Despite having started out unable to jog for more than a few minutes, a former Ribblesdale High School student is taking on one of the planet's most gruelling endurance events in the name of charity as she steels herself for the five-day, 155-mile Namib Desert Ultra Marathon later this year.
The intrepid Michelle Hincks (34) will be tackling the mammoth run in Namibia, southwest Africa, this November, when she will be faced with the task of crossing one of the world's oldest deserts: an expanse of scrub land and sandy terrain which has not seen rain for 50 million years and where temperatures veer violently from 40°C during the day, to freezing at night.
A pharmacy student at Manchester University before working at Peter Buckley in Clitheroe, Blackburn-born Michelle retrained as a lawyer and in 2014 joined DLA Piper, going on to take part in the firm's pro-bono anti-poaching work with the Namibian government in 2017 when she travelled to the capital Windhoek to run a two-day workshop for government officials, law enforcement agencies, and ministers of justice, which was covered on national TV.
Inspired to make a difference to wildlife protection after getting a taste of the poaching crisis first-hand and gaining a keen appreciation of the widespread devastation it causes to animals and communities alike, Michelle - who currently lives in Ainsworth near Bolton - signed up for the £2,500 ultra-run to raise invaluable funds for the Namibian Save the Rhino Project.
"I have always loved wildlife and feel very passionate about the poaching of endangered species, so this was a fabulous opportunity and one which I leapt at," said Michelle. "I think the main feeling is excitement, but there is also a healthy dose of apprehension in there as well.
"The distance goes beyond anything that I have tackled before," she added. "With multiple days of running and the heat, it is going to be a true challenge and a mental battle to complete."
During the event, the former Clitheroe Royal Grammar School Sixth Form pupil will have to carry with her everything she could possibly need, including mandatory survival gear, food, safety provision, and a minimum of 2.5 litres of water, and has been following a strict plan involving a combination of running, strength training, and yoga as part of her preparation.
"I definitely haven't always been a runner - in 2010 I entered my first 10k race as a challenge to myself and to force myself to get fitter," Michelle explained. "This was a huge challenge at the time as I struggled to run a couple of minutes without getting out of breath - all my family thought I was crazy!
"I sporadically entered other short races in the following years, but it has only been over the past two-to-three years that I have started running regularly and have started running long-distance," she added. "I have completed marathons - road and trail - and a few ultra-marathons this year, but Namibia will be my first multi-day race."
Come October, Michelle will start using a heat and environmental chamber three times a week to facilitate her attempts to acclimatise to the conditions she will face in the desert heat and low humidity on the plains. She has also had to learn how to tape her feet up properly, but is nevertheless expecting a few blisters.
"In terms of preparation, besides the training, I have had to carefully plan my kit," Michelle said. "Getting used to eating freeze-dried ration pack food has also been an interesting experience - who knew that you could get freeze-dried vegetarian shepherd's pie…
"I am looking forward to seeing wildlife, but hoping that I don't come face to face with any lions," she continued. "Last year some runners found some fresh lion tracks, but thankfully they didn't bump into them!"
Supremely motivated by an undertaking most would think twice about completing in a car let alone on foot, Michelle says that beyond the arduous schedule of heat training and strength preparation, there is one other major thing she has had to acclimatise to as well.
"I have had to get used to peoples' reactions whenever they find out about the race - 'you're insane' is usually the first response, followed by 'why?'" she said. "I still haven't really got an answer other than 'why not?'"
To donate to Michelle's cause, head to https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=MichellesDesertRun&pageUrl=4