Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 PHOTO GALLERY

The 2022 Marathon des Sables was memorable. Then again, it always is! There is something very unique about the Sahara, the sand, the desert, the dunes and the movement of some 1400-people on a journey. 2022 was my 9th year on the race and while B&W images appear in my galleries, for this 36th edition I wanted to produce a specific B&W gallery and portfolio.

Of course, MDS is a very colourful race, so, to strip it back to tones and shades from white to black is for me, something quite special.

There is a grit and rawness to B&W imagery, particularly in the close-up portraits which really convey the tough journey undertaken.

YOU CAN VIEW THE SLIDESHOW HERE

Sand storms, intense winds, bivouac life. It is all there to see.

Back to basics, one tent, 8-people, one bag per person; rationed food, clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, mandatory equipment and rationed water – multi-day experiences come no better. Stripped back from connection and technology, this week in the Sahara really is one of the ultimate raw experiences in this crazy modern and connected world.

MDS is a wonderful, magical, moving road show that is difficult to understand and appreciate until you are in the Sahara. A small city moves seamlessly and like clockwork day-by-day, it is mind-blowing; a magical Saharan experience that really is one of the greatest experiences in running. 

HERE IS A HIGHLIGHT

YOU CAN VIEW THE SLIDESHOW HERE

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – SUMMARY

The impressive Marathon des Sables start

The 2022 and 36th edition of the Marathon des Sables concluded in the iconic Merzouga dunes (Erg Chebbi) on April 1st. Coming just 5-months after the 2021 race, re-scheduled from April 2021 to October due to the ongoing complications with the Coronavirus pandemic, the two races could not have been more different.

Merzouga dunes in the 35th edition

October 2021 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.

Patrick Bauer at his daily race briefing

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. Starting in March, a cooler MDS was anticipated and this is what we got.

Cold temperatures and some runner’s really wrapped up

Early evening, nights and mornings were cool and some would say cold, requiring additional layers and the use of a down jacket became essential for many, if not all participants. For those who raced too light, evenings were a somewhat miserable affair that wasted valuable energy trying to remain warm instead of recovering.

Most days had an epic sunrise start

Daytime temperatures were on average mid 20’s, at least 20-degrees cooler than those experienced in 2021. One particular day did see a 10-degree rise in temperature in just 1-hour, even then, the temperatures never came close to 40-degrees. However, the race was marked by two days of storms that saw wind increase from early morning and become stronger as the day progressed bringing with it harsh and brutal sand storms. Day 2 in particular was very tough and on this day, over 60-participants did not complete the stage – A high number in any year!

Aziz Yachou running down Jebel Otfal just before the sandstorms arrived.

Despite the storms, and occasional rain shower that appeared a couple of times on the ‘long day,’ the 2022 edition may well have had some of the cooler and easiest weather conditions that the MDS has ever experienced. Coming after October, that was no doubt a welcome contrast.

Manu Vilaseca on day 3 running the second ridge.

From an organizational stand point, the race was slick, streamlined and a pleasure to experience. No doubt some lessons were learnt in October and changes were made. With those lessons, those changes, the 2022 race gained praise from staff and runners. The mood was one of joy, positivity, laughter. Throughout the race and post-race three comments could be heard everywhere: ‘Best experience of my life… Super organisation… Faultless…’

The organisation at MDS in impeccable

From a racing perspective, 801 people completed the race with a dropout race of 11% (tbc) – exact figures will be confirmed in the coming days. Notably, over 50-people did not make the start line due to positive PCR checks in the 48-hour before departure for Morocco, a cruel blow coming so close to the race.

Covid and the pandemic was not a consideration during the race. 

Rachid was controlled and impeccable in his execution of the race

As with all races we have winners and as per usual, the 2022 race was eagerly anticipated with Rachid El Morabity going for his 9th victory and the potential of Aziz Yachou spoiling his winning streak. One thing was clear to me pre-race was Rachid looked more toned, a little lighter and focused.

Rachid, Mohamed and Aziz – It was all tactics.

On day 1, Rachid attacked from the start, he never does this, he always comes from behind and takes victory. This to me only confirmed that he feared Aziz and he wanted to set his stall out from the start. He won day 1 from the front but only by a slender margin. He had a race on his hands… From day 2 a strategy came in to play that was fascinating to watch and experience. Rachid, with his brother formulated a plan to fool Aziz that Rachid was not in the best shape. On stage 2 and 3 Rachid once again attacked from the front but on both days he gave up his lead and lost time. Aziz was positioned to lead the race and defend and by the time the ‘long day’ came, Rachis was in 3rd with 9-minutes to gain.

Mohamed ran a stunning race

Come the long day, Rachid stamped his authority and put the plan in to action. By 10km he had 2-minutes lead, 4-minutes at 20km, 6-minutes at 30km and at 50-km he had 10-minutes – Rachid had gained the deficit and taken the race lead on the trail. By the finish he had gained almost 15-minutes on Aziz, a stunning and impressive run that was off-the-scale.

However, the tactics did not stop there. Behind, Mohamed marked Aziz all the way to 50km, noticing Aziz starting to slow, he made his move clawing back the 4-minutes he needed and at the finish line, he was crowned overall leader of the race with his brother, Rachid 37-seconds back.

Mohamed watching Aziz on the long day

Anticipation was high for the final marathon stage, would Mohamed win? Of course not! This plan had been formulated from day 2 and quite simply, Rachid and Mohamed would police Aziz on the last day and as the stage came to conclusion, Mohamed would slow allowing his brother to gain the required time and in the process his 9th victory. It was a masterpiece of tactics that worked perfectly. It was a pleasure to experience.

Rachid on the marathon stage – victory would be his!

The women’s race was far less dramatic with Anna Comet Pascua winning each stage with a superlative performance of domination. Stage 1 started slowly as Anna eased in the race, but as the stages progressed, the Spanish runner felt comfortable and continually opened gaps to win by a convincing margin and place very close to the top-10 on general classification.

Anna Comet Pascua – Queen of the Sahara

Sylvaine Cussot from France was always a contender and throughout the week ran a strong and consistent race, her 2nd place was one that was never in doubt, however, the gap to Anna was far too great for victory ever to be a possibility.

Anna on stage 3

Azia Elamrany represented Morocco along with the 2021 female champion, Aziza Raji. Although not in 3rd place in the early part of the race, her consistency shone through and by the conclusion of the race her podium slot was secured ahead of her fellow Moroccan.

Sylvaine and Anna on stage 4

Outside of the top-3 in each category, there was countless string performances with Merile Robert once again showing his experience in the race, the return of Julien Chorier and the rise of the American, Jordan @@@@@@@. Patrick Kennedy placed 7th in 2021 and once again achieved a top-10 with 9th in 2022.

Julien Chorier on Jebel Otfal

For the women, Aziza Raji will no doubt be disappointed with 4th after victory in 2021. Beth Rainbow and Amelia Culshaw from the UK both had top-10 placings, Beth placing 6th – a great result. We also saw the return of multi MDS champion, Laurence Klein who ran a solid race despite contracting Covid in the final build up to the race.

The long day

All Marathon des Sables are memorable. There is never a dull race. Personally, 2022 will be remembered for the stunning men’s race and the tactics used to ensure a 9th victory for Rachid. It was a masterpiece to see unfold and one that required supreme mental and physical confidence from Rachid. It’s all very well formulating a plan, pulling it off is the game changer… Imagine going in to an 85km stage with a 9-minute deficit knowing that you need to pull that back and in addition gain more time to provide a buffer so that victory can be secured! It was stunning. It’s important to mention the dedication, skill and ability of Mohamed El Morabity, he sacrifices personal glory for the greater good of his brother. It’s pointless asking the question, ‘Could Mohamed win the race?’ The simple answer is, as long as Rachid is in with a chance of a 10th and maybe 11th victory, no.

Always a new perspective

Anna Comet Pascua confirmed her ability as a versatile and adaptable runner. Known for trail, mountain and skyrunning with a victory at the multi-stage Everest Trail Race, her MDS victory confirms her as one of the top female trail runner’s in the world. Sylvaine Cussot has also confirmed herself as a one-to-watch for the future, I have this feeling she will be back at MDS very soon.

The heat came but it was much cooler than October 2021

The 2022 route is arguably one of the most beautiful, last used in 2018. It has variety, stunning views, ridges, climbs, soft sand, two crossings of Jebel Otfal, salt flats and oasis. The long day, while not the longest (92km in 2009) is significant with an abundance of soft sand.  

The magic of daylight leaving on the 85km long day

Finally, MDS is a wonderful, magical, moving road show that is difficult to understand and appreciate until you are in the Sahara. A small city moves seamlessly and like clockwork day-by-day, it is mind-blowing; a magical Saharan experience that really is one of the greatest experiences in running. 

Bivouac at sunrise

Back to basics, one tent, 8-people, one bag per person; rationed food, clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, mandatory equipment and rationed water – multi-day experiences come no better. Stripped back from connection and technology, this week in the Sahara really is one of the ultimate raw experiences in this crazy modern and connected world.

The route book, it is the bible of MDS

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 5 42.2km

The 2022 and 36th Marathon des Sables concluded today on the edge of the Merzouga dunes after the classic ‘marathon’ stage.

Everyone watching each other

It was a hotly anticipated stage with the top-3 men being so close, however, it soon became apparent that Aziz was not going to try a heroic effort to gain back his 4-minute plus deficit for 2nd place or victory. In all honesty, who can blame him, the El Morabity brothers of Rachid and Mohamed would never have allowed it.

M’Fis and Rachid made a move

It was in the last 5km that Rachid started to open a gap with bivouac off in the distance. Aziz chased and Mohamed policed it but the writing was on the wall.

Rachid started to open a gap

Rachid ran in the final straight with a Moroccan flag waving, Aziz finished 2nd on the stage and importantly Mohamed finished 3rd losing more than the 37-second advantage he had going in to the stage and therefore crowning Rachid champion with his 9th victory.

Aziz chasing

We could argue all day asking the question, ‘Could Mohamed have won?’

Victory

The simple answer is, this race was built around an El Morabity plan and that plan came together to perfection granting Rachid that all important 9th crown. You need to look at the men’s race from a cycling perspective and quite simply, Mohamed worked as a domestique to facilitate a beautiful 1st and 2nd. Rachid will now be thinking of an all important 10th victory in 2023.

1 and 2 for the El Morabity brothers
Aziz 3rd

The women’s race went to format with Anna Comet Pascua winning the stage and confirming overall victory by a substantial margin.

Anna Comet Pascua
2022 Champion

Sylvaine and Aziza rounded the overall general classification placing 2nd and 3rd.

Sylvaine

Tomorrow, the runner’s must do a 7.9km charity stage to complete the 2022 MDS but the timing does not rank.

In the coming days I will write more with a full summary but is important to say, this edition has been seamless with stunning and impeccable organisation. The weather has brought challenges with two days of storms, wind and even some rain. The heat has been mild and although on occasion temperatures have rose, in comparison to other years, it has never been really hot.

For now, it’s time to celebrate a wonderful race. 

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 4 85.8km – Part Two

Anna Comet Pascua

The 36th Marathon des Sables ‘long day’ of 85.8km continued in to the night with runners pushing through darkness and in to a second day to complete in the allocated 35-hours.

The men’s race was fast and furious, read HERE

Sylvaine and Anna

The women’s race may not have had the nail biting action of the mens race, nonetheless, it started with Sylvain Cussot and Anna Comet Pascua running together to Cp1 and beyond. Anna, no doubt running with reserves and safety ensuring that she did nothing to put at risk her overall lead on the general classification.

Before Cp1

As the race progressed, Anna eventually moved away from Sylvaine and increased her lead to cross the finish line in 9:43:19 – an incredible time and one that brings her ranked highly on the GC overall. It’s yet to be confirmed but she may well be in the top-10?

Sylvaine always smiling

Sylvaine has embraced the MDS and has revelled in the conditions, always smiling, always happy. She crossed in 10:10:53 and now her 2nd overall is secured.

Aziza Elamrany once again ran a brilliant day and her 3rd place on the stage in 10:23:20 ahead of the 2021 chapion, Aziza Raji in 11:17:12, now places her 3rd on GC.

Aiziza Elamrany
Aziza Raji

Notably, Beth Rainbow from the UK had a great day and finished 5th in 11:34:19.

The long day is feared for many reasons, the distance, the weather, the night, the unexpected… As in every edition, there are demons to be fought and mental battles to be won. Conditions were, in general, kind, with less heat, some cloud, the odd rain shower and a cooler night. As I write, some are still battling to achieve a finish, the main priority is to keep ahead of the camels!

The camels mark the end of the race, you must keep ahead of them.

Tomorrow, stage 5 is marathon distance and the 2022 champions will be crowned. The women’s race, barring a disaster will be a formaility with Anna, Sylvaine and Aziza placing 1, 2 and 3.

Rachid looking for a 9th victory

The men’s race will be a nail biter. Early in the week I disclosed that I was convinced that the El Morabity brothers had a plan and strategy, that came to fruition yesterday. Now with the marathon stage to go, the duo will mark Aziz and make sure he is kept under control so that 1st place and 2nd is secure. At some point, Mohamed will allow his brother Rachid, to take over the front of the race and gain the 37-second deficit that currently places him 2nd and therefore will allow him his 9th MDS victory. Can Aziz mess up this plan?

Aziz has a battle ahead

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 4 85.8km – Part One

Rachid setting the early pace

It may well have been one of the most exciting days in the history of the Marathon des Sables… It was the feared long day of 85.8km. A long one for the 36th edition but the longest came in 2009 with 92km!

As I write, the top men have finished and the first woman is to cross the line, so, I will update on the men and follow up on the MDS ‘rest day’ with a report on the women’s race.

Aziz chasing with 9km covered
Mohamed watching Aziz

Today was all to fight for. Aziz Yachou was in 1st place, Mohamed El Morabity in 2nd and surprisingly, 8x MDS champion, Rachid El Morabity was in 3rd – 9-minutes behind the leader.

Rachid biding his time and energy

Some had said Rachid was not in form. I doubted this… To me, all along, Rachid had respected and feared the ability of Aziz and he had to race smart.

with 25% of the race covered, the lead was 4-minutes

Rachid started day 1 from the front to build time over Aziz, he won the stage but his time gain was minimal. He therefore had to rethink and place doubts in Aziz’s mind about his fitness and strength. He set out on day 2, once again from the front but relinquished the lead and lost time. On day 3 he ran for over an hour in the lead and was then caught and passed, once again losing time. His brother however raced strong.

Aziz was going nowhere without Mohamed

Come the long day, my thoughts were Rachid would play his ace and his brother would defend and block helping facilitate his brothers 9th victory. Of course, this plan was risky. It required superb form and confidence from Rachid. It also required Aziz not to be a strong.

10 minutes lead and counting

It was a masterpiece day. By 10km Rachid had 2-minutes, at 20km 4-minutes, then 6, 8 and at 50km the lead was over 10-minutes. It was incredible to watch.

Behind, Mohamed marked Aziz but sensing Aziz fading at the 50km mark, Mohamed also made a move and pulled away from his fellow Moroccan. Now bridging the gap to his brother.

Mohamed made his own move to leave Aziz and gain time

Racing comes no better than this. Chess in running.

Rachid on his way to victory

After a stunning day of racing, King Rachid crossed the line in 7:27:04. Mohamed crossed in 7:30:46 gaining a great deal of time on his brother from the 50km to 85.8km finish. Finally, Aziz crossed 7:39:48.

Of course, everyone was keen to know the overall classification? With 15:25:26 elapsed, Mohamed El Morabity leads the 36th MDS. Rachid is in 2nd just 37-seconds behind and now Aziz is 3rd 4:34 behind Mohamed.

One thing is for sure, the ‘marathon’ stage is going to be a nail biter as the El Morabity brothers put their final phase of their plan in to action.

Wow, what a day!

Now the race continues for the many hundreds who will see darkness disappear and they enjoy a journey through the night. The allocated time to complete is 35-hours.

By MDS standards, today was not a hot day. Cloud moved in and out, once or twice it rained and as the sun disappeared, the wind started to increase. It may well be a cold night for many!

A Runner prepares for a long night

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 3 32.1km

Anna Comet Pascua

The relentless wind and sand storms eased during the night to reveal a clear day that was considerably Warmer than those that had gone before. Another windy day was forecast and of course sand would be blown about, hopefully the full-on no visibility conditions of the previous day would not reappear – everyone hoped! As afternoon came the wind constantly increased making conditions challenging!

Julien Chorier climbing to the second ridge

Stage 3 at 32km is a beautiful stage with two exposed ridges split by Cp1, a flat plateaux crossing, the climb of Jebel El Otfal from the normal side and the descent using the gully which the runners climbed on stage 2. At the bottom, a small section of dunes and then flat terrain all the way to the finish. For some, me included, one of THE best stages in all of MDS history. The two ridges and Otfal provide more climb, exposure and challenge and if you like the mountains and vertical, this is a Sahara dream.

Vertical and technical terrain – a dream
Rachid leading from the start

Rachid, once again, went off from the front and set the pace. Three days in a row he has done this – most unusual. I chatted with him in camp before the stage. He was having breakfast with his brother. I asked how he was, his reply simple, he winked and said, “I am very good my friend!”

A brotherly shared breakfast

I am convinced he and his brother have a plan!

Rachid controlled the front of the race for an hour or more and then relinquished the lead to Mohamed and Aziz. The duo pulled away and crossed the line together in 2:36:43.

Aziz behind Julien in the opening km’s

Rachid, once again for the 2nd day finished 3rd and lost more time, his finish coming in 2:38:21.

Rachid formulating a plan

For those in the know, Rachid never concedes time and does not not finish 1st often. To allow his brother and Aziz to pull away only confirms for me that he has a big plan ready for the long day… It’s risky, he is now nearly 9-minutes behind the race leader, Aziz. My thoughts are that he wants Aziz to believe that he is not in good form, that he is struggling and then on the long day, he will unleash a ferocious pace, take back the lost time and gain time to take the lead. Of course, Mohamed will be used as a distraction and a game maker to make this happen. It’s exciting to see how this will play out.

Mohamed El Morabity

Of course, the other scenario is that Rachid really is tired and not on form? I don’t believe that.

Anna Comet Pascua

Anna Comet Pascua once again delivered a solid performance and with her skyrunning background, I am sure she will have revelled on the ridges and climbs. She won the stage in 3:26:49 ahead of Sylvaine Cussot in 3:35:51. A smaller margin than yesterday but no doubt Anna was conserving energy for the 85km long day.

Sylvaine Clussot

Aziza Elamrany once again finished 3rd in 3:49:11 ensuring that the Moroccan home ground will be happy with a podium ranking.

Aziza Elamrany

Tomorrow is the long day and as always it will be a key day that will dictate the potential outcome of the 36th MDS. Nothing is guaranteed, anything can happen on a day of this length and in these conditions. Each runner will need their ‘A’ game to run to their potential and dreams.

Stage 3 of the 36th Marathon des Sables has Anna Comet Pasciu and Aziz Yachou secure their leads ahead of the stage 4 long day.
Mds ants heading to Jebel El Oftal

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 2 38.5km

Anna Comet Pascua

Rachid went off like a shot again… Pushing the pace and behind everyone pursued. Then suddenly, in the space of a couple of km’s he relinquished the lead and hovered somewhere around 10th. I am not sure if there had been a ‘natural break’ requirement or if this had been an intentional move? Certainly it wasn’t blowing up!

Rachid leading early on

His brother, Mohamed took over the lead and on a climb before Cp1 was pushing the pace with Aziz following.

Mohamed El Morabity
Aziz Yachou

Rachid was now further back. It all made sense, in my opinion, the brothers were playing a tactical game on Aziz. I guess my cycling background is at work and my conclusion is Rachid has sent Mohamed out as a decoy, to allow Aziz to take over the lead in the race and placing Mohamed in second. This is a great move potentially. It would take pressure of Rachid to defend and force Aziz and Mohamed to control the front of the race and thus allowing Rachid to pounce… Rachid will need to feel very confident for this move, if not, his 9th victory may not happen!

Rachid moved back in the field

After Cp2 and climbing the stoney side of Jebel Otfal, Mohamed descended first and he continually looked over his shoulder for Aziz. Aziz followed not long later, within 60-seconds. It was however 4-minutes before Rachid appeared, now in 3rd. Was Rachid tired, or was he playing the tactic as mentioned above?

Aziz descending Jebel Otfal to take 2nd on the stage and overall lead

At the line, Mohamed crossed in 3:07:40, Aziz in 3:08:52 and Rachid 3:16:22 for the 38.5km stage. You don’t usually see a result like this in the early stages of MDS for Rachid!

The overall placing Aziz in first, Mohamed in 2nd and Rachid in 3rd, 5:13:29, 5:17:56 and 5:20:38 respectively.

The 36th Marathon des Sables is now Aziz’s to defend and the brothers to pursue. What an exciting 36th edition this is going to be.

Anna controlled from the front

The women’s race was strung out with Anna Comet Pascua dictating from the front with an incredibly strong performance. I said yesterday, she came her to win and this is being proven with her result in stage 2, crossing the line in 4:06:17.

Anna on Oftal

Sylvaine Cussot as on stage 1 pursued and always with a smile, she finished a strong and convincing second in 4:18:46.

Sylvaine Cussot

Aziza Elamrany had showed promise on stage 1 for a podium place and today that came true finishing ahead of the 2021 MDS champion and fellow Moroccan, Aziza Raji, her time 4:39:38.

Aziza Elamrany
Aziza Raji

The overall podium after 2 stages placing Anna and Sylvaine 1 and 2 ahead of Aziza Raji in 3rd, 6:58:37, 7:15:11 and 7:45:03 respectively.

It’s all to fight for on stage 3!

Stage 2 was marked by extremely strong wind and sandstorms that battered the runners. There was also an increase in temperatures recorded at cp2 of +10deg in 1 hour. At the time of writing there have been 49 drop outs today.

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 1 30.3km

Stage 1 36th edition start

The 2022 Marathon des Sables got underway today, the 36th edition coming quickly after the 35th which took place in October 2021.

Conditions in March are very different to those encountered in 2021 with cool nights and relatively mild daily temperatures for the Sahara.

Patrick Bauer

Of course, anticipation was high in bivouac, a mixture of excitement and nerves. However, Patrick Bauer, as per usual, calmed everyone from the roof of his Land Rover with his daily morning introduction to the day. The race was underway at 0900 as planned.

The march forward

Unusually, Rachid El Morabity went to the front and set the pace. He meant business! He was followed by Julien Chorier and within 400m they had already opened a gap… This was a very unusual Rachid tactic. He usually bides his time, eases in to the day and the slowly speeds up; not today.

Rachid and Julien

Rachid started as he meant to go on and won the day! But why did he start so hard? Quite simply, in my opinion, he knows he has a race on his hands this year with Aziz Yachou who pushed him last year and had he not had a time penalty, the result just may have been different?

Aziz Yachou

After the fast start, Aziz pursued and at the line had closed the gap, Rachid 2:04:16 and Aziz 2:04:37. So close!

Mohammed El Morabity

Julien Chorier faded to 5th in 2:16:12 and Mohammed El Morabity after a slow start moved in to 3rd 2:10:16 with Cédric Fleureton 4th in 2:14:40.

One thing is for sure, Rachid will need to work his year and it is clear that he knew this before the start. He looked leaner and fitter, not that he has ever looked any different. But pre-race there was a different look. It’s subtle. The cheeks just a little gaunt and his legs more defined.

Anna Comet Pascua

The women’s race was a different story with a more gradual start to the day with a clear strategy forming. Anna Comet Pascua came here to with the race and although she had run with others in the opening km’s, by Cp1 she had taken the lead and she went on to win the stage in 2:52:20.

Sylvaine Cussot

Sylvaine Cussot finished 2nd in 2:56:25 and the 2021 champion, Aziza Raji finished 3rd in 2:59:41. Amelia Culshaw from the UK was 4th ahead of multi MDS champion, Laurence Klein, 3:06:10 and 3:13:01 respectively. The women’s race is set for an exciting battle as the terrain becomes more challenging and the distances increase.

Anna and Aziza
Aziza 2021 champion

The stage one route was just over 30km’s, flat but had plenty of soft sand and several small hills and dunes but nothing substantial to make the day difficult. It was a good day 1 for all to ease in and for the top men and women, a fast one! Rachid’s time was incredible… We are in for a fast men’s race.

The impressive MDS!

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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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