In 1970 Martin Whitfield, who’s based in Bournemouth, contracted meningococcal disease when he was only 16 weeks old.
His mother, Beryl, remembers Martin screaming in a high-pitched wail. She took him straight to the local nurse who, having seen the baby, closed her clinic and rushed both Martin and Beryl to hospital.
At the hospital Martin was given penicillin and a lumbar puncture. Whilst waiting for the results Martin’s father, David, remembers the doctors suggesting Martin should be christened that day in case of the worst happening.
Fortunately, Martin made a full recovery and although he had multiple hearing tests during childhood, he experienced no after-effects of having meningitis and septicemia. If Beryl had delayed for one more day, the doctors suggested Martin wouldn’t have survived.
Marathon de Sables
Fast forward fifty years and Martin signed up to take on one of the world’s most extreme endurance challenges, the Marathon de Sables. A six-day race running over 250 kms (156 miles) through sand dunes, salt plains and rocky jebels, with Martin carrying everything he needed to stay alive in his rucksack, including an anti-venom pump in case of any snake bites!
Having waited months for the race to be reorganised after the Covid pandemic, Martin set off for Morocco in October 2021. Although the race was postponed from its usual April that year, the temperatures reached dizzying heights of around 56 degrees in the full sun of the Sahara desert.
Martin, along with the other participants, made the long journey into the desert to reach the start line. He was given a bib number, a tracker and two bottles of water to last until the first checkpoint. By his own admission, Martin's training for the race hadn’t been sufficient to manage the extreme challenge.
Like nearly half of the participants that year, Martin was unable to finish the race due to severe heat stroke and dehydration experienced in the Merzouga dunes. Fellow runners have since told Martin that his behaviour became erratic and he collapsed.
Martin woke to five paramedics dousing him with bottles of water to try to regulate his core temperature, after which he was airlifted by helicopter back to base camp.
With his mobile phone hours away and his tracker having stopped when he ended his race, Martin’s family were left waiting and worrying about his health and whereabouts.
Surviving against the odds has become something of a running theme for Martin. His experience in 2021 hasn’t put him off and, in April 2025, Martin will once again take on the “toughest footrace on earth”.
This time, Martin isn’t leaving anything to chance. He’s already been in touch with Chichester University which has a specialist heat chamber that Marathon de Sables runners regularly use to acclimatise to the scorching Moroccan heat.
Martin is also planning to run training marathons and ultra marathons in the lead up to the race. We will catch up with him along his training journey to find out how he’s getting on.
Because of his experience of meningitis as a child, which his mum Beryl still talks about to this day, Martin is motivated to raise essential funds for Meningitis Now. You can support him via his Gofundme page.