AS Elisabet Barnes runs the 26.2 miles through London’s streets on Sunday, it is unlikely too many of the spectators on route or even her fellow competitors will recognise her.

Those in the crowd will seek out the elite runners, the celebrities and those in fancy dress without paying any special attention to Barnes as she passes by.

And that is a shame. Because if they were aware this 38-year-old has just been crowned the champion of one of the toughest races on the planet, making her one of the best ultra-runners in the world and then, barely two weeks later, be running the London Marathon then they would all be shouting her name as loudly as they could.

Barnes, who lives in Westcliff, admits she expects a bit of fatigue in her legs on Sunday which is not surprising considering her past two weeks.

On April 5 she lined up in the Sahara desert for the first of five stages of the Marathon des Sables.that would total 250km.

By April 10 – and some 26 hours of running through the desert later – she was celebrating winning the prestigious endurance race.

“It was an absolutely amazing feeling,” said Barnes who lives in Westcliff with her husband and fellow endurance runner Colin.

“I was almost in disbelief when it was all over, I had to pinch myself. I was so tired and so relieved it was all over.”

Barnes, who runs for Leigh on Sea Striders, went into the race hoping to improve on the 15th position which she finished in on her first go at the race in 2012.


Elisabet Barnes during one of the stages in the Sahara

But with the race celebrating its landmark 30th anniversary which, in turn, attracted some of the best endurance runners in the world, she knew it would be a tough ask.

The race is split into five legs, all raced across the Sahara desert.

The first three legs were all between 31 and 37 kilometres before the crunch fourth leg which was an energy-sapping 91.7km. The final leg was just the marathon distance of 42 kilometres.

Barnes was leading almost from the outset but knew her destiny would be sealed on the longest leg of them all.

“I went into that fourth stage with a 20 minute lead over second place and a 30-minute lead over third. But when you are racing over 90km in an extreme environment like the Sahara desert, anything can happen.

“I was lucky that I had a good race and the others didn’t and I increased my lead quite a lot (by 2h 44m). I could have probably walked the marathon distance on the final leg and still won but you have to respect the marathon distance. Anything could happen to you. You could get dehydrated, you could fall over and break your leg, so I didn’t want to celebrate until that was completed.”

In the end, she didn’t only consolidate her lead, she extended it to 2h 58m to her nearest rival, Anna-Marie Watson.

“It’s just an amazing feeling,” said Barnes, who was born in Sweden. “There are lots of races that claim to be the toughest in the world but they are not like this.”

Barnes, who runs the My Race Kit running shop in Westcliff with her husband, said she has had lots of interesting offers from race organisers since winning her title and will be competing her next endurance race in the Alps in August.

In the mean-time she will keep herself ticking over with a gentle run through London on Sunday!

“I think it will be tough,” Barnes laughed. “My legs are a bit tired and I’ve been suffering with a bit of a cold. I think it’s my body’s way of saying enough!”