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Sleepless nights in a freezing desert, steep sand dunes and 171miles – another super-run for Jersey's endurance queen

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A LONG-DISTANCE runner who endured sleepless nights in a freezing desert, steep sand dunes and starlit night skies has described her latest event as one she will never forget.

Ana Goncalves with some of the other competitors on the Grand to Grand Ultra Race, a 6 day stage race covering 275km (25983524)

Ana Goncalves completed the Grand to Grand Ultra stage race in Arizona and Utah, and was the first woman overall in her age group.

The six-stage race, held over seven days, covers 171 miles (275k) and includes a mixture of desert, rocky trails, long climbs and narrow canyons.

Of the 102 people who started at the Grand Canyon, 78 reached the finish at the Pink Cliffs of the Grand Staircase.

Mrs Goncalves (53) had to carry everything she needed for the race bar a tent and is raising money for Headway Jersey.

She described it as an amazing experience but ‘really, really tough’.

‘I trained solidly from May until the day I left, with one day off a week,’ she said.

‘That included running on the cliff paths and the sand dunes in Jersey which were a paradise compared to what we faced.

‘Some were 200m tall. You stop and look up at the sky and say please give me more energy.’

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Mrs Goncalves has completed a large number of long-distance events including the Marathon des Sables, the Jungle Marathon and the challenge to run seven marathons in seven days.

She said this made the Marathon des Sables, which is held in the Moroccan Sahara, seem easy by comparison.

Mrs Goncalves shared a tent at the camps set up along the route with seven others and said it was cold at night and hard to sleep.

‘I got very little sleep in the six days of the race. Some snored and everyone else seemed to sleep ok, but I had about six hours’ sleep in the seven days of the event. And the temperature dropped so much, I couldn’t get warm and so my sleeping pattern was awful.’

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Despite that and feeling very ill on the first day and almost fainting twice because of the altitude, heat and challenging nature of the race, she felt stronger as the week went on.

Day three, which covered 53 miles, proved to be the toughest.

‘This stage had canyons, caves and dunes in one course,’ she said. ‘I was running through the night, mostly alone, not knowing what was beneath me. I found myself at one stage crawling up the dunes.

‘Half way through I needed to rest so lay back in the sand and the sky was filled with so many stars. It was breathtaking!’

It took her over 20 hours to complete that stage, but she finished 19th of all the runners.

Participants are told to prepare themselves so that they are able to run carrying a heavy pack over harsh terrain for several days in a row. They were also warned that there may be rattlesnakes (she saw one over a metre long), scorpions and cacti with long spines that can penetrate running shoes.

In finishing 19th overall, she was the first woman in the 50-59 age category and was the fifth woman in the whole race.

‘It was a tough but rewarding race and one I’ll never forget. Just to have completed it would have been a miracle but I was over the moon with my results.’

Mrs Goncalves has so far raised £7,500 for Headway Jersey and has set up a donations page on the JustGiving website.

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