Marathon des Sables 2019 #MDS #MDS2019 – Stage 5 42.2km

Rachid El Morabity and Ragna Debats are the 2019 champions of the iconic Marathon des Sables.

Today. stage 5, ‘The Marathon Stage’ concluded just a short distance away from Tafraout. It was a day that started with cool temperatures as runners climbed the infamous, Djebel Oftal after a 3km warm up.

As the minutes ticked by, the sky cleared, the weather warmed up and the runners were treated to a classic MDS day and a truly beautiful course that provided the best of the Sahara.

Dunes, rocky plateau, salt flats, the oasis of El Maharch, gentle climbs, soft-sand descents and then a run in to the finish backed by a mountain range.

Despite early attacks in the men’s race including his brother Mohamed, Rachid El Morabity once again won the final stage and became the 2019 champion of the MDS once again. He really is the desert king. Mohamed El Morabity placed 2nd overall with Abdelaziz Baghazza completing the podium.

For the women, it may come as no surprise that Ragna Debats made 5 stage wins out of 5 and completely dominated the women’s race.

Credit must go to local runner, Aziza Raji who battled throughout the week to secure a very solid 2nd place for Morocco. Also, Gemma Game from the UK had a tough day-1 but battled and moved her way through the field throughout the week and once again rounded out the podium with 3rd place.

The MDS is all about every single runner and the finish line really does focus and release the emotions as tears flows, cries of joy are heard and the embraces of Patrick Bauer, the race creator, are received. The MDS is truly a magical journey and experience. It is a life -changer for many and I personally have experienced the transformation the desert and this race brings.

The 2019 edition certainly gained additional notoriety from a wonderful dog called Cactus. he joined us on day-2 and went on to complete day-3, 4 and today, day-5. This little dog has captured the hearts and minds of the world, not only in the media. There is a lesson to be learned from Cactus – to live life free and completely. He embraced the true spirit of what MDS stands for without realising it. And, in doing so, he has reconfirmed to all of us that life is for the living. I for one, am truly blessed to have experienced Cactus and all the 800+ plus runners on a truly magical 34th edition of the iconic ~Marathon de Sables.

Marathon des Sables 2019 #MDS #MDS2019 – Stage 4 76.3km

Day-4, the feared and loved ‘long day’ of the MDS. A brutal 76.3km route that for many, personifies what the Marathon des Sables is. A journey of survival, through the varied terrain that the Sahara has to offer.

For most people, it is all about survival and getting through the day, the night and maybe the next day as easy as possible.

The day started at 0815 for the majority of the filed and the top-50 and top-5 women started at 1115 with the prospect of chasing the whole field down.

The day started to cool and cloudy and it looked like the conditions would play in to the runners hands, allowing a comfortable journey throughout the day. Not so. By 10am, the heat of the day came and it stayed that way, just a gentle breeze helping to provide some illusion of cooler temperatures.

The elite race as in previous day’s was all about two people or maybe three if we include Cactus the MDS dog.

Ragna Debats was once again on fire, For sure, she respected the long day and started at a more relaxed pace, but her speed and ability is so far ahead of the rest of the women, that she almost cruised to the line. In all honesty, Ragna’s biggest threat is possibly herself! She is chasing a top-10 ranking overall and that does come with some risk. To push in the Sahara needs a fine balance, get it wrong and dehydration could prove to be the end of an adventure. Ragna is managing everything well and looks incredible.

The real story of the long day was the rise of the UK’s Gemma Game. She looked incredible all day, ran an amazing and controlled race and she moved up the field to now make 3rd on the women’s podium. Aziza Raji ran a solid day and is still 2nd overall, approximately 36-minutes ahead of Gemma. Past winner, Meghan Hicks from the USA had a tough day of sickness and finished well down the field allowing Lauren Woodwiss to move to 4th overall.

In the men’s race, many tried to attack the boss, Rachid El Morabity, but the king of the desert is too smart. He really is a joy to watch in this terrain. He holds back, paces himself, runs within a group and at all times watches what the other runners are doing. He does not panic, he manages his effort and then all of a sudden, he moves to another gear and accelerates away to take the lead and win.

This year’s long day was no different. Attacks came from Julien Chorier, Rob Pope and even Mohamed El Morabity, but the boss watched them and then made his move. Taking another stage victory, once again ahead of his brother, Mohamed. The duo now 1st and 2nd on the overall ranking with Abdelaziz Baghazza 3rd.

The long day will be remembered for a sand-storm that cam in around 5pm. It was quite incredible as the wind brought in a blanket of grating mist that covered all the runners and bivouac making visibility impossible. Runner’s halted in their tracks not able to see a hand place ahead of them. Luckily it was a storm that lasted less than 30-minutes but the carnage was visible to see.

Covering 76.3km’s is no easy task and while the top men and women can make it look easy, the real story is about the 800+ runners who look to survive and endure the conditions to earn a respected MDS medal.

This is the MDS, the human story of fighting conditions, hunger, dehydration and pain to achieve the glory of the finish line.

As darkness came, runner’s pushed in to the void with just the glow of a headlamp and the stars for company. For many, they will also see dawn and travel through another day. MDS is truly a life changing journey.

And finally, Cactus the MDS dog. What a story. The dog joined us on day-2, ran the whole of day-3 and yes folks, he ran the long day. He has become a mascot of the 34th edition. A heart warming story that has travelled the world. Many have worried about the dogs health and his ability to run long distances.

Rest assured, this fella is a true free spirit, a true nomad, a perfectly adapted animal for the terrain. He was checked by a vet and was given the all-clear. Calls for the dog to be ‘rescued’ and taken out of Morocco are well intended but wrong in my opinion. Cactus is in his home, doing what he loves. He should be allowed that freedom. And yes, he has an owner, a hotelier in Merzouga who has confirmed Cactus’ true nomadic spirit.

Tomorrow, the marathon day and the confirmation of the 2019 MDS male and female champions.

Overall Ranking

  1. Rachid El Morabity 15:23:31
  2. Mohamed El Morabity 15:29:12
  3. Abdelaziz Baghazza 16:08:27

 

  1. Ragna Debats 18:46:11
  2. Aziza Raji 20:54:23
  3. Gemma Game 21:29:11

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Marathon des Sables 2017 #MDS – Stage Five 42.2km

Rachid El Morabity and Elisabet Barnes are the 2017 Marathon des Sables champions! The displayed consistency, pacing and a strong mental approach to once again top the podium in a race that started multi-day racing an astonishing 32-years ago!

The fifth and final timed stage of the 32nd edition was the ‘classic’ marathon distance. The course started with a short section of rocky plateau and then dunes. At 5.5km a dried Oued with crevasse provided an early challenge and then at11km a small gorge introduced the runners to a stony Oued. From 22km the course alternated dunes and stony plateaus and at 37km the old town of M’fis situated on a hill provided a glimpse of the final bivouac in the distance. It was all downhill from here to close out the 42.2km course.

After a week of pure calm, the winds on the final day arrived causing sandstorms and twisters. Elisabet Barnes lead the early stages of the ladies’ race and then eventually Nathalie Mauclair finally took over the charge, no doubt trying to prove a point on the last day. Barnes kept the French lady in sight and the duo crossed the line in 3:52:17 and 3:54:31 respectively – Elisabet Barnes the champion of 2017.

Fernanda Maciel placed 3rd as she has done for much of the week, her time 4:14:32 and Emilie Lecomte 4th in 4:22:09. Aziza Raji placed 5th and the ladies’ top-5 was complete.

Despite an early charge by Thomas Evans, Rachid El Morabity seized the day as he has done most of the week showing a masterclass of running in the Sahara. He pipped his brother Mohamad (a star of the future) by just 7-seconds, 3:10:08 to 3:10:15.

Aziz El Akad and Abdelaziz Baghazza beat Evans to the line 3:11:19 and 3:14:13 to 3:16:20 – the week confirms Evans as a class act and one who has shown great humility to fellow runners.

Of course, the MDS is so much more than just runners going fast.

The finish line is one full of stories, emotion, tears and laughter – race director Patrick Bauer, stays on the line and experiences every single one with each and every runner. Some of the stories and images will follow in the coming weeks! But for now let me leave you with two magical moments…

Congratulations go to all those who completed the 32nd Marathon des Sables and a huge nod is forwarded to those who attempted a tough, challenging and inspiring MDS and did not cross the line!

Final results and stage results HERE

Marathon des Sables 2017 #MDS – Stage Four 86.2km

Two start times, 0815 and 1115, the same distance – a gruelling 82.2km of the best of what the Sahara has to offer, incredible views and at times brutal terrain with intense heat.

The route echoed much of the 2016 edition passing early through the oasis of El Maharch, a flat dried up lake before the first couple of climbs of the day starting at 10km. Cp1 offered some refreshment before the climb of Mhadid Al Elahau followed by a high level plateau traverse before a fast and thrilling sandy descent. Heading south a great deal of soft sand took the runners to Cp2 and then climbing a path, the runners came back on themselves through the nest valley. Cp3 to Cp4 was a long sand passage that eventually crossed a Oued. Cp4 to Cp5 and Cp5 to Cp6 were relentless dunes to sap the mind and energy. The push from Cp6 to bivouac via Cp7 was relatively flat but continually sandy – a tough day in Morocco!

The day in many ways unfolded at the front as one may have anticipated with Rachid El Morabity and Nathalie Mauclair taking stage victories. However, the story was not clear cut.

Mauclair took the race to Elisabet Barnes in a last ditch effort for victory. It was expected by everyone, after all, Mauclair is a long distance specialist. Through half the race the gap between the two hovered around 3-4 minutes. From Cp5, Mauclair extended her lead over Barnes but the 2015 Marathon des Sables champion dug in, used her flat running speed and closed on the French lady. Mauclair took victory in 9:39:58 and Barnes crossed the tape in 9:41:16 – job done! With the marathon stage to follow tomorrow, Barnes is in a strong perdition for a 2nd victory at this iconic race. Fernanda Maciel, also a long distance specialist, followed the duo ahead and she finished in 10:00:58. Emilie Lecomte was 4th.

In the men’s race, Rachid ran behind a lead pack that continually changed for much of the day. He never quite looked his fresh self but he pulled it out of the bag as he has done so many times before. He finished in an impressive 8:16:44.

Man of the day was British runner Thomas Evans who set his stall out on day 1 and has played the Moroccans at their own game. He has impressed day-on-day and on the long stage he didn’t sit back and defend, he attacked. At times leading the race. His efforts were rewarded with 2nd in 8:27:46. The margin of time behind him and El Morabity does not reflect a stunning performance! Rachid’s brother Mohamad placed 3rd and then Abdelaziz Baghazza and Remigio Huaman in 8:28:33, 8:41:42 and 8:43:39 respectively.

As I write this, runners are still out on the course enduring another day that will test them to the limit. Don’t listen to anyone who says ‘this’ is an easy race – it is not! So many are fighting demons, some fail, but the grit and determination is inspiring. For example, two people have inspired me – Duncan from the UK who is participating with two prosthetic legs and Louis from Luxembourg who has no arms – inspiring!

The fifth stage of the 2017 Marathon des Sables if the classic marathon stage of 42.2km and medals will be awarded on the line. The race is Rachid El Morabity and Elisabet Barnes for the taking – four sections of dunes will not make it easy!

Marathon des Sables 2017 #MDS – Stage Three 31.6km

Day 2 of the 32nd Marathon des Sables was a tough one. The general mood in bivouac was one of exhaustion, fatigue, tiredness and the question – ‘How will I do it all again tomorrow?’

On the stroke of 0830, the remaining runners were released on a truly spectacular but tough and challenging day 3.

Just 2km out of camp dunes waited and a sandy passage through two mountains, Running through a Oued, the first challenge of the day came at 7.4km with a sandy passage and steep climb to the summit of Joua Baba Ali jebel and then a technical path lead to Cp1 at 10km. From here a small section of flat running preceded arguably one of the highlights of the 32nd Marathon des Sables – the second section of Joua Baba Ali jebel. This section is ‘skyrunning’ in nature – technical, exposed and a real challenge. A sandy descent lead to the flat valley and a long flat run to Cp2 before the tough and challenging climb to the summit of El Oftal jebel. Descending down a stony gulley, dunes followed and then a flat and expansive run to the bivouac concluded the 31.6km day.

The day started with Rachid El Morabity bidding his time and running a little behind his Moroccan friends. However, the early stages saw a charge from Remigio Human, Andy Symonds and Thomas Evans. Was he El Morabity struggling? The simple answer is no! After Cp2 he regained the front of the race and although he didn’t pull away and gain a huge margin, win the day he did! El Morabity crossed the day 3 finish in a ridiculous 2:33:14, his brother Mohamad was 2nd in 2:34:25 and then Abdelaziz Baghazza, Abdelkader El Mouaziz and Thomas Evans took the remaining top-5 placings in 2:34:26, 2:35:59 and 2:38:53 respectively. I think they were all thinking of the ‘long-day’ of 80km tomorrow!

Elisabet Barnes lead from the front once again and it remained that way all the way to the end. However, the technical terrain allowed Nathalie Mauclair to keep her much closer in sight and at times they were just seconds apart. It was in the flatter final stages that Barnes opened a little time crossing in 3:13:07 to Mauclair’s 3:15:14. Fernanda Maciel one again returned to form finishing 3rd in 3:27:11. However, Barnes took a fall today after being distracted on the course. At the finish she has received an injection and stitches… I have no other information at the moment and will report back after chatting in bivouac. Melanie Rousset, Emilie Lecomte and Aziza Raji took the other top-6 places in 3:28:02, 3:33:44, and 3:47:23.

Attention now turns to the much feared ‘long-day!’ At 86.2km and a 35h cut-off, this day will be a challenge for all. There are two starts with the majority of the race leaving at 08:15 and the top-runners departing at 11:15.

Results available HERE

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