Located 800 miles from Oslo and 95 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Lofoten is an archipelago in Nordland county, known as the land of the midnight sun, from the end of May to the middle of July sunset merges into sunrise, with no darkness in between. Majestic mountains, lush valleys, chalk-white beaches, seagull cries, the smell of sea and houses where you would not believe that anyone could live. It’s Lofoten in a nutshell.
Highlights are countless, especially for an enthusiastic tourist, however, as a runner, you are in an amazing position to explore. Off the beaten track you get to see the ‘real’ Lofoten that only the hardy get to see. Higravtind, 1146m is the highest peak, what Lofoten lacks in height, it more than compensates for with a plethora of mixed terrain and endless peaks connected via sea, beach, road, and trail.
The Arctic Triple isa series of races (skimo, ultra-trail and triathlon) that take place at 3 key points of the year, March week 11, June week 22, and August week 33. Created to showcase this stunning archipelago; the Ultra-Trail (and shorter races) takes place in June bringing endless days and nights of light.
Providing a perfect opportunity to sightsee while running, it comes as no surprise that the 160km, 80km, 48km, 24km and 12km races are extremely popular, 750 toed the line in 2023. In addition, there is a 160km relay competition and a 80km relay competition.
Passing through amazing scenery of mountain ridges, white beaches, green hills, and grey cliffs, the race routes are stunning and for almost the entire time, the ocean is in view. All the races conclude in Svolvær.
Reine, the classic picture postcard view of Lofoten, is a small fishing village located on the island of Moskenesøya, surrounded by towering mountains, this is where The Arctic Triple experience starts for 160km runners leaving by boat for Kirkefjord, the official start line.
Highlights come thick and fast, the peak of Kråkhammar towering the opening km’s to cp1 at Selford. The beach of Kvalvika is by far the loneliest beach in Lofoten on the way to cp2 at Fredvang. In previous editions, Unstad, Uttakleiv and Haukland beach have been part of the race route, but for 2023, changes were made to accommodate local farmers and livestock. A coastal section from Nesland to Nusjford providing rolling and at time technical trail.
Nusford, like Reine, is a picture postcard fishing village on the southern shore of the island of Flakstadøya. What follows is arguably one of the more challenging sections of the whole race route and the cp at Napp (56km) is a key aid station. The coastal trail loop of Offersøy leads eventually to Leknes, 73km covered and it is here that the 80km race starts.
Now, as the 160km route counts down to the finish in Svolvær, the respective 48km, 24km, and 12km races start. The route from Brustranda climbing up from the coastline into Grønbakkan being a highlight.
Torvdalshalsen and the 48km start leads to Vetten and some challenging terrain before climbing a steep wall of grass and a race highlight of Dalstuva ridge. Road miles follow and now, with approximately 20km’s to go, the route enters the whammy of Jordtinden, Nonstinden, Spisstinden and finally Tjeldbergtinden before finally arriving in Svolvær, exhausted!
Lofoten, on foot, is relentlessly beautiful and challenging and for 2023, even more so, with persistent rain, strong winds at time varying amounts of snow; the final section over Nonstind, Spisstind and Tjeldbergtinden providing an even greater challenge with recent snowfall, varying levels of visibility and cold temperatures.
“You run on some absolutely fantastic trail, and you are constantly surrounded by sea and lush mountains. It is a raw experience, steep mountain sides, narrow edges and 100% concentration is required. There are airy parts that offer a challenge and incredible views. Single-track, road, marshland, dense forest, mud and views to make my eyes sore – what a place Lofoten is!” – Abelone Lyng
Ultimately, Lofoten is a magical paradise that is waiting to be explored. There is so much to do and see that one trip will not be enough and it will only whet the appetite for future visits and plans.
However, if you need an introduction to this magical part of the world, signing up for one of The Arctic Triple races would be a great introduction. Of course, the 160km race provides the ultimate point-to-point immersive experience from Reine to Svolvær, for many though, this is too far and too challenging, but watch this space, new for 2024 (in addition to the 160km single-stage) the 160km race will be broken down in to four stages and offer Norway’s first multi-stage race (more info HERE), it will provide a full and immersive experience.
160km, 80km, 48km, 24km, 12km or the new stage race, running The Arctic Triple lets you experience the nature, views and atmosphere of Lofoten – there is no better way to experience any place!
The 37th edition of the iconic Marathon des Sables concluded at Merzouga Dunes (Erg Chebbi) after what is considered, one of the hardest and most challenging editions of the race, 2021 an exception.
Coming later in April due to Ramadan, the predictions were always for hotter temperatures and an increased chance of sandstorms – we got them both!
Gladly, the intense sandstorms subsided after stage 2, but the heat grew in intensity as the week progressed with 42 degree temperatures in the shade and low 50 degree temperatures recorded in the direct sun.
This of course impacted on every participant and every member of staff.
October 2021 and the 35th edition was plagued by a Norovirus that debilitated many of the staff and runner’s, also, some of the most sustained and intensive heat that the race has experienced. It was a perfect storm that resulted in nearly 50% not completing the race. An in-depth article is HERE.
The 36th edition by contrast was the opposite, only confirming that extreme endurance challenges can bring anything and being prepared and adapting is key and integral for successful completion. However, significant sandstorms did increase the DNF rate to around 10%.
Here in 2023 there was no Norovirus, just intense heat that resulted in heat stroke, exhaustion and the second highest dropout rate in the 37-year history of the race – 30%.
1085 started the race on stage 1 and after the completion of the charity stage, 764 were confirmed finishers.
1085 partants started the race
Étape 1 : 21 abandons
Étape 2 : 106 abandons
Étape 3 : 72 abandons
Étape 4 : 119 abandons
Étape 5 : 3 abandons
Total : 321 abandons
Pourcentage DNF : 29,6%
What can be learnt from the 2023 edition and why such a high DNF rate?
Preparation – The 2021 edition of the race and huge dropout rate was a wakeup call for any racer, I would say that the 2023 edition of the race had participants who were well aware and understood the nature of the challenge. If the 35th and 36th editions can teach us anything, the key take away is you MUST be prepared for anything; intense heat, cold, sandstorms and the unexpected.
Sandstorms – They plagued the early stages of the 2023 edition, however, lessons had definitely been learnt from the 2022 edition when sandstorms increased the DNF rate. Far more runners in the 37th edition were prepared with specific eyewear that functions in harsh conditions. It’s a key item that to all intents and purposes should be mandatory on an MDS kit list. Gladly, sandstorms did not really impact when runners were on the course, the latter part of stage 2 an exception. The sandstorms impacted on camp life and comfort. Had they hit during racing, DNF rates may well have been higher.
Heat – It’s the Sahara, it gets hot! May sound silly to say, but, this is the nature of the event. Now of course, we can get extremes, 2021 and 2022 a perfect example, arguably the hottest and the coldest. 2023 sits most definitely in the hotter end of the 37-year history of the race and the DNF rate shows this. Quite simply heat adaptation and preparation is key coming in to the MDS in the 14-days before the race. If you do not do this, the adaptation will take place during the race and quite simply, the body cannot handle it and boom, you overheat, dehydrate, get sickness and withdraw. Stage 2 shows the impact with 106 abandons. I would normally say here, that by the time the ‘long day’ comes, DNF rates reduce due to adaptation taking place, BUT for the 37th edition they increased, why? Quite simply, temperatures continued to rise, the long day was arguably the hottest day of the race, it placed tired bodies in more intense heat and the knock on effects are easy to see. Also, let’s not forget the race distances.
Race Distances – The DNF rate in 2023 is without doubt a result of the intense heat, however, I do feel the race stages also contributed. To be clear here, I am not asking for easier stages, just providing an overview. Stage 1 at 36km was a long stage. When one considers that day 1 is ‘typically’ 29-32km, the additional distance adds to an immediate stress and strain. It’s easy to look on and say, but it is only 4km to 6km! True, but 4 to 6km for some can be 2 to 3-hours in the heat. It takes a toll. Stage 2 was a beautiful stage and a classic distance, however, this stage had more technicality and additional vertical gain, this in itself added a stress and strain, add intense heat and sandstorms towards the end of the day, plus carry over fatigue from stage 1 and we can see how 106 did not finish. Stage 3 is always a cautious stage as many want to preserve energy for stage 4, the long day. Starting with km after km of flat running, the stage was in comparison to other stages, an easier day, however, 72 abandoned. Stage 4 at 90km was the second longest ever stage of the MDS, coming in a brutality hot year, it was always going to be a tough challenge. A beautiful route that included climbing Jebel Otfal, the route had relentless soft sand and intense heat. Darkness and cooler temperatures were the saviour of many runners and despite this, 119 did not make the line. Stage 5 and the medal is in sight, no matter how tough the day is, the hug and kiss from Patrick makes one more day of pain manageable, despite this, sadly, 3 did not make the line.
Heat Stroke – D&V did happen during the race and while some questioned if a virus was present, it was clear to see that any resemblance to 2021 was not there. Heat stroke has very similar symptoms to a bug: tiredness · dizziness · headache · feeling sick or being sick · diarrhea. I saw countless runners with heat rash on their legs and bodies.
Pack Weight – Again and again, one of the key easy gains for MDS completion is getting pack weight as close to 6.5kg as possible. Additional weight is additional strain. In intense heat this is only magnified.
Walking – If I had a euro for every time I have preached, ‘learn to walk’ I would be a rich man. MDS always makes people walk far more than they want or anticipate. Add intense heat, walking becomes normal for everyone, the elite excluded. Rising core temperatures require you to reduce stress on you and the body, even if you do not want to walk you will be forced too. Continue raising internal temperature and eventually you’ll need to stop, hopefully seek shade and reset and carry on. The DNF’s in 2023 show that heat just wiped people out. So, effective walking is a key MDS strategy.
Poles – Quite simply, poles and knowing how to use them are a key weapon in helping achieve an MDS finish for those typically outside the top-50. However, Norwegian runner Gaute Løset was the personification of great pole technique and placing 11th overall. Poles provide 4-wheel drive, stability and help reduce some fatigue by helping to distribute load stresses. Trust me, poles are a key weapon for most at MDS.
Mind – Broken and tired bodies were willed to the end through thick and thin due to incredible mental strength and fortitude. Training is not only physical, but mental.
Be Prepared – Hot or cold, dry or humid, windy or not, the Sahara can throw anything at you. Racing MDS is not complicated, understand the challenge and prepare accordingly. The greater the preparation, the greater chance of completion!
Rachid El Morabity was going for a 10th MDS victory and all eyes were on him. Ragna Debats was returning to MDS after winning the race in 2019, she was the odds-on favourite for victory. It was not to be for either of them.
Rachid was running a typically smart race using his brother, Mohamed as a decoy to counter any threat from Aziz Yachou and Mathieu Blanchard. Fireworks were expected come stage 4 but the race felt nuetralized with Rachid, Mohamed and Aziz all finishing within 1-minute. This placed Mohamed the leader of the race. During the ‘rest day’ thoughts for the race strategy come the marathon stage were simple, Rachid would mark Aziz, Mohamed would police the race and then conveniently lose enough time to place Rachid winner of the race and gain his 10th victory. However, at 2pm on the rest day, Rachid and Aziz El Akad were both issued with 3-hour time penalties after failing a bag check just before the start of stage 4. The reason being ‘outside assistance!’
They both had items that could only have been provided by another person therefore giving them an advantage. To be clear here, many other runners were also tested before stage 4. Rachid’s chances of victory were over, he and Aziz withdrew from the race. Finally after many years being domestique to his elder brother, Mohamed clinched his first victory with Aziz Yachou placing second and Mathieu Blanchard third.
Ragna Debats dominated the early stages of the race building a huge time gap, we all thought the race was over. Signs of some fatigue and distress were visible on stage 3. However, come stage 4, the race unfolded for Ragna and she fought a long and hard day to finish many hours outside the top 3 women and therefore there was no longer a chance of victory or podium.
Maryline Nakache took over the reigns and despite Aziza El Amrany winning the long stage, she held on to victory with Aziza second and Tomomi Bitoh once again placed 3rd as she did in 2021.
The 2023 was classic, stage 2 and the long day providing the best of this region of the Sahara. Combined with the intense heat, it was a tough race. The long day, while not the longest (92km in 2009) was a significant challenge with an abundance of soft sand. Stunning views, ridges, climbs, soft sand, two crossings of Jebel Otfal, salt flats and oasis, the 2023 route was special.
MDS is a magical Saharan experience that really is one of the greatest experiences in running. A small city moves seamlessly and like clockwork day-by-day, a wonderful, magical, moving road show that is difficult to understand and appreciate until you are living it.
Stripped back from connection and technology, MDS is one of the ultimate raw experiences in this crazy modern and connected world; one tent, 8-people, one bag per person; rationed food, clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, mandatory equipment and rationed water, it gets no simpler or basic. For those who have experienced it, they know the life changing process that the experience brings. They dared to place themselves in the arena knowing that if at least they fail, they do so while daring greatly.
A beautiful sunrise over bivouac and the final timed stage of the 2023 and 37th edition of the Marathon des Sables would get underway.
The marathon stage had been highly anticipated as it was expected, that Rachid El Morabity would come from behind and gain time on his brother, Mohamed and clinch his 10th victory. However, this was not to be!
Rachid, along with Aziz El Akad failed an equipment check before the long stage (stage 4) of the Marathon des Sables. This check showed items that were not present at the initial kit check on admin day. The items, coincidentally, were provided each day in lunch packets for MDS staff. In simple terms, Rachid and Aziz were obtaining ‘outside assistance’ to gain an advantage and this, of course, is outside the rules of the race and the sense of fair play. On the rest day, a penalty of 3-hours was given to Rachid and Aziz and also, the Moroccan team was penalised. Rachid and Aziz decided to leave the race and not participate in the last stage.
Rachid has since posted on his Instagram account, and I quote:
“…it is with heavy heart I have decided to quit Marathon des Sables because I was punished unfairly for a mistake I dod not commit. When you are wrongly accused, it’s better to stand with your head high than to remain to suffer injustice…”
Sadly, this is a sad chapter in the history of the Marathon des Sables and the legacy of Rachid. However, it’s greatly important that self-sufficiency in the true nature of the MDS is held and when applicable, penalties are given, irrespective of if you have won 9 editions or not.
The 2023 edition will go down in the history of the race as one of the toughest! A beautiful but tough route, was made considerably tougher with intense heat that not only lasted the week, but increased in temperature daily. Also, early days were impacted with multiple sand storms. At the time of writing, the DNF rate is approximately 30% with just 771 runner’s starting the marathon stage.
It was a day full of emotion, finally, Mohamed El Morabity was finally released from the pressures of working for an elder brother and ran a smart race. He consolidated his lead by marking his closest rival Aziz Yachou and then in the final km’s he opened a gap crossing the line in 3:18. A huge victory for the Moroccan.
Aziz placed 2nd on the stage and 2nd overall on GC with Visiili Korytkin rounding out the stage podium. Mathieu Blanchard placed 3rd overall on GC, a great step up from his 2021 5th place.
For the women, Maryline Nakache won the stage and the overall GC. Tomomi Bitoh who won the marathon stage the last time she raced MDS today placed 2nd and 3rd on GC. Aziza El Amrany placed 3rd on stage and 2nd oveall.
Of course, today, the finish is full of tears, joy and emotion. The 37th edition has been a tough one and it’s clear to see the elation as the line is crossed and finally, it’s possible to relax and let go. There have been many highs and lows for all. As always, there are countless stories that transcend running and in time, those stories will be told. But just look at the images below to get a glimpse of the inspiration, the journey, the transformative process that MDS brings.
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.
Day 2 was tough. It was a challenging route, incredibly beautiful but the added technicality, vertical gain and intense heat took its toll with many DNF’s.
The organisation made a decision to bring the stage 3 start forward by 1-hour, 0700 instead of 0800. It maybe caused some logistical, admin and timing issues for all but it was a good call.
At 34km, stage 3 had less challenges than stage 2, but still a tough day.
With flat km’s to Cp1, the pace was high and Mathieu Blanchard was a main protagonist. He often pushed the pace, closely followed by Aziz, Mohammed and Rachid.
After Cp2 a resplendent area of green vegetation brought a different life to the Sahara. Camels, birds and reptiles, rare to see so much wildlife in one area.
The main protagonists pushed the pace and eventually Mathieu faded leaving the overall top-3 on GC together.
As I expected, Mohammed attacked and not only took the stage but the overall lead. It’s what I expected. The ‘brothers’ have a plan for the long day, but, at 90km’s, anything can happen.
For the women, it was business as usual with Rgna leading. But, after Cp1 she went through a bad patch and Aziza El Amrany took over the front of the race with Ragna complaining of, ‘…feeling fine and lacking power.’
As the race progressed, it all changed. Ragna regained the front and won in 3:29:36.
Maryline Nakache once again ran a strong and consistent stage to not only catch Aziza, pass her and put time into her, the duo finishing in 3:4104 and 3:42:36.
Tomorrow is the big day! It’s beautiful route with some MDS classics in the terrain. At 90km, it will be extremely tough for all. The race will start 1-hour earlier than planned, 0700. The top-50 will start at 1000.
It was a tough first day to the 2023 Marathon des Sables with 17 dropping out, a combination of heat, dehydration and exhaustion. Although a shorter day-2 was welcomed, it had increased technicality and vertical gain, therefore making it an equally hard day.
Mood in camp was high, many telling war wound stories of day-1 and somewhat apprehensive about what was to come.
From the gun, Rachid went hard and immediately opened a gap. A rare tactic for him, he usually like to hold back and slowly speed up. Today, boom, he was gone. By Cp1 the carnage behind was taking hold, the pace high!
On one of the key ridges of the day, Rachid held a lead over the pursuing Aziz who was marked by Mohamed El Morabity, the brothers once again using tactics to an advantage. Mathieu Blanchard was 5th.
After Jebel El Otfal, the descent, following sand dunes and flat run to the line, Mohamed and Rachid switched places (a tactical move?) and Mohamed took victory in 2:29:05. Rachid followed in 2:29:30 and then Aziz 2:29:42.
What can we make of this? My thoughts are Rachid would like Aziz to think he is not as strong as he imagined, therefore casting a doubt… I wouldn’t be surprised if Rachid gave away minutes on stage 3 to the the pressure off for the long day, and then, attack!
The women’s race once again was dominated by Ragna Debats, she is too strong! Of course, the race is not over, anything can happen, especially on a 90km long day, but, Ragna, in this form is unbeatable. She crossed the line in 3:19:14.
Maryline Nakache and Aziza El Amrany ran together early in the day, but the elastic snapped and once again, Maryline pulled away to finish in 3:36:36. Wl Amrancy crossed in 3:55:55.
Notably, Jodie Moss from the UK, 4th on stage 1, finished out of the top-5 today. A tactical move? I am sure she would prefer to start in the 0800 start and not the midday start for the long day.
Stage 3 is 34.4km and in principal, will be an easier day. But the heat is strong and the challenge real.
Stats -1085 runners started stage 1, of which 228 were women. At the end of stage 2, the drop outs were nearly 100!
A beautiful calm morning welcomed the runners to stage 1 of the 37th edition of Marathon des Sables. Finally, the wait would be over and the challenge could begin.
Needless to say, nerves and excitement filled bivouac but the general consensus was, ‘I just want to get started!’
And started they did, precisely at 0830 the runners departed after Patrick Bauer’s compulsory briefing.
Visilli from Russia set the early pace and pulled away with the ‘hot favorites’ behind allowing him to open a gap. Erik Clavery followed. Rachid as per usual eased in to the day, starting further back and slowly pressing the accelerator to increase speed.
Mohamed El Morabity, Aziz Yachou, Mathieu Blanchard and a string of other top-10 hopefuls chased the duo.
But eventually, the race started to come together with the two early protagonists caught and after Cp2 Rachid started to apply the pressure. He opened a gap and behind nis brother marked Aziz Yachou and Mathieu Blanchard.
By the line, Rachid crossed in 2:46:15 and a 1-minute margin over his brother, Mohamed. Aziz finished 1-second later and Mathieu fourth in 2:51:48.
It was a strong start for Rachid, he his here for his 10th victory and he looks strong!
In the women’s race, as expected, Ragna Debats lead from the front and it stayed that way all the way to the line. At all times she looked relaxed, it control and running within herself, her time, 3:26:40.
Behind, Maryline Nakache pulled away from Aziza El Amrany after running together for many km’s. The French woman was to strong and she stopped the clock in 3:36:29.
El Amrany certainly suffered from earlier efforts and finished in 3:53:54, just managing to hold off Jodie Moss from the UK who closed well to finish in 3:57:47.
It was a hot day! Despite early morning cloud and occasional wind, the heat certainly took its toll with many runners arriving exhausted. Stage 2 is shorter than day 1, but, it has more climbing, more technical sections and more soft-sand. It will be a tough day.
The 37th Marathon des Sables is underway with over 1100 runners arriving in Morocco from over 50 different countries.
Arrival in to the Sahara for many was harsh, with strong and relentless sand storm lasting several hours, gladly they subsided for Patrick Bauer’s welcome to the desert.
Saturday, is admin day. Each runner passes through protocols of equipment checks, health checks, bib collection and once dinner has been completed, self-sufficiency begins.
It has been a good first day with a great deal of apprehension, positivity, excitement and of course, an urge to ‘get underway!’
Stage 1 covering 36km with 2 aid stations is split in to 3 distinct sections. The early section is flat with a passing through Jebel Mech Irdane followed by soft-sand and Oued Rheris. Cp1 is followed by harde, faster terrain and small rolling hills that leads to dunettes and the arrival of Cp2. From here in, the running is good and fast to complete a potentially challenging first day of the 2023 MDS.
Rachid El Morabity and Ragna Debats are the hot favourites in 2023, read a preview HERE.
The 2023 MARATHON DES SABLES draws near and as usual, here is a preview of the coming edition. We will look at the top contenders for the male and female podiums, provide an overview of MDS history and look at some crazy statistics.
Since 1986, well over 22,000 participants have raced at the Marathon des Sables and we have record (or close to record) for 2023, with1200+/- toeing the line. As per usual, the race is multi-national with over 50 represented. The French and British providing the largest contingent.
THE TOP MEN AND WOMEN
Rachid El Morabity returns looking for his 10th victory, all eyes will be on him, but he is in for a fight! 2019 female champion, Ragna Debats returns and is without doubt the hot favourite for the top of the women’s podium.
THE WOMEN RACE
Ragna Debats dominated the race in 2019 and in recent years has become one of the top trail, ultra and skyrunner’s in the world. When in form, she is incredibly difficult to beat. In 2022 she had an incredible season with four top victories, Transgrancanaria 129km, Istria by UTMB, Montreux Trail Festival and the 100m Nice Côte d’Azur by UTMB. Ragna has had a relatively quiet start to 2023 and recently she has changed her coach of 13-years. She will be meticulously prepared for MDS 2023.
Gemma Game from the UK has been on the podium of MDS twice, 2018 and 2019, on both occasions placing 3. Gemma most definitely can win MDS but, as she will tell you, she runs for fun and MDS is an escape from a very busy and hectic life with a high-powered job and family. Is she wants to, she will be on the podium again in 2023.
Manuela Socco from Belgium is not a runner I am very aware of; however, two results stand out, victory at Cappadocia Medium Trail in 2019 and Tarawera 100km in 2020. She has also represented Belgium at the Olympic Games in the marathon distance. With a 35min 10km, a 1:16 half marathon and a 2:37 marathon, she has all the running fire power to create a stir in the Sahara.
Maryline Nakache from France has a string of top results, she often wins! However, stand-out markers come from Templiers (3rd) 90km du Mont-Blanc (3rd), CCC (5th) Transgrancanaira Advanced (1st), Tenerife Blue Trail (1st), UTMB (6th) and in 2022 alone she was never out of the top-5.
Tomomi Bitoh from Japan was 3 in the 2021 MDS and has recently participated in The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica. She is an incredible personality, a fierce competitor and although the podium is a possibility in 2023, I feel that she will just be outside the top ranking.
Elise DELANNOY (France) was 18th in the 2016 MDS in 38-hours. This is a long way off the pace required to podium in 2023… But a great deal has happened since then, notably a 7th place at UTMB in 2019, so, Elise cannot be ruled out of shaking up the front of the race.
Corina Sommer from Zurich recently won the Oman Desert Marathon against Aziz Raji (past MDS champ) and Aziza El Amrany who had led the race only to have Corina run two incredibly strong days and take the victory. New to trail, she placed 18th at Templiers and 3rd at Istria by UTMB for the 68km. She will need a great week to make the podium, but it’s a distinct possibility.
Jodie Moss from the UK was 8th at MDS in 2019 and has been preparing meticulously for the 2023 edition. However, recent injury issues placed the race in question, but it looks like she will be in the Sahara, hopefully in great shape.
Ester Alves won The Coastal Challenge in 2016 and placed 3rd in 2017. She also raced MDS in 2017 ￼but the race did not go to plan… In recent years, she has had time away from the sport, but last year, Ester raced Everest Trail Race which will have no doubt provided some great momentum for the Sahara.
Maria Semerjian has results going back to 2009 and without doubt, she enjoys the tough mountain courses, UTMB, Raid de la Reunion, Grand Raid Pyrenees, UTMF, and more… The distance won’t be a problem, however, the speed to make the top-5 may well be the problem.
Brunhilde Girardet recently won Trail de Cité de Pierres as a warmup for MDS. It’s her first edition, so, let’s see…
Wild card – Katie Young from the UK.
Laurence Klein returns, she has won MDS three times, with no disrespect to the Queen of the desert, there is no chance of victory in 2023, but she will no doubt bring colour to the race.
Currently, Aziz Raji and Aziza El Amrany are NOT on the start list, but I hope they do make it to the 2023 edition. It’s important that Morocco has female representation and of course, both of them have great potential for the top 5. Raji has won the race and El Amrany was 3rd in 2022.
THE MEN RACE
The men’s race is extremely notable in 2023 as Rachid El Morabity will look for a 10th victory. This will without doubt add an extra dynamic to the race, particularly after the superb tactics which played out in the 2022 edition.
Rachid El Morabity is the boss of the Sahara and the hot favourite. BUT, I believe this year will be his toughest challenge. There are multiple reasons for this… Rachid has expectation on him, this is not really an issue, he can handle that. He has raced a great deal in the past 12-months, he may be tired? The Moroccan team is probably at its weakest, especially when compared to the past ten editions, so, the support network will be less. The competition, namely Mathieu Blanchard and Aziz Yachou are a serious threat. Will Rachid win? It is very hard to bet against him, but 2023 has the potential to be the upset year.
Mohamed El Morabity is the eternal 2nd at MDS and his possibilities of victory in 2023 are zero if Rachid is in good form. The only opportunity for Mohamed is if Rachid falters and he gets the green light from his elder brother to attack. In Oman Desert Marathon earlier in the year, Mohamed took victory ahead of Rachid, don’t be fooled in to thinking Mohamed was stronger, he was gifted the win as credit for April and the 2023 MDS. Mohamed can win the race, but just as we saw in 2022, he will be the super domestique for Rachid.
Aziz Yachou is the fly in the Moroccan ointment and 1-year on, has the potential to create fireworks and upset Rachid’s dream. He was 4th in 2021 and 3rd in 2022. Last year he was worked over by the tactics of Rachid and Mohamed, he will be prepared for that this year. Little is known about his training in the early part of 2023.
Mathieu Blanchard raced MDS in 2021 and finished 5th – he was hit by the bug that swept through camp just in time for the long day. One thing is for sure, after placing 2nd at UTMB in 2022, we are looking at a different Mathieu. He raced The Coastal Challenge in February and placed 2nd, he recently summited Kilimanjaro and most recently ran a 2:22 marathon in Paris. Mathieu can win MDS and the French have put a team together to potentially make that happen. Beating the Moroccans on home soil (sand) is tough, but THIS may be the year.
David KILGORE from the USA has been top-10 at Leadville 100, and recently 7th at Tarawera 50km. On paper, he is not an MDS podium contender, but he will be in the mix for the top-5.
Erik Clavery adds more fire power to the French line-up. He was 5th at MDS in 2016 and a fierce competitor. He has raced UTMB, WSER, Eiger Ultra and even 24H championships, so, he brings something special to the MDS.
Vasily Kortytkin (Russia) comes to MDS with a history in 6H and 24H races, he has PB’s of 86.493 and 260.570 respectively. He has won some trail races in Russia in 2021 and 2022, how he performs in the Sahara is a big question.
Pierre Meslet (France) placed 9th at MDS in 2021 and returns in 2023 not only to perform to the best of his ability (top-10) but to also help the French maybe win the race and also get the team prize.
Anton Samokhvalov also from Russia has been racing trail since 2014. He has a list of solid results but nothing spectacular, in 2021 he made 10th at Transgrancanaria Advanced.
Duncan Slater from the UK lost both legs during a mission in Afghanistan, he’s back this year for another medal!
Christian Ginter, dinosaur of the desert, returns for the 35th time!
1150 runners will toe the line (1263 were registered) and the youngest runner is 16-year-old Girard Fialon (she will run with her father, Grégory) and the eldest, Henry Botha, 81!
Crazy Statistics of the MDS
“The logistics are a big headache, and we organize every detail in advance! We’re a village of 2,000 people that must be set up and dismantled every day. We need to be self-sufficient in energy, food, water, and fuel. As one of my friends says, ‘Let’s expect the worst because the best will never surprise us!’ We also benefit from the infallible support of the Royal Moroccan Army, which makes available about 25 6WD military trucks to transport all our equipment.” – Patrick Bauer
You must see Marathon des Sables to appreciate the size and scale of the event. It’s like the largest moving circus you will ever see and it’s impressive to witness.
Following statistics provided by the Marathon des Sables office:
▪ 150 volunteers to supervise the race,
▪ 450 general support staff,
▪ 120,000 liters of bottled mineral water,
▪ 300 Berber and Saharan tents,
▪ 120 all-terrain vehicles and trucks,
▪ 2 Squirrel helicopters and 1 Cessna plane,
▪ 8 Transavia ‘MDS special’ commercial planes,
▪ 30 buses,
▪ 4 dromedaries,
▪ 1 incinerator lorry for burning waste,
▪ 5 quad bikes to monitor race environment and safety,
▪ 14 km/hr.: average maximum speed, 3 km/hr.: average minimum speed,
▪ 15 years of age for the youngest competitor and the oldest, 83!
A brief history of the MDS
1984: At 28 years of age, Patrick Bauer decided to make for the Sahara to try to traverse a 350km expanse of uninhabited desert, on foot, alone, where he wouldn’t come into contact with a single village, oasis or watering place. Totally self-sufficient, with a rucksack weighing 35kg and containing water and food, he set off on a journey that was to last 12 days. It was the starting point of what was to become the MARATHON DES SABLES.
1986: The creation of the first MDS 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 has today become a must among the major adventure sport meets. The creation of a non-mechanical competition in the Moroccan sands offers adventure runners a wealth of new prospects.
1987: Creation of the MDS logo: the face of a runner covered by a keffiyeh, the eyes protected by a pair of sunglasses and the pipette from the runner’s water container clenched between the teeth.
1989: 170 competitors take the start of the race.
1991: The gulf drama puts the MDS at a disadvantage and the financial partners withdraw. Fortunately, some runners answer the call. For these competitors, the true victory lies in meeting athletes from different backgrounds and their communion in the desert around the same goal. Sport proves once again that it can bring people together and create bonds.
1992: One and the same regulation for everyone. This year sees the establishing of unexpected draconian tests, to ensure that each participant properly transports all his or her gear from one end of the course to the other. A 30-point charter is drawn up.
First participation by the Moroccan Lahcen Ahansal
1994: Arrival of the Doc Trotters at the event.
1995: 10th anniversary. Since the start, over 1,500 men and women have left their footprint and their passion in the desert. Installation of water-pump for the inhabitants of the village of Ighef n’rifi (South of Er-Rachidia) – an idea by competitor Gilles Flamant and backed by Rolland Barthes and Patrick Bauer. Its success is to be repeated.
1996: First participation by Mohamed, a younger sibling of Ahansal. The two Moroccan brothers set off together and rank 4th and 5th respectively.
1997: This year heralds the start of the Ahansal saga. Morocco is honored with Lahcen’s first victory. He beats his two pursuers by nearly 30 minutes, despite them being international long-distance running champions.
1999: A mobile hospital on the MDS comes into being. There are around thirty practitioners on the ground, with doctors and nurses joining the caravan. A dedicated helicopter and ten all-terrain vehicles track the competitors each day. On- board these vehicles there are doctors of course, as well as high-tech equipment. The village boasts a genuine field hospital.
2000: Internet appears in the large MDS village. The organization decides to broadcast the texts and photos of the race live, day after day. The competitors can communicate with their nearest and dearest and receive messages of encouragement.
2001: For the first time the long leg, traditionally called “The 70”, exceeds the 80km barrier to reach 82km. The threshold of 240km is also surpassed since the 16th MARATHON DES SABLES spans 243km. Another first relates to the fact that there are no Moroccans on the podium this year.
2002: This edition is punctuated by a sandstorm, involving headwinds, which lasts the entire week. The doctors invent a machine for ‘low pressure cleansing’ to rinse out the runners’ eyes. Despite the difficult conditions, there are few retirements to report as the wind considerably reduces the temperature.
2005: The Luxembourg runner Simone Kayser is the first woman to win 3 MARATHON DES SABLES. For this 20th edition, the total number of runners exceeds 700 for the first time, with no fewer than 777 runners taking the start.
2006: A drying wind and very high humidity levels cause damage to the runners’ bodies. Despite additional allocations of water, a whole series of retirements ensues. There are a total of 146 retirements ultimately, which equates to double that of the previous record… Race management decides to shorten the long leg by over 10km given how tired the runners seem.
2008: The Solidarité MDS association is created. The aim: to develop projects to assist children and disadvantaged populations in the domains of health, education, and sustainable development in Morocco.
2009: MDS is disrupted by flooding and the 1st and 6th stages are not able to take place. To avoid the flood zones, the organization is obliged to improvise new legs on a day-to-day basis. In this way, the edition goes down in legend for its 3rd leg, which is the longest ever contested: 92km of sand, loose stones, and rocks… The leg even sees the retirement of Lahcen Ahansal… At the prize giving the 2 winners admit to having competed in their hardest MDS. However, it was also the shortest: 202km.
2010: For its 25th edition, the number of participations reaches a record high of 1,013 participants. It is to be the longest MARATHON DES SABLES. It spans 250 kilometers with a course considered by former entrants to be the most difficult ever organized.
2012: A dramatic turn of events on the longest leg as the then leader in the overall standing, Rachid El Morabity (MAR) injures himself one kilometer from the finish. Medical examinations reveal a serious muscular lesion in the quadriceps. After over five years on the 2nd or 3rd step of the podium, Jordanian Salameh Al Aqra secures the title.
2013: 1,027 competitors on the start line make this a new participation record. New feature: a final “Charity” stage sponsored by UNICEF and traversing the Merzouga dunes round off the race. Sportswise, Mohamad Ahansal and Megan Hicks are the champions of the 231.5km event. On a human level, all of the finishers pull off their crazy bet.
2014: 2011 winner, Moroccan Rachid El Morabity (MAR) wins the overall ranking and takes Mohamad Ahansal’s crown. In the women’s category, another American stamps her mark, Nikki Kimball. The French revelation is one Michaël Gras, 22 years of age, 8th overall and top Frenchman. A major athletics star, Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj lines up to take the start of Saturday’s Unicef Charity leg.
2020: The Corona virus takes over the world.
2021: The Marathon des Sables returns but with an October edition due to the global pandemic. Celebrating 35-years, it is remembered as on one of the hottest editions and almost 50% not completing the race due to a possible Norovirus that swept through bivouac.
2022: Rapid El Morabity wins his 9th edition setting himself up for 10 in 2023. Sandstorms made for some difficult and challenging days.
Follow the race here with a daily update and selection of images. Also, follow on IG @iancorlessphotography.
It has been a long journey, and here you are, 14-days to the start of the Marathon des Sables.
DO NOT PANIC!
You – You signed up for the challenge, you wanted to be on the start line and therefore you are responsible for the outcome. Believe me, the you that leaves the Sahara is not the same you that entered. Arguably, you changed the moment you paid the deposit, the transformation process had already begun. Embrace the journey ahead and apply yourself. But keep perspective, the MDS journey is an enhancement of you as a person. It’s easy to become too obsessed. Ultimately the majority of runners at MDS are enthusiasts, if you keep that in mind the journey will be a complete one.
Pack – Minimum pack weight is 6.5kg plus water (8kg,) get as close to this as you can. Additional weight is additional stress and just makes the journey harder.
Friends – You are going to share bivouac with 7 other people and you are going to have some serious highs and lows. These tent mates will pull you through and motivate you. They will become friends for life. Ideally find tent mates before you head out to the Sahara and create a support network. Now, with 14-days to go is the perfect time to do this, if you haven’t already done so.
Feet – Look after them, along with dehydration, blistered and damaged feet are a key reason for failure in any multi-day race.
Extras – Mandatory kit is as one would expect, mandatory! So purchase what is on the list. You can save weight by shopping around. Simple rule; the lighter and smaller, the more expensive it will be! Optional extras are very personal and my advice would be take nothing extra other than a MP3 player and earphones.
Mental Game – The legs, lungs, heart and feet will only get you so far. The mind is what will get you to the finish. Broken individuals with bodies in tatters but mentally strong can make the finish. Despite the hardships and pain, they embraced the journey and mentally where superior in strength. It was the mind that got them to the line.
Laugh – If you laugh, you are having fun. Laugh when you hit rock bottom, why not. Laugh when you are going the toilet in a brown plastic bag and most of all laugh with and at your tent mates and fellow runners. The comradeship of MDS is quite unique, embrace it.
Heat – In the final 14-days, make sure you get some heat acclimation, bikram yoga, sauna, heat chamber, hot batch, whatever it may be, get 6-8 sessions before the race. You have signed up for a race in the Sahara, no point in complaining it is ‘too hot!’ This is the challenge you signed up for. Dehydration is one of the main causes for NOT finishing the race.
TOP TIPS BEFORE THE RACE STARTS
Take essentials on the plane and wear your run apparel and shoes. That way, should a baggage disaster happen your chances of racing improve.
Take food with you for the travel and on the plane.
The journey from the airport to bivouac 1 is now typically 1-hour or less, this helps considerably with fatigue and tiredness.
Night 1 and night 2 in bivouac are NOT self-sufficient so take extras such as an inflatable bed, food and luxuries. Don’t use them? Give them away to the berbers. May as well have 2 comfortable nights and a comfortable day before the racing starts.
Food before the race starts is by Moroccan caterers. It is excellent food BUT for some, may be too challenging for the stomach. Take options to be self-sufficient should you need to make the choice.
Admin day is slick and streamlined now, but, you may be in the sun for over 1-hour. Wear a hat, take shade (an umbrella) and have water and snacks.
Keep sun screen on and keep hydrated. No need to drink vast volumes – drink to thirst before the racing starts.
Have additional items such as a base layer, sleeping bag liner and other items that may be on a ‘question’ list for the race. On night 1 and before you go to admin, you can make final decisions of what to and what not to take. Particularly important if you think you may be cold at night.
Remember that after bag drop and check-in you have no access to any additional items, however, you only become completely self-sufficient when you start the race. With that in mind, you can have additional food and luxuries with you until day 1 kick-off, it’s a useful tip and does mean that you can have additional comfort for a good 12-hours.
Marathon des Sables is a magical and life changing journey as are most if not all multi-day races. It really is a true challenge of mind and body to race over many days, irrespective of finish time. It’s a hark back to a more primitive time, a time without clutter and modern technology. Embrace this. Embrace the silence of the surroundings and the simplicity of placing one foot in front of the other, eating, resting and sleeping and then doing it all again.
Finally, set yourself a realistic goal (that may just be to finish) so that you manage not only your expectations but pace. Way too many start off too quick and most dropouts come on days 1 and 2.