A mum of three from Wimbledon has raised more than £30,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support by running the Sahara three times.

Karen O’Donnell, 49, first took on the annual ‘Marathon des Sables’ in 2019 and returned to take on the challenge again in 2021 and 2022.

The marathon covers 156 miles, with participants running for six days straight across the Sahara Desert.

She explained that it is known as the “toughest foot race on earth”.

Karen said: “I ran my first Marathon des Sables in 2019, it’s one of those things you think you’ll never do again but then lockdown came around and I suggested to Jon that we give it another go together.

“2021’s race was particularly tough – it was moved to October due to the pandemic, but it was unseasonably hot, even for the Sahara, hitting 56°C in the dunes by the middle of the day.

“There was a lot of illness amongst the runners, although not Covid thankfully.

“It meant about 50 per cent of the runners failed to finish, including Jon.

“It was a bit lonely without him and many of my tent mates, but I still managed to cross the finish line.

“Despite Jon not being able to complete the race, our supporters remained very generous…it was one of the reasons we went back again this year! It was mercifully a bit cooler, although with strong sandstorms.

“We were delighted to cross the finish line together.

“The race itself is really hard. It’s seriously rough.

“You have to be very self-sufficient – basic tents, carry all of your own food and kit, the toilet facilities non-existent.

“However, there’s always lots of medical support on-hand and the camaraderie is amazing.”

Karen explained that she met many people who are taking part for a personal or emotional reason, just like she was.

She said: “I met one American runner who was blind and competing with his ex-army colleague – watching him complete it was just awe-inspiring.

“There is also a very special man with prostate cancer who has been running it ever since he was diagnosed and raises a phenomenal amount of money.

“Several individuals running with artificial limbs - it’s incredible.

"Everyone has a story for being there and it makes you feel very humble.”

Karen and her family have raised more than £50,000 for Macmillan as a collective.

They decided to raise money as a thank you to the charity that supported the family when Karen’s dad was diagnosed with late-stage kidney cancer.

He died six years ago of kidney cancer 6 years ago and between his diagnosis and death, he only had 11 months to live.

Karen explained: “I still find it hard to talk about my dad without crying.

“He is much-loved and dearly missed.

“His two Macmillan nurses helped massively.

“People always think of nurses in the context of treatment, healing, or hospices, but it was the care and listening and connection that made the most difference to us.”

Karen advised that anyone looking to take on a large-scale charity challenge should do it for a cause that is important to them the people around them.

She said that she was motivated to finish the marathon because “you’ve asked people to put their hands in their pockets.”

She also said to make sure you have trained well for it and it is in your capabilities.

Karen said: “It gives me a lot of satisfaction, but I’m still inspired to raise more.

“There are more people out there that need support.

“And I know how vital the fundraising is for charities like Macmillan.

“People think £50,000 sounds a lot, but it takes a lot to fund the 1-on-1 support that people need.“

You can support Karen and Jon's fundraiser through Just Giving here.