The long day at Marathon des Sables. It is always feared and rightly so. Coming on day 4, bodies are already tired and depleted. This year, the challenge is 90km, the second longest long day in the races 37th year history.
The 37th edition has already been impacted by the intense heat and challenging terrain with approximately 200 withdrawals before the long day started.
With 36 hours allowed to complete the challenge, it was going to be a tough challenge for all. The race start was brought forward by 1-hour once again, 0700 instead of 0800. The top 50 staring at 1000.
Self management is key. With aid stations approximately 10km’s apart, the race can be broken down, Cp by Cp and for most, the welcome of sunset and cooler temperatures makes travelling by foot easier.
The front of the race was highly anticipated with Rachid, Mohamed and Aziz close together on the GC. But really, all eyes were on Rachid looking for a 10th victory.
The day started with Rachid pushing the pace ahead of the other contenders but no real gaps opened up, for much of the day, the trio were close together and it stayed this way all the way to the end with Mohamed finishing 1st (8:14:39), Aziz 2nd (8:14:45) and Rachid 3rd (8:14:58), the GC staying with Mohamed as leader. It’s all to fight for come the marathon stage. Mathieu Blanchard once again ran consistency securing 4th place on GC.
Update: 1400hrs 27/04
Rachid El Morabity and Aziz El Akad both failed a mandatory kit check ahead of the stage 4 start. The reason, ‘outside assistance.’ This has resulted in a 3-hour time penalty given against Rachid and Aziz and the Morocan team will be penalised.
Ragna Debats had dominated the first three stages and barring disaster, was almost guaranteed victory. But, there are no guarantees in the Sahara. The terrain brutal, the heat intense and the challenge extreme.
Ragna struggled early on, looking uncomfortable and lacking power. She started to fade and eventually she started to fall back with Maryline Nakache and Aziza El Amrany pulling away. The gaps opened and Maryline became the provisional leader on the trail.
As sunset came, Maryline and Aziza were together before Cp6, Maryline looking troubled, Aziza looking strong.
Aziza forged ahead to take a well earned stage victory in 11:44:39. Maryline is now the women’s leader of the 37th Marathon des Sables finishing stage 4 in 11:50:04. Tomomi Bitoh, Corina Sommer and Catherine (Katy) Young all moved up in the rankings. The marathon stage will be interesting!
For many, today, Thursday is a rest day, recovering from the long day. But remember, runner’s have till 1700 hours to complete the stage, another day of intense heat to fight against.
The MDS is called ‘The Toughest Race in the World,’ in 2023 it is proving to be true. The combination of distance, heat, challenging terrain, self-sufficiency and rationed water make this an ultimate challenge.
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