Really pleased to have a six page photo article on the 28th edition of the Sultan Marathon des Sables in Trail Magazin.
The magazine is available for download for just 4 euros from this link: HERE
NO OVERTAKING ALLOWED!
Sometimes the nature of running courses mean that, despite our best efforts, overtaking the competitor in front is simply not possible. It might be too narrow, it might be too boggy, but it’s not often that overtaking is precluded by the mother of all sand dunes!
This striking images taken by our man on the ground (or in the desert) Ian Corless shows competitors in this year’s Marathon des Sables doing battle with the course – rather than each other!
The 28th running of the epic multi-day race in the Moroccan Sahara, this year’s race added a killer wind into the equation – as if it wasn’t hard enough already. We’ll be bringing you the full report in the August issue of Running Fitness.
Cada cara cuenta una historia, fatiga, cansancio y falta de sueño, cada línea de la cara como un campo arado listo para nuevos cultivos. Las mejillas se han vuelto cuevas, excavadas y colocadas bajo los pómulos.
Miradas fijas faltas de emoción. Los ojos se han vuelto hoyos en el espacio; miras en ellos y encuentras nada.
Esta es la 28va edición de la Marathon des Sables. Terreno rocoso, calor abrasador y dunas implacables empujas a todos hasta el límite pero es la cara de cada corredor la que muestra el dolor o la gloria, lo ves, sus rostros cuentan historias.
La Marathon des Sables ha sido descrita como una de las carreras de resistencia más duras en el planeta. Son seis días de autosuficiencia en el Sahara Marroquí. Cada corredor debe cargar todo lo que él o ella necesita para lograr terminar, la única excepción es el agua, la cual es racionada cada día.
El marroquí Mohamad Ahansal, cuatro veces ganador de esta carrera, vuelve por una quinta victoria. Su cara lleva confianza, su sonrisa ancha y brillante. Meghan Hicks, solo la segunda americana en la historia, después de Lisa-Smith Batchen en ganar dentro de las mujeres, se ve fresca y casi como un querubín con sus dos racimos de pelo salen de los lados de su cabeza.
You can view FACES OF MDS HERE
Water splashed over the large brimmed hat, Gilles poured and poured on Didier’s head to help reduce his temperature. Droplets floated in the air like stars in space and as they made contact they exploded with dramatic effect.
Dried salt on cheeks and lips disappeared but moments later re-appeared as the searing 50+ degree temperatures evaporated the water that continued to pour.
It was very early on in the longest stage of the 28th edition of the Marathon des Sables. It was midday. Gilles and Didier had only dented the distance needed to be covered before the 34-hour cut off would be imposed.
Moving onward, Didier embraced Gilles arm for stability. A very sore and enflamed right knee could give way at any moment. Gilles as ever, faithful to the cause provided the support and self-sacrifice to ensure that Didier’s journey to the line was safe and as trouble free as possible.
Twelve hours after the start darkness approached and with it some food and rest. With a new lease of life the two continued into 13 km of relentless dunes that reached two to three meters in height. In the distance a green laser shows Gilles the direction he needs to go. Didier follows, two become one and as the sun rises and the heat returns, victory and the opportunity to fight another day seems possible.
From the finish line I see two shadows on the horizon. It is 1600 in the afternoon. The warriors have been on the trail for 32 hours. Tired, weary and emotional they approach the line. I see Didier’s tattoo glisten in the scorching light. An MDS logo on his arm with nine stars around it, a star for every MDS finish. Next to the 9th, a space, would he obtain that 10th star at the 2013 edition of the race?
In the final meters to the line you can hear the shouts from MDS staff, “Bravo Gilles”, a marshal shouts “Allez Didier” and then the clapping and whoop whooping starts. It’s done, they cross the line an incredible 75.7 km’s completed over some of the most demanding conditions possible.
Didier falls into the arms of Gilles in an embrace similar to a small child who has just found a lost mother. Tears stream down his face as he sobs uncontrollably. Gilles, all smiles, pulls away and kisses him on each cheek with a passion seldom seen. It’s a moment I will never forget. It epitomized all that the Marathon des Sables represents. It shows a bond between two people and confirms all that is good and pure in human nature. You see, this is no ordinary achievement, Gilles is a guide and Didier is blind.
The final day of the Marathon des Sables is ‘usually’ an easy stage. Your finish is guaranteed! Almost….
Not so for the 2013 edition of the Sultan Marathon des Sables.
For the fast runners, one days rest had preceded the final competitive stage of the 28th edition of the race. However, for the slower runners who had taken over 24 hours to complete the 75.7km of the long day, rest was minimal.
The final leg was over the classic marathon distance. It was by no means and an easy day. When you add to this, plenty of sand, dunes and searing heat, it was going to be tough.
Tired limbs, sore and blistered feet moved to the start and after the obligatory briefing they were off, straight into dunes. Golden rollercoasters providing a light and dark palette. It was by far the most impressive start stage start of the entire race
In reality, the front end of the field was not going to see much change. It was guaranteed that barring a disaster; Mohamad Ahansal and Meghan Hicks would be crowned winners off the 28th Sultan Marathon des Sables.
However, Aziz El Akad and Jo Meek had different plans. Both of them ran incredibly hard over the 42km and secured two impressive stage wins. El Akad crossed the line in 03:18:36 and was awarded his medal by Patrick Bauer. In true MDS tradition, Patrick waits on the line and welcomes every runner on the last day. Jo Meek in particular ‘chicked’ many of the men with a time of 04:14:34. On the finish line the emotion and realization of what she had achieved took hold. As the tears rolled down her face she just said, “I can’t take it in. I came here to race but I never thought I would achieve second overall. Today’s distance, the classic marathon, is MY distance so I wanted to run hard”.
2012 winner, Salameh Al Aqra from Jordan finished a great 2013 race with second place in 03:26:34 and Mohamad Ahansal was close behind in 03:29:40. Danny Kendall had an inspired day and finished the race as he started with 6th on the stage with 03:46:19
Meghan Hicks finished second on the stage in 04:26:53 and after a relatively reserved crossing of the line she suddenly jumped, bounced and whoop whooped! Finally she was topping the podium at one of the most iconic races in the world.
Finishing the podium was another Brit, Zoe Salt. It really has been a year when the Brits have made a resounding presence felt and for sure, the ladies race looks very strong for the future.
The final day is all about medals and completing a journey. The finish line is a place of emotion. Every single person has a different emotion. Cheers and screams follow blank faces and hollow eyes. Tears roll down a cheek and arms are raised above heads and you hear a “yes! YES! I did it”.
The emotion, the camaraderie and the bonding of all was personified late in the evening when Didier Benguigui and his guide, Gilles arrived at the finish followed by a convoy of cars with flashing lights. An impromptu alleyway of staff with head torches and the support of many runners cheered, clapped and applauded as Didier crossed the line to complete his 10th Marathon des Sables.
Races are memories. Didier and Gilles summed up everything that one could witness in any race; devotion, sacrifice, suffering and ultimately victory.
As they walked past the line to the applause, cheers and celebrations of all, in bivouac a rock band started to warm up to provide some entertainment for tired and emotional bodies.
It was an incredible 2013 race and one that I feel honored to have witnessed
First Brit: Danny Kendall (GBR), 21h46’03
LINKS TO PHOTOGRAPHY
A portfolio of selected imagery from the 28th edition of the Sultan Marathon des Sables is now on line in individual galleries for each day.
Please follow the links for each gallery.
Before the race – link HERE
Stage one – Link HERE
Stage Two – Link HERE
Stage Three – Link HERE
Stage Four – Link HERE
Stage Five – Link HERE
Stage Six (non-competitive charity stage) – Link HERE
It is all excitement and buzz as hundreds of helpers and volunteers mobilise to the get the ‘Marathon des Sables’ show on the road.
It’s like moving a whole village. Vehicles line up in rows, khaki clad men and women run back and forth with bags. It is organised chaos. Everyone knows and understands what is required and slowly but surely bags, crates, water, food, tents and all manner of packages disappear and with a sound of engines, one-by-one they embark on the 5-6 hour journey into the Sahara to ‘base camp’.
Two days adapting to the environment and then on Sunday the race begins.
The greatest show on earth!
Runners testing themselves against heat, dunes and dehydration.
Let the excitement begin….
Read my race preview HERE
Read my interview with MDS RD Patrick Bauer HERE
Patrick Bauer has a passion and a love for the Marathon des Sables that the passing of the years has not suppressed. Back in 1984 he ventured into the Algerian Sahara to cover 350km’s alone in a self sufficient manner. Little did he know that his journey would not only change his life but also so many lives of so many others…
IC Patrick, welcome. In 1984 you took a solo journey across the Algerian Sahara. Why, what inspired you?
PB In 1984 I decided to take a self-sufficient journey of 350km. It took me 12 days; because of my self-suffiency my pack weighed 35 kilos. I needed enough food water for the whole journey. I had no help. It was an incredible undertaking.
IC What was the motivation, It must have taken some planning?
PB I had lived in West Africa for two years. I was employed to sell Encyclopedias to teachers and books on medicine to doctors and pharmacists. Returning to France was difficult. I had no desire to stay… I just wanted to leave again. During my 2 years in Africa I had crossed the Sahara five to six times by car but I wanted to cross on my own, on foot. I remember it well, I had returned to France, I had no apartment so I returned to my parents. I was back sharing a room with my brother. I woke up one morning and said
“I am going to cross the Sahara on foot”
My brother said, “Ok, go to sleep… you had a nightmare”
I said to my brother you must help with a camera and sponsors. Just three weeks later I left to take the journey.
IC That journey influenced the rest of your life but importantly it changed your immediate life in the mid 80’s. In 1986 you decided to share that experience and create Marathon des Sables. What gave you the confidence to create such a race? How did you know you would have a market?
PB I realized when I did a presentation to my village. I had friends and sponsors present. It was a thank you but I had awoken curiosity and interest. Local runners did not want to make the journey alone, so, I decided to organize it. No other event compared, maybe Paris-Dakar. It was a ground breaking moment.
IC In the early years, was participation mainly French?
PB Yes, French with the exception of one Moroccan. We had 23 runners at the first edition. It took 24 months to plan and create. Little did those 24 know that they would be the pioneers of one of the most beautiful stories that will soon be 30 years old?
IC In the early 1990’s you contacted ‘The Best of Morocco’ to introduce British and Irish runners, was this a long term plan to expand the race?
PB We already had contact with this agency (Best of Morocco) but by 1990 I had already done 5 editions of the Marathon des Sables. I wanted to expand internationally and I wanted as many countries present as possible. We started in a tentative way and today we have as many English runners as French and potentially more in the future.
IC British entries have reached 250+. The race is known worldwide. Did you know it would become so big?
PB I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined it would be what it is today. When a race is over, I start immediately on the next year. I have a passion and I don’t think about it all the time. I want to be more strategic with my long-term vision. 2015 is the 30th edition; I like to plan 3 years ahead so I already anticipate higher demand for 2015.
IC What is it that makes the race so special. You appeal to novices and experienced runners. It is a difficult balance but you do it so well.
PB I think it is the concept. The cocktail of the desert, running and the self-sufficiency. Nobody at the beginning thought it would be possible to run with a pack. The expedition was an extra bonus…. You need to manage everything; calories, water, clothing, rest etc. All these elements combine to create the ultimate experience. It was new! Today we have additional security. Runners tell us that the safety element is key. Believe it or not, the average age is 40yrs+. These participants have families and children so risk is not negotiable. We want to offer security and safety for all these participants. We have helicopters, planes and insurance to make sure everyone is protected. Finally, it is about testing your limits; in our busy lives we find going back to basics a wonderful experience. Under the stars with friends, sat around a campfire, simple conversation and no luxuries. It is primal. It brings out true values that we may have forgotten. Because the desert facilitates all that is around us, the stars, the universe, you don’t need a book to tell you that ultimately we are all insignificant.
IC What is it that makes runners that go back year after year?
PB Yes, we have some people returning for the 22nd or 23rd time. But it is not the same for all. If everyone came back we would have the same race, this would not be good. But we have a faithful family that we have created from the start. We have affinity and we love to find each other in the desert. We are also happy to find new friends. Maybe we have people return years later to celebrate a key moment such as a 50th birthday. We have a fraternity side, we share values. We have a respect for difference and other countries. All the languages that are spoken. These are the experiences that make the event. It is the combination of so many elements that make it great. We have an edge I think and that brings people back.
IC What is the future of the race? Will the race become bigger with more runners?
PB Yes, I think we will have more participants in 2013. We will have 350 from the UK. We had a meeting with worldwide representatives some time ago and it was decided that we would all work together on a communication strategy and we discussed the 30th edition. We have had great demand; we have refused more than 2,000 entries. I get messages about the 30th edition asking if it will be 300km as the 25th edition was 250km. Because of the worldwide economic crisis we may need to take more entries so that we can ensure the quality of the race such as safety. This is why we prepare 3 years ahead.
IC As a race director can you give us an insight into the Marathon des Sables?
PB The advise to the runners is repeated every morning, like, hydration, protecting your head, sun block and more specific advice concerning the course. Storms can just arrive and then last a half-day or even 4-5 days. A few years ago we had floods… that year we had to plan from day-to-day. It wasn’t easy. The biggest problems are usually weather related. For the rest of us, it is a safe country. We have government backing should we have a problem, for example we have military assistance. We have trucks and soldiers who transport the tents everyday and we have 400 people who work on the event. If you add journalists, drivers, volunteers etc. then we have more like 450 people. I have 110 people who directly report to me.
IC It is so impressive, the tents, the staff, and the helicopters. A circus!
PB It is a little like the circus. Up and down, load up and move. I am always impressed. It is fantastic.
IC Since the beginning can you pinpoint any highlights?
PB The feeling you get from every event. We have an extraordinary experience. We share values with participants and it creates a bond. Some say ‘never again’ and then two years later we see them again. We all strive for equilibrium to balance the experience and we all strive for positive thoughts. If we have them then we can share beautiful things.
IC In 2005 you had an Opera singer to sing before the start. A magical experience.
PB Yes, for the 20th anniversary we had a spectacular start with an Opera singer and musicians. She was Japanese. It was a moving experience. Classical music is in harmony with the desert. At the beginning the runners are still fresh so they can enjoy the experience.
IC What do you think of Olympian James Cracknells performance at Marathon des Sables, he is not your ‘typical’ desert runner?
PB He was an excellent champion, a top-level athlete who understood how to test the limits. So I think he had a new experience in the Sahara. He asked himself what he was doing at the race several times I think. Discovery Channel did a documentary on him. He demanded respect as an athlete. As a man I did not get to know him but as a sportsman I am sure he has great values.
IC Has the race become easier over time or have you made adjustments to make the experience more challenging?
PB The race is not easier. The distance has increased over the years but water can be a key issue and we now have great water supplies which was not so in the past. In the past water was an issue. But we all have short memories. We forget the hardships. Every year has new demands. We now have more positive incline. We used to spend time in the valleys.
IC True, we all forget hard times very quickly. We always remember the good times and they are our memories.
PB At the end you have sore feet and blisters… but your mind is selective. We filter the negative to retain the good. The human and sport experiences. We forget the soreness and remember the positive.
IC Do you still run, do you have the time?
PB Yes, I run after the sponsors, I run after my planes, I run after my trains… I started cycling a little and I do a little running. It’s not a good time for me. But then again, I always have an excuse. It is difficult but I am motivated to try to be more regular with my own exercise.
IC Patrick, it really has been excellent to get an insight into such an iconic race. Thank you so much.
PB Merci beaucoup
2013 RACE PREVIEW HERE
MARATHON DES SABLES 2013
The 2013 edition of the Marathon des Sables is a self-sufficient race in the South of the Moroccan desert, the event will take place from 5th to 15th April 2013. For the 18th consecutive year, it will be run under the patronage of his Majesty King Mohammed VI.
Since its creation in 1986, the Marathon des Sables has attracted over 13,000 competitors over 27 editions. From humble beginnings, the race is now the most prestigious multi-stage race in the world.
The 2013 Marathon des Sables will see 1,091 entrants toe the line. With 45 different nationalities and a strong presence from France and the UK, the 28th edition will be a memorable one.
Taking place in South Morocco, in the provinces of Errachidia and Tinghrir the race will cover 223.8km over 5 stages. It will encompass some of the most beautiful terrain in the Moroccan desert. Eagerly awaited by one and all, the dunes, ergs and dried-up wadis will delight the thousand or so entrants from the fifty plus countries across the globe.
5 April 2013: Leave country of residence for Morocco (UK entrants leave on the 4th) – Arrival in Ouarzazate, bus transfer to the 1st bivouac.
6 April 2013: Administrative, technical and medical checks – Day to acclimatise.
From 7-12 April 2013: Race in progress. (The self-sufficiency begins from breakfast on the 1st leg).
12 April 2013: Prizing ceremony in desert.
13 April 2013: Charity leg for UNICEF– Transfer to Ouarzazate.
14 April 2013: Day of relaxation, festivities.
15 April 2013: Return to country of residence.
Patrick Bauer affectionately describes the Marathon des Sables as a big circus. It’s like moving a city everyday… just look at what is involved.
Race management : This team comprises more than 100 people including a race HQ, race marshals, controllers, timekeepers and ranking compilers. Since 2010, the official ranking has been achieved using a “transponder” for all the competitors.
Supervision : 400 people: technical, logistical and medical skills, 100 vehicles, 2 helicopters, 1 CESSNA plane, 4 dromedaries… and the active support of the Royal Armed Forces: 21 lorries (6×6) and 40 men to supervise logistics.
Medical Assistance : A team of 50 people under Dr Frédéric COMPAGNON, DOC TROTTER supervises the runners as much on a medical level (care of feet, resuscitation…) as a mental level, both of which fail sometimes in front of the toughness of the event and the hostility of the climate.
In the 27th SULTAN MARATHON DES SABLES, 3 tonnes of gear was transported and the medical team used : 5km of Elastoplast, 2,700 second-skin patches, 125 litres of disinfectant, 230 litres of drip solutions, 15,000 compresses, 2,800 pairs of surgical gloves,…
Patrick Bauer interview available HERE
1984 : At the age of 28, Patrick Bauer decided to make a journey into the Sahara. His objective was to traverse 350km’s of uninhabited desert, on foot, alone and without any possibility of encountering a single village, oasis or watering place. Totally self sufficient, Patrick entered the desert with a pack weight of 35kg containing all his water and food. The journey lasted 12 days and it was the starting point of what has now become the MARATHON DES SABLES.
1986 : The creation of the first MARATHON DES SABLES in the Moroccan Sahara. The 23 pioneers who took the start never imagined that their footprints would mark the start of a legendary event, which today has become unmissable on the schedule for major adventure sport meets.
1989 : 170 competitors take the start of the race and the rest is history.
I caught up with Patrick Bauer at the MDS UK expo in late 2012. You can listen to that interview (lasts 13 minutes):
The 2013 Race – who will be taking part?
1,090 competitors aged 20 to 76 are expected to take the start (definitive number on 6 April following administrative and medical checks) representing 45 different nationalities: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Latvia, Luxembourg, Morocco, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of El Salvador, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States.
The participants are men and women with various and varied profiles (Doctors, farmers, coppersmiths, pilots, builders, chefs, servicemen and women, students, professional athletes and retired persons…).
The 2013 MDS Challengers for the overall win
The Female contenders for the overall win :
The Male contenders for the overall win :
In 2013 I followed two runners in the build up to the 2013 Marathon des Sables. Tobias Mews placed 21st overall in the 2010 race and Stuart Rae is toeing the line for the first time in 2013. Each interview alternated on episodes of Talk Ultra but they have been joined together in one episode (lasts just under 1 hour)
2012 results (for reference)
1st : Salameh Al Aqra (JOR) in 19h59’21’’ 2nd : Mohamad Ahansal (MAR) 21’02’’ behind 3rd : Aziz El Akad (MAR) 1h38’56’’ behind
1st : Laurence Klein (FRA) in 26h15’40’’ 2nd : Meryem Khali (MAR) 1h19’38’’ behind 3rd : Karine Baillet (FRA) 1h31’07’’ behind
The 2013 race route
One of the key aspects of the Marathon des Sables is what kit to take? Here is a list of ‘mandatory’ kit. Of course, you need to add to this food requirements, cooking equipment and any additional luxuries.
I will be reporting from the 2013 event as the race unfolds and providing I am able to gain adequate access to internet, I will update my website, Facebook and Twitter with reports and images as often as possible. So please keep checking!
Save The Date – Event from 5 to 15 April 2013
THE MARATHON DES SABLES: BEYOND JUST A RACE…
|Since 1986, the MARATHON DES SABLES has offered men and women from all around the world the privilege of an encounter with immoderation. That of landscapes, that of sporting challenge, but above all that of emotion.
An adventure carved out in the South Moroccan Sahara.
There were 23 in 1986, 27 years on there will be nearly a thousand runners coming together in this endurance race: 250 kilometres split into 6 legs marked out across the South Moroccan Sahara in the provinces of Errachidia and Tinghrir and to be completed at their own pace and self-sufficiently. Over the course of a week, competitors will experience one of the finest challenges of their existence, of their whole life sometimes. There are sure to be a few champions in their midst, but most often the runners are ‘ordinary’ men and women in search of the extraordinary. For a lot of people, confronting the desert for six days and being self-sufficient in terms of food intake, is the realisation of a dream that began to take shape several years earlier. And here they are, at the heart of a majestic setting, with the Merzouga dunes, the highest in Morocco, as a backdrop.
The richness and intensity of emotions
It is often an inner journey for all the competitors. Each day, for hours on end, they will run, jog or walk. Whatever the pace, their sole obsession is to make headway. In the heat, the wind, then the night, their bag strapped to their back, they’ll traverse the desert, with the light of their headtorch, the starry desert sky their only witness. With the passing kilometres, with the passing tracks left amid a string of dunes, in a dried out erg, or on the summit of a djebel, they separate off from the superficial to simply be left with the essential. That will be their finest victory. “On the Marathon des Sables, you cut yourself off from the world, you learn to rediscover the simple pleasures,explains Nicolas Esterhazy, a 50-year old Belgian runner. It’s hard to express how you feel in words or images. Added to that is the solidarity between the runners. You run and you come across someone from Columbia, Portugal or China. You don’t know them but you share a moment with them. Such encounters are absolutely priceless.” “This race is kind of reminiscent of the United Nations,adds Kirk McCall, a runner newly arrived from Florida. The runners come from all over the world and share the same emotions, helping each other out. All the barriers are erased. The politicians of our world should take inspiration from the Marathon des Sables.”
An XL organisation
400 people manage the event, including 110 volunteers who come to add their contribution to this ocean of sand. This caravan also employs some 250 Moroccans, 65 of whom are allocated to the 119 runners’ tents as well as over 60 drivers capable of recognising nearly every stone and dune in the desert. An absolute priority at the MARATHON DES SABLES, safety remains a constant concern. Over 50 doctors and nurses treat 300 to 400 people each day, ranging from the unmissable blister to the more delicate operations.
Solidarity Marathon des Sables: The joy in sharing
Having financed the creation of wells and some more specific projects, the MARATHON DES SABLES has now gone the extra distance in its solidarity with Morocco by creating the Association, SOLIDARITY MARATHON DES SABLES. Inaugurated on 11 April 2010, the centre, situated to the North of Ouarzazate, offers those aged 3 to 5 early-learning sports activities and for those aged 6 to 11 early-learning athletics activities. In 2012, the association has also launched the Fémmissima operation, an initiative designed to boost literacy among women. These long-term projects have a budget of between 45,000 and 50,000 Euros. The aim is to perpetuate this action through donations from the runners, of whom there are an increasing number each year who support the Association SOLIDARITY MARATHON DES SABLES. Because joy is infinitely more beautiful when it is shared.