Nine months ago he was paralysed by a rare post-viral syndrome but now Rory Coleman has completed the world’s toughest race – the Marathon des Sables and says: “I feel like me again.”
The ultra fitness coach from Cardiff, who was hospitalised and had to learn to walk again after falling ill last May, shortly after finishing the same 156-mile race across the Sahara, said: “It was emotional. I sobbed out there in the desert.”
The 55-year-old, who has run 989 Marathons and 242 ultra marathons and holds nine Guinness World Records, spent five months in hospital after being struck with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), which affects the nervous system.
As he battled to get better – with doctors fearing he might never walk again – Rory set his sights on doing the 2017 Marathon des Sables, even when he found it hard to cross his living room.
He started running in Bute Park again last autumn, spurred on by messages of support.
Now back home in Cardiff with wife Jen and their two young children, the runner denied he was tough.
He said he had broken down and wept on his journey across the baking sand as he recalled events of the last year and how ill he was.
“It is the first time in 12 months I felt like me again. It doesn’t seem real. It felt as if I had just come home from doing the race last year.
“On the long stage of 52 miles they have deck chairs where you can stop and have a cup of tea and there was some phone signal so I spoke to my wife. It’s very emotional. I really sobbed out there in the desert.”
Admitting he was slower than before and “still a bit wobbly” Rory, who has trained hundreds of people for the legendary 156-mile race across the Moroccan Sahara, including explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes in 2015, said aiming to do it again had focused his recovery.
“At the end of day three of the race I stood there and thought “I have nailed this”. I am just me again. I have recovered.
“Why should I not go back and do what I do? I saw some places in the desert I never thought I would see again.
“I was really slow but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. What matters is completing it. What matters is whether you complete the MDS or not. No one asks your finish time – they ask whether you finished.
“When you are in rehabilitation you are not you. You are trying to be you again.
“I enjoyed the fact I was doing what I used to do. I am still a little bit wobbly. All you can do is do it with what you have.”
And he paid tribute to his wife, who gave birth to their second son Charlie, now eight months, while he was unable to walk.
“In the desert you see the world from a different perspective. You think of your loved ones and I thought about how amazing my wife has been in the last 12 months and how I could not have done this without her.”
He said he had also been inspired by others running with him.
“I was in a tent with someone who died. A man from Holland who had a heart attack and had CPR a couple of years ago. I was also with someone from Epsom with terminal prostate cancer and two Welsh guys from the Military Preparation College Training in Newport, Huw Lewis from Monmouth and Brian Edwards from Miskin. I was also with Colonel Tim Collins who said I was as tough as coffin nails. I was surrounded by amazing people.”
And although he’s home and looking forward to catching up with his children and watching Broadchurch on television, Rory isn’t stopping any time soon.
He’ll be doing the Park Run in Cardiff this Saturday and is signed up for the 33 mile Marlborough Downs Challenge in May.
“You can do anything if you want to do it,” he said.