It is here, the 33rd edition of the iconic Marathon des Sables – 250km, 6 stages over 7 days and over 1000 runners from over 50 countries battling the sand and the heat of the Sahara in a self-sufficient manner.
The MDS is the granddaddy of multi-day racing and with its long history it is still the race that all other multi-day races base themselves on. Patrick Bauer’s vision is as strong today as it was back in the 80’s.
Bauer is not just a race director, he is a passionate man who loves Morocco and the people. The MDS ‘is’ Bauer and without him it is like the band QUEEN touring without Freddie Mercury center stage.
The stats for the race are impressive. They always are.
In 2018, as per usual. The 40-49 age group is the most popular. Yes, it is the mid-life crisis group with 349 males and 72 females toeing the line. The 30-39 group is next with 225 males and 58 females. Surprisingly, the 50-59 group comes in 3rd with a split of 177 to 37 male and female respectively.
The youngest runner is 17yr old Moroccan Ali Zaghloul who will be supported along the route by his father, Mehdi. The youngest female is Sally Wellock from the UK aged 23yrs.
France takes top honors for the oldest male, Jean-Claude Raymond aged 80yrs will look to complete his 12th MDS and Philippa Lloyd from the UK is the oldest female aged 69yrs.
I have to say, I have a soft spot for my good friend Didier Benguigui, this will be his 14th MDS and he is blind. I have seen him over the years overcome great adversity to achieve his medal. He is a true inspiration, he will make you cry – a legend of the MDS!
For those who love stats, believe it or not, the 2018 MDS will be Christian Ginter’s 31st MDS – yes folks, 31st edition – incredible!
Natalia Sedykh returns to the MDS after winning the race in 2016 with a blistering performance. For me, she is the head and shoulders favourite for the 2018 race. She is currently in excellent shape and at the end of 2017 she won the Oman Desert Marathon.
Andrea Huser is a UTWT specialist and one of the strongest runners in the world with a string of incredible performances, be that UTMB or Transgrancanaria. She hasn’t run in the desert before and multi-day racing is a fickle beast. I see her doing well but I don’t think she will have the pace of Natalia.
One lady who will have the pace to take on the Russian is Magdalena Boulet. Magda has won Western States and placed 5th at UTMB. However, like Andrea, she is a desert Virgin and that will be her achilles heel for victory.
Anna Marie Watson can run in the sand, she won Half MDS Fuerteventura and recently placed top-10 at UTMB. She is likely to be a real contender for the podium this year and has trained specifically for the challenge ahead.
Gemma Game was 4th at MDS in 2015 and would have been a likely challenger for Natalia but has decided to ease of the gas for the 2018 race and she plans to have as much fun as possible.
Jax Mariash is a multi-day specialist who will bring her Gobi, Atacama and Namibia experience to Morocco. The question will be, does she have the speed to match the experience?
Also keep an eye on Bouchra Eriksen, Amelia Griffith and Beth Kay.
Rachid El Morabity is the desert king and you’d be a fool to bet against him. He won Morocco and Peru in 2017 and knows the sand like the back of his hand. He is an amazing runner with a wealth of experience and one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.
Mohamed El Morabity is Rachid’s younger brother and if Rachid was not running, Mohamed would have the nod for victory. He was 2nd in 2017, and he also won the 100km Ultra Mirage in Tunisia.
Abdelkader El Mouaziz won the London Marathon in 1999 and 2001. He has a marathon PB of 2:06:43 – ouch! He is a MDS vet having placed 2nd twice and 7th.
Aziz El Akad is a consistent Moroccan who has finished in the top 5 at MDS on 7 occasions – that speaks volumes!
Gediminas Grinius was new to sand and multi-day at MDS Peru at the end of 2017. The race didn’t start well for him, but he eased into the race and finished strong. I am sure Peru was invaluable for him to fine tweak his prep for MDS Morocco. I expect to see his kit and food fine-tuned and it to be lighter. He is a formidable performer, strong as on ox and never gives in.
Alejandro Fraguela placed 3rd at Half MDS Fuerteventura and that will set him up well for a strong and consistent run in Morocco.
Arnaud Lejeune is maybe the great French hope. However, his lack of desert experience will be against him despite great results at UTMF and a top-10 at UTMB.
Vajin Armstrong from New Zealand is a strong runner and fierce competitor, he’s a sand/ Sahara virgin and has a huge learning curve ahead of him.
Majell Backausen from Australia is also a strong competitor and like Armstrong will have his first desert experience in Morocco.
*Remigio Huaman is on my start list but I am not sure if he will race? If he does, he is a podium and most definitely, top 5 contender.
THE 2018 RACE
Speculation is always rife about the route the race will take and certainly looks like from the very brief description below that the 2018 edition of the race will be similar to 2017. I therefore predict a finish in Merzouga dunes.
For perspective, the 250km distance can be covered at 3km ph with an approximate 83hrs finish time. By contrast, the fleet of foot can cover the distance at 14km ph with a finish time of 18hrs.
For the record, 2017 distances per stage were as follows:
- Day 1 30.3km
- Day 2 39km
- Day 3 31.6km
- Day 4/5 86.2km
- Day 6 42.2km
- Day 7 Charity stage
I think it’s fair to say that the 2018 edition will have similar distances and therefore the key days will be day 2 and of course the long day!
2018 ROUTE OVERVIEW
Stage 1 – The terrain will be flat with a great deal of sand, small dunes and a small climb to the finish.
Stage 2 – Is a longer stage, with a great deal of sand. It will include a climb through a gorge and then a steep descent.
Stage 3 – Starts with a climb followed by small climbs one of which is very steep with a technical passage. This stage includes the first ‘real’ dunes of the 33rd MDS.
Stage 4 – The dreaded long day! It’s going to be a tough day with a great deal of sand. It includes two passages through small gorges, a climb up a djebel, a rollercoaster through sand and a technical descent. It’s a day about managing oneself and saving something for the night.
Stage 5 – Is the classic marathon stage with dunes to kick off the day. It’s a day of no major difficulty and it includes sandy oued and small sparse dunes. However, be prepared for the long plateau towards the end.
Stage 6 – Obligatory charity stage and buses will wait for the finishers to return them to civilization.
Needless to say, key elements of the MDS are the distance, heat, sand and self-sufficiency. The combination of all these elements makes the race a tough one! For safety, each runner is tracked and monitored with a SPOT tracker.
Each runner must carry all the food they require for the journey and the race specifies a minimum per day. This must be adhered to; however, a runner can carry as much food as they like. The downside is the weight. Therefore, the race is all about balancing calories to weight.
The runner must also carry a sleeping bag, sleeping mat (if they wish), any luxuries and they must decide if they carry a change of clothes – many don’t!
Mandatory kit is specified by the MDS organization and this must be carried. It includes:
- SPOT tracker
- Venom pump
- Sleeping bag
- Survival blanket
- Salt tablets
- Light sticks
In addition to the above, other items are specified and failure to carry them will incur a time penalty.
The only items provided by the race for each runner is water (rationed) and a bivouac (tent) that holds 8 people.
April 6 – arrive Morocco
April 7 – Inspection day
April 8 – race start, stage 1
April 9 – stage 2
April 10 – stage 3
April 11 & 12 – stage 4
April 13 – stage 5
April 14 – charity stage
April 15 – free day
April 16 – journey home
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