Marathon des Sables 2016 #MDS2016 Race Preview

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MDS, Marathon des Sables, The Toughest Race in the World… whatever you want to call it, the 31st edition is just around the corner. Think about it, 30-years. It’s quite incredible how this race has grown and has become ‘the’ multi-day race to do irrespective of experience. It was the first and is still the best race offering an ultimate adventure for novice and experienced runner.

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It’s more than a race. It’s an experience, it’s escape and it’s a challenge. The combination of self-sufficiency, life in bivouac and running 250-km’s through the heat of the Sahara is something that those that have experienced it will never forget. It is the story of life, a story of men and women who have come to the heart of the desert to rid themselves of the superficial to keep only the essentials and get in touch with their true selves.

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“What concerns me the most is the runners’ safety, and our capacity to ensure rapid medical intervention and emergency health evacuation. The weather is another worry, but unfortunately totally out of our hands.” – Patrick Bauer

For the past three decades, some 19,000 runners have signed up for this experience, so, with the imminent running of the 2016 edition, it’s fair to say that race will see a great number of participants returning.

To summarise the impact on participants over 30 years:

(statistics provided by MDS media team/ official press documentation)
  • 30-40% are returning,
  • 70% are international,
  • 30% are French,
  • 17% are women
  • and 45% are veterans thus confirming that you are never too old to take part!

2016 will see 1200 runners participate, a huge increase from 1986 when only 23 runners took part.

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“The desert strips you bare, all the more so on a race like this. Values like sharing, solidarity, and respect for differences and cultures are omnipresent. So of course, friendships develop between the brothers and sisters of the desert who have no more barriers or boundaries and are all united to achieve the same goal.” – Patrick Bauer

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Lasting six days’ participants must be self-sufficient carrying everything they need in a pack. Water is provided but rationed and a tent (bivouac) is provided each evening that must be shared with seven other participants.

The 2016 edition of the race will be 257-km’s offering a series of challenges that will test the mind and body in equal measure.

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“We try to convey happiness, enthusiasm and positive thinking through what we do and the sense of belonging is particularly intense for the runners, almost tribal, after ten days of sharing the adventure and fulfilling the same dream. Another thing I’d say was very important and a big part of the marathon’s success is the security and care that we bring the runners. The average age of participants is about forty, and most of them have children and have opted for a mishap-free adventure. In any case, when your family is far away, you count on quality organization.” – Patrick Bauer

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The Route

On a course punctuated by difficulties, competitors will get to see all of the Sahara’s different facets. Runners will have to cross ergs (dune fields), djebels (mountains), stony plateaus, dried-up lakes and oueds in which only sand flows, as well as oases, nomad camps, and traditional, rammed-earth villages. The desert has its secret gardens and those taking part in MARATHON DES SABLES will be lucky enough to contemplate them as a recompense for their efforts.

Stage 1 – 10th April

12km of majestic dunes kick off the race anddunes conclude the stage for the last 3km before competitors reach the bivouac. In-between, runners will have the time to appreciate the difficulty of making their way down a sandy oued and crossing a ghost village. Although not confirmed, I would anticipate that the Erg Chebbi Dunes may start the 2016 race. These dunes finished the 2015 edition on the charity stage. This will most definitely mean a longer transfer from the airport to the start of the race and these dunes are tough! “The dunes of Erg Chebbi reach a height of up to 150 meters in places and altogether spans an area of 50 kilometers from north to south and up to 5–10 kilometers from east to west lining the Algerian border.”

Stage 2 – 11th April

A long stage, with a wide variety of terrains. The standard dunes will be accompanied by stony plateaus where time stands still, rammed-earth villages inhabited by courageous souls farming arid land, and some steep djebels. As beautiful as it is difficult.

Stage 3 – 12th April

MARATHON DES SABLES will merit its name on this stage. The first part will go fast but, before the 1st check point the dunes will emerge… and then carry on, with more before and after the 2nd check point and a few more before the bivouac. The desert will go up and down with a slight climb before some slopes of over 20% that will put it all into perspective.

Stage 4 – 13/14th April

Known as “the long one” by old hands, this is the most testing part of the race, where you really need to manage your energy. The list of remarkable sites along this stage is particularly long. It’s the kind of stage that made MDS’s reputation. In less than 35 hours, runners’ minds and bodies will have had their fill. Running through the sand at night under the stars teaches all of them about humility. No one emerges from this long pilgrimage unchanged.

Stage 5 – 15th April

The Marathon stage. For those who thought they’d seen it all, get ready for a revelation. This entirely new route will take you through some splendid sites and end in a battle for the leading places. The less hurried will take their time to admire the landscapes. A lot more dunes and hills for 42.2km.

Stage 6 – 16th April – SOLIDARITY UNICEF legs

This obligatory stage is timed but does not count in the MDS ranking. You have to cross the finish line to feature in the ranking of the 31st MDS and receive a finisher’s medal. When they reach the small village in which the final finish line is located, competitors, sponsors and families signed up on this stage will make up the caravan and be able to appreciate the beauty of the landscape, all wearing the colours of UNICEF, which supports projects for impoverished children. This stage is mostly a chance to reflect on the experience of this amazing human adventure, and raise awareness of solidarity before returning to civilization.

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ONES TO WATCH AT MDS 2016

The LADIES ©iancorless.com_MDS2015Day3-2734

Elisabet Barnes is the defending champion and has become a dominant force in the world of multi-day running. She followed MDS victory in 2015 with victory in Oman and placed 2nd lady at the recent The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica. Recent life changes have impacted on Elisabet’s preparation for the 2016 edition of the race but she knows the desert, she knows the sand and she knows how to race over multiple days.

PRE RACE INTERVIEW WITH ELISABETH BARNES HERE

“I have a lot more experience than I had in 2012. I do train a little more, but it’s really that I understand more about pushing myself further and how to manage my food and water. My bag was also a lot lighter than in 2012, my 2015 bag only weighed 7 kilos compared to 11 kilos in 2012.”

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Fernanda Maciel is a newbie to the Sahara and multiple day racing despite victory at the 2013 Everest Trail Race. One thing is for sure, the heat should not be a problem for the Brazilian ultra runner. An experienced competitor, Fernanda recently spent a long period of time at altitude in an effort to set a ‘FKT’ (fastest known time) on Aconcagua. Something she achieved! Her success at races such as UTMB, Transgrancanaria and Ultra-Trail Mt Fuji will almost certainly mean that she will be a force to be reckoned with.

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Nathalie Maculair will without doubt shake things up at the 2016 edition. Her results speak for themselves and her ability to run fast, climb, handle technical trail will (and quite rightly so) intimidate her competition. Nathalie has raced well at Transvulcania, become a world trail champion and also won the ridiculously tough, Grand Raid de la Reunion (Diagonale des Fous). This will be Nathalie’s first multi-day race but she has raced in ‘Raids’ before. Her small size will without doubt be a huge disadvantage in the early stages.  A wife and mother, this may well be the ultimate escape for her.

“Given my small size, transporting 6-7 kg will be quite a challenge. But I’ve already run with a large bag on multisport raids. I enjoy the period when you prepare the bag and start picturing yourself on the race and thinking about what you’ll need. Once I’m in that phase, part of me is already there.”

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Laurence Klein has won the race multiple times (2007, 2011 and 2012), and knows the sand and the race better than anyone else. You van never rule her out! In recent years’ things have not gone to plan in the big sand pit, but Laurence is back once again, that can only mean one thing; she believes she can win!

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Liza Howard ran MDS last year and placed 16th which does not reflect her ability. She has real experience of ultra running as she proved with victory at Leadville 100 in late 2015 (she also won Leadville in 2010) and I am sure that she learnt valuable lessons in the 2015 edition of MDS that will only make her stronger and more resilient in 2016.

Aziz Raji a name I initially missed but a hot contender for the podium after great runs at Trans Atlas Marathon and in Oman.

Meghan Arbogast is another USA based runner that has all the credentials and history to make a real impact in the dunes and the hard packed sand of the Sahara. A fast runner, particularly over 100km, Meghan’s race history dates back to 1996 and is compulsive reading.

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Natalia Sedykh placed 3rd last year and like Elisabet Barnes was an unknown entity. She had a steely grit and determination and I can’t help but think that 1-year on, she will come to the race meticulously prepared with just one objective; overall victory!

Ladies to watch:

Frederica Boifava, Annick Ballot, Gweanelle Coupon, Elise Delannoy, Sophie Laversanne, Claire Price, Holly Zimmermann, Maree Jesson and more.

The MEN

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Rachid El Morabity has won the race three times, is defending champion, has local knowledge and is the man to beat, need I say more?

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Franco Colle is a surprise entry as he loves the mountains. He had an incredible 2015 racing on the Skyrunner World Series and by contrast he has won the epic and demanding, Tor des Geants. He has strength, technical ability and is used to carrying a pack in the mountains, this is his first MDS but don’t rule him out!

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Sondre Amdahl has been a revelation in recent years with a sting of world -class performances at UTMB, Western States, Transgrancanaria, UTMF and so on. He recently pulled out of the 2016 edition of Transgrancanaria and has then devoted himself to preparing for the Sahara. A fierce competitor, he will try his hardest day-after-day.

PRE RACE INTERVIEW WITH SONDRE HERE

“I’m not afraid of it, but I do have a great deal of respect for the race. I’m trying to prepare myself as best as I can, especially for the heat, sand and lack of food. I live in Norway, and it’s cold there right now, so I’ll spend some time in Spain and Morocco before the race.”

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Erik Clavery is the great French hope. He has said numerous times that MDS is a dream race and he has set his sights high.

“This weekend I set off to the dunes in western France once again with my 6.5 kg bag on my back. The hardest part will no doubt be getting used to the heat. It’s not easy to reproduce those conditions over here in the winter. So I work on my home trainer wearing a thermal jacket!”

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Carlos Sa has come close but never quite managed to smoke the MDS cigar. He placed 4th in 2012 and 7th in 2013. This year, Carlos has really set his sights on MDS and his recent run in Costa Rica at The Coastal Challenge was great training. We all know he can run in the heat as his 2013 victory at Badwater 135 confirms. I hope he makes the podium!

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Chema Martinez is a 2:08 marathon runner, he placed 6th at MDS last year and recently had a great run in Costa Rica at The Coastal Challenge. He’s a fun loving guy who loves to race and race fast. He made mistakes in 2015 and will look to put them right in 2016 – watch this space!

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Jason Schlarb is one of the USA’s top runners who has excelled at races such as UTMB. Just recently he skied (with 3 others) the Hardrock 100 course over 4-days. A world first and a huge achievement. Without doubt, MDS will be a huge learning curve for Jason but it’s a challenge he is embracing. He sees the race as one big adventure!

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The Moroccans

  • Aziz El Akad has been in the top 5 six times, so a repeat performance is highly likely.
  • Abdelkader El Mouaziz was 2nd last year and a super fast runner. He will be looking to oust Rachid for the top slot and he has the race to do it!
  • Samir Akhdar has never won MDS but has placed in the top 8 seven times.

Men to watch:

Jean-Sebastien Braun, Marco Olmo, Greg Dunning, Glenn McDougall, Alejandro Lopez Reyes, Ahmed Tahiri, Mohamed Faraj, Marco Pajusco, Juan Manuel Cortes and more.

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Crazy Statistics of the MDS

“The logistics are a big headache and we organize every last detail in advance! We’re a village of 2,000 people that has to be set up and dismantled every days and needs 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 of our equipment.” – Patrick Bauer

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▪    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,

▪    72 medical staff,

▪    2.3kms of Elastoplast,

▪    12,200 compresses,

▪    6,000 painkillers,

▪    150 liters of disinfectant,

▪    1 editing bus,

▪    5 cameras,

▪    1 satellite image station,

▪    10 satellite telephones,

▪    30 computers, fax and internet,

▪    18,000 competitors since 1986

▪    30% returning competitors, 70% international, 30% French,
17% women, 45% veterans,
30% in teams,
10% walkers,
90% alternate walking and running,

▪    14 km/hr.: average maximum speed, 3 km/hr.: average minimum speed,

▪    15 years of age for the youngest competitor and the oldest, 83!

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30 Years of the MDS

1986 – Michel GALLIEZ (FRANCE) – Christiane PLUMERE (FRANCE)

1987 – Bernard GAUDIN (FRANCE) – Marie-Ange MALCUIT (FRANCE)

1988 – Bernard GAUDIN (FRANCE) – Marie-Ange MALCUIT (FRANCE)

1989 – Hassan SEBTAOUI (FRANCE) – Marie-Claude BATTISTELLI (FRANCE)

1990 – Hassan SEBTAOUI (FRANCE) – Claire GARNIER (FRANCE)

1991 – Hassan SEBTAOUI (FRANCE) – Monique FRUSSOTE (FRANCE)

1992 – Mohamed BENSALAH (MOROCCO) – Monique FRUSSOTE (FRANCE)

1993 – Mohamed BENSALAH (MOROCCO) – Irina PETROVNA (RUSSIA)

1994 – André DERKSEN (RUSSIA) – Valentina LIAKHOVA (RUSSIA)

1995 – André DERKSEN (RUSSIA) – Béatrice REYMANN (FRANCE)

1996 – André DERKSEN (RUSSIA) – Anke MOLKENTHIN (GERMANY)

1997 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Rosanna PELLIZZARI (ITALY)

1998 – Mohamad AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Rosanna PELLIZZARI (ITALY)

1999 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Lisa SMITH (USA)

2000 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Pascale MARTIN (FRANCE)

2001 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Franca FIACCONI (ITALY)

2002 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Simone KAYSER (LUXEMBOURG)

2003 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Magali JUVENAL (FRANCE)

2004 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Simone KAYSER (LUXEMBOURG)

2005 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Simone KAYSER (LUX)

2006 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Géraldine COURDESSE (FRANCE)

2007 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Laurence KLEIN (FRANCE)

2008 – Mohamad AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Touda DIDI (MOROCCO)

2009 – Mohamad AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Touda DIDI (MOROCCO)

2010 – Mohamad AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Monica AGUILERA (SPAIN)

2011 – Rachid EL MORABITY (MOROCCO) – Laurence KLEIN (FRANCE)

2012 – Salameh AL AQRA (JORDAN) – Laurence KLEIN (FRANCE)

2013 – Mohamad AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Meghan HICKS (USA)

2014 – Rachid ELMORABITY (MOROCCO) – Nikki KIMBALL (USA)

2015 – Rachid ELMORABITY (MOROCCO) – Elisabet Barnes (SWE)

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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 again and again

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 puts in an appearance 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. Sports wise, 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.

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Marathon des Sables STAGE 6

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.

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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

Overall Results:

 Men

  1. Ahansal (MAR), 18h59’35
  2. Al Aqra (JOR), 19h41’15
  3. Capo Soler (ESP), 20h19’31

First Brit: Danny Kendall (GBR), 21h46’03

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Ladies

  1. Meghan Hicks (USA), 24h42’01
  2. Joanna Meek (GBR), 25h41’01
  3. Zoe Salt (GBR), 27h03’58

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 LINKS TO PHOTOGRAPHY

MARATHON DES SABLES 2013 Preview

copyright Marathon des Sables

copyright Marathon des Sables

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.

MDS LOGO

Race Programme:

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.

Race Logistics

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,…

The Team

  • 115 volunteers on the course itself
  • 400 support staff overall
  • 120 000 litres of mineral water
  • 270 berber and saharan tents
  • 100 all-terrain vehicles
  • 
2 “Squirrel” helicopter and 1 “Cessna” plane
  • 6 “MDS special” commercial planes
  • 23 buses
  • 4 dromedaries
  • 
1 incinerator lorry for burning waste
  • 4 quad bikes to ensure environment and safety on race
  • 
52 medical staff
  • 6.5 kms of Elastoplast, 2 700 Compeed, 19 000 compresses 6 000 painkillers, 150 litres of disinfectant
  • 4 editing stations, 5 cameras, 1 satellite image station
10 satellite telephones, 30 computers, fax and internet

Marathon des Sables

Marathon des Sables – how did it start?

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.

Patrick Bauer, Marathon des Sables copyright www.lest-eclair.fr

Patrick Bauer, Marathon des Sables copyright http://www.lest-eclair.fr

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):

talkultra.com

LISTEN HERE

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

DRAYMDS2012-04-08-7945-1

The Female contenders for the overall win :

Laurence Klein 2012 MDS

Laurence Klein 2012 MDS

  • Laurence KLEIN (FRA) – 1st woman in 2007, 2011 and 2012, European 100km Champion.
  • Meryem KHALI (MAR) – 2nd woman in 2012. N°1082:
  • Megan HICKS (USA) – 2nd woman in 2009.
  • Simone KAYSER (LUX )– 3 victories in the MDS.


The Male contenders for the overall win : 

Mohamad Ahansal

Mohamad Ahansal

  • Salameh AL AQRA (JOR) – 1st in 2012, 2nd in 2008, 2010, 3rd in 2009, 2011.
  • Mohamad AHANSAL (MAR) – 4 victories and 2nd place 9 times.
  • Samir AKHDAR (MAR) – 6th in 2011, 7th in 2009.
  • Rachid EL MORABITY (MAR) – 1st in 2011.
  • Aziz EL AKAD (MAR) – 2nd in 2009 and 3rd in 2008 and 2012.
  • Christophe LE SAUX (FR) – 6th in 2012, 1st Guyan’trail 2011 and 2012.
  • Anton VENCELJ (SLO) – 4th in 2010, 8th in 2012.
  • Abdelaaziz TAYSS (FR) – French Cross-Country champion 2008 and 2011
  • Vincent DELEBARRE (FR) – 9th in 2005, 1st UTMB, Réunion, Templiers, etc
  • Martin FIZ (SP) – World Marathon Champion in 1995.
  • Carlos GOMEZ DE SA (POR) – 4th 2012 and 8th in 2008, 4th UTMB 2012.
  • Marco OLMO (ITA) – Top 10 in the MDS, 2 UTMB victories.
  • Antonio Filippo SALARIS (ITA) – 7th in 2012.

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)

talkultra.com

LISTEN HERE

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

iancorless.comscreenshot_217

The 2013 race route

  • 1st leg – 37.2k Undulating terrain, interspersed with small ergs representing 5km of small dunes (dunettes).
  • 2nd leg – 30.7km 3 djebels with 10 to 25% gradients – exceptional panoramic views.
  • 3rd leg – 38km 2 djebel sections, 2 dried-up lakes and lots of sand.
  • 4th leg – 75.7km a total of 13km of dunes and around 30km of sandy terrain.
  • 5th leg – 42.2km the final leg is a marathon with ergs, regs, a dried-up lake and wadi beds…
  • Total Distance – 223.8km

Mandatory Kit

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.

  1. Distress flare: For use in the event of an extreme emergency. A range in excess of several dozen metres once activated.
  2. Knife: Equipped with a metal blade, it’s obviously useful in the bivouac and it can be of service when useful in the bivouac and it can be of service when running too.
  3. Compass: Surpassing both intuition and signposting, the compass is the marathon runner’s signposting.
  4. Whistle: Slowed by problems with your health or astray of the initial route, it enables other competitors or the organisation to be alerted to your whereabouts.
  5. Lighter: An important ally after a day’s running, whenit’s time to make a fire to heat up your meal.
  6.  Anti-venom pump: Even though it’s rare to have an unpleasant encounter with a snake, the anti-venom pump is compulsory and can enable action to be pump is compulsory and can enable action to be taken quickly.
  7. Antiseptic: As the days go by, all kinds of injuries can crop up, even during the race sometimes. So whilst awaiting assistance from a Doc Trotter, antiseptic can be important prior to linking up with the medical team.
  8. Sleeping bag: To be carried for seven days, ideally it shouldn’t exceed 400g and should be suitable for temperatures of between 5°C and 10°C. Indeed, the nights are cold in the desert.
  9. Survival blanket: In the event of serious problems, the survival blanket enables you to protect yourself from both the cold and sun. It weighs in at no more than 60g.
  10. Signalling mirror: If lost, someone competing in the Marathon des Sables will want to signal his or her presence. Playing with the sun and a mirror may be an alternative prior to using a distress flare.
  11. Salt tablets: Not exactly pleasant tasting, they are nonetheless essential for avoiding dehydration.
  12. Glow sticks: The perfect marker during the long leg.
  13. Headtorch: once night falls or when wandering around the bivouac, the headtorch is essential.

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!