Latest Ryman news

Ryman's David Cartwright faces up to 'toughest footrace on the planet'

Written by Alan Wood
on March 29, 2023

There is no doubt a 250 km ultra-marathon run through the Sahara Desert will be gruelling and cause physical stress. But completing the extreme challenge has been a long-held dream, says Charles Upham Village Manager David Cartwright.

Occasional doubts surface, for anyone contemplating a ‘Marathon des Sables’, labelled the ‘toughest foot race on the planet”.

However, this Rymanian seems destined to finish the 2023 version of the North African epic.

David’s efforts will be prompted by the fact his journey is a fundraiser – through a givealittle page – for the New Zealand Flying Doctor Service (NZFDS), the sister charity to the Westpac Rescue Helicopter. 

David, with a history of having finished other endurance challenges, has been training hard in preparation for the April 23 race start and what follows. After initially flying to Dubai he will connect into a flight to Casablanca and then spend a few days getting acclimatised and prepared for the ultra event.

Before he flies abroad, David will give a broad brush talk about the Marathon des Sables, which dates back to the initial ultra-marathon held in 1984, to residents at the Charles Upham village.


Residents and fellow Rymanians can follow his progress pretty closely while racing in the North African desert via his GPS tracking device. Messages of support can even be sent to him via the Marathon des Sables website. “At night time, they’ve got a satellite thing where people can send emails and stuff through to you, so I can get messages along the way.”

Nearly 1000 runners, ranging in age from 18 to 81 will launch themselves in the first of seven stages of the Marathon des Sables. They will face daytime temperatures of up to 47 degrees celsius and nights cooling to as low as minus-3 degrees.

As a 55-year-old, David has the background for endurance – having competed in more than 40 marathons. “I think I’m fit enough, the legs are strong enough. But the untested part is actually the heat. When you’ve got those sort of daytime temperatures... you do not know how you’re going to behave. There’s going to be chafing, there’s going to be blisters, there’s going to be sunburn,” he says. Jenny Thiele, David’s Regional Operations Manager at Ryman, thinks he is crazy, he adds.

IMG_1631 large

Memorable events he has been in include an ‘ultra’ 80km Bondi to Manly run, including harbour sections, and marathons in New York and Honolulu. The Old Ghost Road 80km plus event offered rare insight to New Zealand wildlife as did a Stewart Island race.

But now it is the 37th edition of des Sables that beckons. The training has included wearing a back pack, as he will in the challenge. “During this run through the desert, you are self supporting. I carry everything I need - food, medicine, clothing, bedding and a puffer jacket; I collect water up four times a day from various check points. “

From Casablanca he will go to the race start near Erfoud. The stages will take him inland from Casablanca and Marrakesh towards the Algerian border. He will cross Saharan dunes as well as into rocky terrain. 

Some people might be aware of the race from a recent documentary on Netflix -the Human Playground - episode one

David, through the help of an Instagram page, has raised about half of his $10,000 target for the flying doctor charity. So far, the fundraising has been helped by friends and family and those who have been helped by the efforts of the medical air rescue service.

David is a trustee for the NZFDS. The trust is dedicated to providing medical assistance to those in need, for example picking up those that need to be flown to a hospital or flying medical teams when there is a large scale emergency. The trust, with three aircraft, has an annual fundraising target of more than $3 million.

“The (NZFDS) aeroplanes are in essence ‘intensive care units’ in the sky... the bulk of (the flights are in) the South Island but across to the Chatham Islands, down to Invercargill, the West Coast. So it’s cardiac patients, it’s repatriation of people, it’s organ donors,” David says.

At the finish line, he will meet his partner Clare before some relaxation time in Spain before David returns to village life on the 15th of May.

About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman was founded in 1984 and has become one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies. The company owns and operates 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia which are home to more than 13,900 residents and the company employs 6,800 team members.

Media advisory: For further information, photos, interviews or comment please contact Group Corporate Affairs Manager Silke Marsh on +64 27 294 3609 or Communications Advisor Maryvonne Gray on 027 552 0767.

You may also like: