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ICY TREK FOR JAMES; PALS TAKE ON ULTIMATE CHALLENGE TO HELP SICK LITTLE BOY When you were moving you couldn't go too fast, because your sweat would turn to ice.

PAUL Howells admired the beautiful whales as they plunged in and out of the water.

But he wasn't watching a nature programme on TV or flicking through a wildlife magazine.

He was running hundreds of miles across the rough terrain of north Canada - and he was hallucinating.

Paul, 45, a gardener from Formby, was part of a group taking part in the Yukon Arctic Ultra 2006, the coldest and toughest run on earth.

Just 34 people from across the world took part in the challenge, to run 320 miles in less than eight days across the hills and frozen lakes and rivers of Canada while pulling a sled. Only 18 finished.

Paul and his team-mates only ate when they reached one of nine checkpoints and slept only when they could not run any longer.

With just a sleeping bag to keep warm, despite temperatures below -30C, they managed less than two hours sleep a night.

The group was running for the charity Debra, which helps adults and young children with the genetic skin condition epidermolysis bullosa.

They planned to raise pounds 20,000 for the charity to help James Dunn, 11, of Calderstones, Liverpool, one of only a few people in the north west with the condition.

Paul, who completed the race in &A days, finishing an impressive fourth, said: "As I was running down a frozen river, I saw whales coming out of the water.

"I knew I was hallucinating. One of the other guys was convinced he was in Scotland and he had checked into a hotel. He even sat on his sleigh to wait for his taxi.

"Another kept seeing Sony Walkmans hanging from trees - and one was convinced he was dead."

Paul was joined on the challenge by Mark Allison, 27, from Aigburth, John Dodd, 43, and Phil Lloyd, 28, both from Little Sutton.

Andy Carr, 39, from Moreton, Wirral, had to retire after the second day because of a ligament injury. He plans to return next year to complete the challenge.

Despite having to pull out, he hired a car to follow his team-mates and slept in his car at each checkpoint to give moral support.

Seventh team member Paul Byard, from Chester, also had to return home after being struck down with flu.

Paul Howells said: "The challenge was tougher than we expected. Because of the terrain, it meant the fastest we could go was about three miles an hour.

"At the beginning, it was milder than we had imagined - but that meant the snow was melting and it was harder to drag our sleds over the rough ground.

"After the first stage, which was 26 miles, we decided to split the group so we could all go at different speeds.

"We were on the move for 20 hours a day, sleeping for two hours, eating for VA hours and taking small rests for the remainder.

"When you were moving, you couldn't go too fast because your sweat would turn to ice.

"We had cookers so we could make a meal, but the gas in mine froze so I had to wait until we got to a checkpoint to eat."

Paul said the most frightening moment came when he nearly got lost.

"The markers were not very clear and I wasn't sure what path to take.

"I lay down on the ice in my sleeping bag to wait for someone to come. The ice started to crack and I got a bit frightened.

"In the end, I saw the torchlight of a fellow competitor and shouted out for help."

The group all passed the finishing line in under eight days, with Mark rewarded for completing the fastest final leg.

Paul, whose feet, normally size eight, were so swollen he had to borrow a pair of size 13 trainers to travel home, said: "We are all pleased we did it. The purpose of any challenge is to finish it and push yourself to see what you can do.

"We would have been devasted if we hadn't finished it."

michellefiddler@liverpoolecho.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

IMAGINE running 12 marathons over eight days in temperatures of -30C. Chief Reporter MICHELLE FIDDLER meets an amazing group of friends, who took on the ultimate challenge to help a little boy...' NATTY: Mark Allison, above, and the team sporting natty hats to keep out the cold' TOP TEAM: James Dunn, 11, with Yukon Arctic Ultra team members, from left, John Dodd, Mark Allison, Andy Carr, Paul Byard and Paul Howells.' Left: The team approach the Takini river
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 6, 2006
Words:757
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