An east Londoner bitten by the running bug will sweat it out in the “world’s toughest footrace” to help the homeless stay snug and warm this winter.

While Ross Whelan is sprinting through hot sand during the Marathon des Sables , thoughts of providing sleeping bags and shelter at Veterans Aid will push him through the 156 sweltering miles.

The finance expert will be slathering on suncream and shouldering his own supplies across Africa’s Sahara desert where temperatures can reach a scorching 50degrees.

The 42-year-old is preparing for the April event with intense training in the rathermore chilly Canning Town, clocking up 16 hours each week.

He still classes himself as a “newbie” to the ultra marathon running discipline despite having already conquered Mont Blanc in one of five races measuring 26 miles or more.

“People think I’m mad, but running is just an escape,” said Ross, whose mission was sparked after befriending a Londoner living on the streets.

“It’s one of the few sports you can do where you have got downtime between work and getting home and leaves you to your own thoughts.

“I’ve had it on the radar for a couple of years and `I just thought I’d go for it now - I’m in a good place and my body’s still in one piece thankfully.”

Race organisers have made things even trickier too - they haven’t revealed the exact distance competitors should tackle during the six-stage challenge between April 8 and 16.

This means Ross and his fellow runners have the additional mental obstacle of not knowing when the non-stop phase of 75km will be sprung upon them.

As well as putting in what he calls an “unbelievable” amount of strength and conditioning work to prepare his muscles, Ross said he had picked up some top tips from previous competitors.

While he won’t be going as far as to snip out the labels of his running vests to shed deny micro-grams of weight, he will be planning his food intake and kit to the nth degree.

He is also a keen trekker and said planning routes was a skill which would also come in handy.

“I’m an Irishman, I’ve got fair skin so I have to be very careful about the sun,” he said.

“To understate that would be mad - I’ve got SPF 50 just in case, I don’t want to mess up on the sun.

“That’s my big worry.

“The thing I’m most looking forward to is just getting out there with like-minded people.

“When you’re pushing through the long hours and thinking why am I doing this run, you’ve got people with you going through it for different reasons.

“Everyone has an individual story - and just talking to people gives you that buzz.”

Ross will be completing his feat for the charity’s Limehouse hostel and hopes to raise £1,000.

After buying coffee and a sleeping bag for a homeless man he chatted to on his way home, he said he wanted to do more than just donate cash to those without a place to stay.

“It’s inspiring the work Veterans Aid has done and how many people they have helped out,” he said.

“I realised by giving money, that wasn’t the right way, by going to the charity was the right way.

“It’s about raising its profile.”