Levant and Comptoir Libanais restaurateur endures hellish 250km Saharan marathon to raise £50,000

Tony Kitous at the finish line. Picture: Mark Gillett

Tony Kitous at the finish line. Picture: Mark Gillett - Credit: Archant

A Marylebone restaurateur has raised more than £50,000 for cancer research by taking part in one of the world’s toughest marathons – a seven-day race through the Sahara desert.

Tony Kitous looking tired. Picture: Mark Gillett

Tony Kitous looking tired. Picture: Mark Gillett - Credit: Archant

Tony Kitous, 42, covered 250km in temperatures of up to 56C in the Marathon des Sables, arguably the most notorious race on the planet.

Tony Kitous on the trail. Picture: Mark Gillett

Tony Kitous on the trail. Picture: Mark Gillett - Credit: Archant

The restaurateur, who is based in Marylebone and owns its Levant and Comptoir Libanais restaurants alongside several others in the capital, last took on the challenge a decade ago but was inspired to face it once more after his cousin Nassim lost his battle to a brain tumour last summer at the age of 20.

Mr Kitous, who slept on rocks under primitive canvas tents for nine days during the marathon, said: “He gave me the inspiration to run in his memory. When someone close to you dies in your arms and there is nothing you can do, things like that bring you back to reality. The guy was a fighter right to the end.”

Mr Kitous decided to raise as much as he could for Macmillan Cancer Support, and started out by adding a voluntary £1 donation to every table at his restaurants, and emailing friends and business contacts. Before he knew it, people were donating money – some of them complete strangers writing cheques for £1,000.

“You realise that one person in three is going to be affected by cancer,” said Mr Kitous. “You don’t know who is going to be next. Maybe they were affected by it in some way and were moved to donate. I have been very touched.”

Despite suffering a knee injury and training for just six months instead of the usual two years – in which time he lost 30kg in weight – the entrepreneur pressed on.

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Of the gruelling race, he said: “There are very steep mountains, dry rivers and sand dunes. It can be very dangerous. Sometimes you are down on your hands and knees.

“But the atmosphere was amazing. You cannot describe the experience. The pain you go through, only you can feel; but then again it’s all in the mind.”

Mr Kitous didn’t sleep for more than 90 minutes per night and, like all competitors, had to carry a 13kg backpack with all his food, sleeping bag and provisions for the seven-day marathon. But didn’t he miss the culinary delights of his West End restaurants?

“I had rice and dried sauce mostly; it makes you realise that as human beings we have been spoiled, and you appreciate every single mouthful you have.”

He added: “When I was there I couldn’t wait to finish it and now that I have, I miss it.”

– You can still donate to Mr Kitous via his Just Giving page at www.justgiving.com/tony-kitous