Nothing could have prepared me for how I felt when I first saw the empty infinity stretch out in front of me. I could hear it goading me. What right do you have to be here! It shouted. This was mankind's most deadly theatre. It had consumed armies; halted dictators and sucked the life out of the unprepared. It was going to chew me up and spit me out. It told me it would destroy me. It would spare my life but not my dignity. I nodded politely but then stared it down, hard. I had other ideas. "Let's see", I said, as I turned and walked back down the hillock of sand (I tripped a little as I got to the bottom).
On the 23rd January myself and 32 others will be starting an attempt to run 7 marathons in 7 days on the 7 continents around the world. The challenge starts on a glacier in Antarctica and then travels through Chile, Miami, Madrid Marrakesh, Dubai before finishing in Sydney. I will have 168 hours to cover 183 miles with around 60 hours of flying thrown in for good measure.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of running my first marathon*. It was the London Marathon in April 1997. Over the same period of time, longer in fact, I have also been an observer and analyst of Middle Eastern politics. Reflecting on two obsessions that have been important in my professional and personal life, what have I learnt from marathon running that can be applied to my analysis and observation of Middle Eastern politics?
We've become a generation of home bods, we sit in our homes, flick through 900 channels and end up playing on our phones looking through Facebook, Instagram or playing words with friends, and god knows what other apps. What happened to actually playing scrabble with your friends...in person...at a table?
Nine down, one to go - the end really is in sight. We've been over hills, down dales, along canals, over fields and stiles. Truly a walk on the wild side for this gentleman of the road and my trusty wingman Russ Green, who has walked every step with me. And we're getting cracking support as we inch closer to the finish.
My life as an Olympic athlete never seems far away, I meet new people every day who, surprisingly, still have their exciting stories of 'where they were' in 2004, the moment I ran into the history books by winning two gold medals for Great Britain in the 800m and 1500m Athletics events. Or when I am travelling around the world hopefully motivating and inspiring individuals with my old anecdotes, reminiscing as I watch for the millionth time my "moment of glory". Until now...