little bit obsessive.”

Leigh has sought advice from several Marathon des Sables finishers and his training regime will include sessions in a heat chamber alongside long distance runs like the 43-mile St Peter’s Way Ultra from Ongar to Bradwell on Sea.

Leigh will have to adjust to the challenge of being completely self-sufficient with competitors required to carry everything from cooking utensils to an anti-venom pump in their rucksacks.

At 6ft 2in tall, Leigh joked that he’s not designed for the event and he has to balance the need to take on plenty of food and water without weighing himself down.

He will be relying on nuts, dried fruit, gels and salt capsules during the race and has ordered dehydrated food to cook between runs.

He said: “You learn what works in terms of nutrition – what to eat and when. You have to be really disciplined and have alerts on your watch to remind you to eat and drink.

“You need to have 2,000-2,500 calories minimum per day, but I know what works for me. It’s another reason why I think I can do this.”

Leigh, who will be cheered on from home by his partner and his 10-year-old son, has just two days in Morocco to prepare before the race starts on the March 25.

He added: “There are quite a few big endurance events now but this is the grandfather of them all. I’m so determined to do this, and I want to raise as much money as I can for Scope as they’re a brilliant charity who do such incredible work fighting to end inequality for disabled people.”

You can sponsor Leigh by heading to his JustGiving page at


Mick Ferris

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