His latest book follows on from his previous work, Cold, which chronicles the author’s experiences at some of the world’s lowest temperatures, from his crossing of both Poles to the summiting of Everest. Fiennes has survived clashes with Marxist guerrillas in the scorched Yemeni desert and the search for a lost city in the burning sands of the Arabian Peninsula. Now Heat takes us through his latest battle with extreme temperatures, the Marathon des Sables, widely considered the planet’s most challenging endurance test. This would be a daunting ordeal for a fit 20-something – Fiennes took it on and completed the 156-mile circuit at the tender age of 71. Everest, which he climbed at 65, could be considered a warm-up exercise. Fiennes has always been a believer in the ‘mind over matter’ school of life. Witness his completion of seven marathons in seven days on seven continents, a recovery therapy after collapsing with a heart attack and undergoing a double bypass.
Before taking part in the marathon, Fiennes’s cardiac surgeon warned him that he should never allow his heart to tick at more than 130 beats per second (bps). The rate for a runner in the London Marathon averages between 165 and 175 bps. After the fourth stage across the Moroccan Sahara, Fiennes ran for more than 30 hours with just one hour of sleep, while towards the end of the marathon he was on painkillers to relieve the agony of a back injury. He describes the worst part as ‘trying not to have a heart attack’. It was a triumph of mind over matter, and as he explains in an earlier book on his crossing of Antarctica, a favourite doggerel is ‘Always a little further,
Pilgrim, I will go.’
HEAT by Ranulph Fiennes; Simon & Schuster; £20 (hardback)
This review was published in the January 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.