Ultra Mirage© El Djerid #UMED 2018 Race Summary and Images

Backed by the space port of Mos Espa (Star Wars Episode 1) the 2nd edition of UMED ( Ultra Mirage© El Djerid) got underway with the morning glow of a strong orange sun after it had tipped over the summits of the surrounding high dunes.  

Over 130 runners from 23 nations stepped forward to undertake a circular 100km route through the Tunisian desert. Heat, sand, mixed terrain, palm groves, oasis all providing a stunning backdrop to an ultimate running challenge. The calm and quiet of the Sahara broken only by the sound of birds. 

Any running journey can be a lonely one, but the desert really does provide isolation, only a snake or a camel providing any company. Of course, the sun only leaves the runner with darkness and as the rest from intense heat may be welcome, the complete darkness of the desert provides its own challenges as the runners navigate via reflective strips all the way back to where they started, the lunar landscape of Mos Espa and the bulbous film set village made famous by Star Wars.

The 2017 champion, Mohamed El Morabity had returned to defend his title, however, the desert king (Mohamed’s elder brother) Rachid El Morabity was also on the start line looking to upset the 2017 champions dreams. In the women’s field, two-time MDS champion, Elisabet Barnes was returning to racing after an almost year-long hiatus – what would the day hold for all of them? 

On the stroke of 0700 the runners were released. They had 20-hours to complete the desert journey via marked route and 5 checkpoints placed at 20km, 35km, 50km, 65km, 80km and the finish providing an end to an epic journey.

With no wind, the 30-degree temperatures seemed intense. From the start, the experienced runners reigned in their pace but at the front, Marwen Kahil from Tunisia dictated the pace followed by fellow Tunisian, Mohamed Mnsari – the duo no doubt wanting to put on a good show on home ground. All the main contenders followed some way back, they were in no rush to push the pace and Rachid, Mohamed and Sondre Amdahl maintained a close eye on each other.

In the women’s race, Elisabet Barnes dictated the pace, shadowed by Tunisian, Shefia Hendaoui. Behind, Orianne Dujardin from France followed looking relaxed and in control.

At 20km, the positions had hardly changed. However, Elisabet had broken away from her shadow and was now dictating the pace at the front. With 80km to go, it was a brave move, but she looked strong and in control. For the men, there was little but the front of the race was starting to fragment with runners either forming small groups or running alone seconds and minutes apart.

By CP2, it was all change. The desert king Rachid had gently pressed on his accelerator pedal and in doing so he had split the men’s race apart. The early protagonists were left to struggle with the only runners able to follow the Moroccan’s pace coming from his brother, Mohamed and Tunisian, Emir Grairi. The duo looked strong and in control and then minutes later it was the arrival of Sondre Amdahl.

For the women, Elisabet was now pulling away from Shefia and Oriane and her pace was starting to impact on the men’s race with the Swedish runner placing well in the top 10.

With 50% of the race covered and the arrival of the first Oasis the race was taking shape. Rachid and Elisabet had opened huge gaps and were looking strong for victory, but behind them both the race was changing.

The 2nd male to arrive was the Tunisian Emir looking strong. Then Sondre arrived. What had happened to the 2017 champion Mohamed? He finally arrived walking, looking broken and explaining that he had hurt his ankle. He looked set to drop out but at the 3rd CP he pushed on.

 For the women, the early pace had impacted on Shefia and now Oriane was running in 2nd. It was all to fight for though, the duo was only separated by minutes!

50-65km were the most challenging of the race with relentless soft sand that slowed the front runners to a walk at times. Behind, this section would eventually take its toll with over 30% of the UMED field not progressing past this section. Rachid and Elisabet took it in their stride but the impact on Emir was noticeable and he relinquished 2nd place to an in-form Sondre. Mohamed was somehow rejuvenated, and he now ran with the Tunisian, the duo looking for the final podium place. 

Rachid arrived at the 80km checkpoint looking tired and exhausted. The day was taking its toll. He searched for food and drink, but the fatigue was obviously confusing him, he was undecided what he needed. Sitting down he consumed two cartons of juice only to vomit them back up. He left for arguably the toughest 20km’s he would ever run. The gap Rachid had accumulated was crumbling and Sondre arrived just 3-minutes later. The fight was on!

 Sondre hunted the Moroccan down slowly pursuing but Rachid despite chronic fatigue never gave in, he arrived at the finish broken. He crossed the line and collapsed into the arms of the RD, Amir Ben Gacem. Moments later he was in the medic’s hands with an IV in his arm. Sondre finished a stunning 2nd just 6-minutes later. It had been an epic battle. The fight for 3rd came to an easy conclusion for the 2017 champion Mohamed when Emir dropped from the race with severe cramps just 5/6km from the line.

 Elisabet was the next to arrive, the new female champion and 4th overall – she was back! This was a stunning world-class performance and her time was just 9-minutes slower than the 2017 champion, Mohamed. 

“UMED was a really great experience. It was good to be back in a desert race after a break this year. I enjoyed the varying terrain, the heat, and the perfect mix of friendly atmosphere and hard racing.” – Elisabet Barnes

Behind, Oriane secured her 2nd place ahead of the local woman, Shefia.

With the arrival of darkness, the race took on a new challenge as the participants battled the terrain, darkness and the 0300 cut-off. As with all races, the dream of medals evaporated like water in a Mirage. Blisters, fatigue, dehydration, missing cut-off times, each runner had a story to tell.

“I did not dream of medal. I wanted to run strong and run well. That was my UMED goal. At half way I felt very unwell and I knew it was the beginning of heatstroke. I also had damaged feet with blisters… We had been advised that gaiters were not necessary, they were! I was mentally and emotionally strong, but I knew it was time to be kind to myself and I allowed myself to call it quits. I had done what I set out to do, I had run well, I had run strong, and that was for 50km. Next year’s goal will be to run well, run strong and get that medal.” – Sue Ding from Malaysia who had completed the 2018 Marathon des Sables.


As Roosevelt rightly said:

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 Racing does not give guarantees. It is why we test ourselves. Pain eases, memories fade, skin heals and soon, often the next day, the desire to return and put the demons to rest is what motivates everyone. The desert is magic and leaves only one desire: to come back and tame it! 

Post-race, RD Amir Ben Gacem was proud of the race, “Last year, we had just 60 runners, this year we had over 130 and I am proud to say, over 30 women. That is stunning. The race will evolve, and we learnt some lessons this year that will be applied for 2019 only to make the UMED bigger and better!”

“Wow, I am really happy with that,” Sondre exclaimed. “I am the first ‘human’ – to place 2nd behind the desert king Rachid and to have his brother behind me is a true honour.”

 RESULTS

  1. Elisabet Barnes 10:26:06
  2. Oriane Dujardin 12:58:57
  3. Shefia Hendaoui 13:35:57

 

  1. Rachid El Morabity 9:11:47
  2. Sondre Amdahl 9:18:12
  3. Mohamed El Morabity 10:17:33

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Marathon des Sables 2015 #MDS2015 – Race Images

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The 30th edition of the iconic Marathon des Sables is over! What a race… we all knew that race director, Patrick Bauer would create something special and he did not disappoint.

Tough stages and the longest days had runners tackling 92km’s, the longest stage ever in the 30 year history of the race.

Rachid El Morabity (20:21:39) won the men’s race once again in true style and Elisabet Barnes (26:42:13) showed pure class in winning every stage of the ladies race. A race summary will follow.

Below is a selected portfolio that encompasses the 30th edition of the race. A full image gallery will be uploaded to iancorless.phtoshelter.com in due course.

All images ©iancorless.com

Patrick Bauer – The Interview

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Patrick Bauer has a passion and a love for the Marathon des Sables that the passing of the years has not suppressed. Back in 1984 he ventured into the Algerian Sahara to cover 350km’s alone in a self sufficient manner. Little did he know that his journey would not only change his life but also so many lives of so many others…

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Translation services provided by Niandi Carmont

IC Patrick, welcome. In 1984 you took a solo journey across the Algerian Sahara. Why, what inspired you?

PB In 1984 I decided to take a self-sufficient journey of 350km. It took me 12 days; because of my self-suffiency my pack weighed 35 kilos. I needed enough food water for the whole journey. I had no help. It was an incredible undertaking.

IC What was the motivation, It must have taken some planning?

PB I had lived in West Africa for two years. I was employed to sell Encyclopedias to teachers and books on medicine to doctors and pharmacists. Returning to France was difficult. I had no desire to stay… I just wanted to leave again. During my 2 years in Africa I had crossed the Sahara five to six times by car but I wanted to cross on my own, on foot. I remember it well, I had returned to France, I had no apartment so I returned to my parents. I was back sharing a room with my brother. I woke up one morning and said

“I am going to cross the Sahara on foot”

My brother said, “Ok, go to sleep… you had a nightmare”

I said to my brother you must help with a camera and sponsors. Just three weeks later I left to take the journey.

IC That journey influenced the rest of your life but importantly it changed your immediate life in the mid 80’s. In 1986 you decided to share that experience and create Marathon des Sables. What gave you the confidence to create such a race? How did you know you would have a market?

PB I realized when I did a presentation to my village. I had friends and sponsors present. It was a thank you but I had awoken curiosity and interest. Local runners did not want to make the journey alone, so, I decided to organize it. No other event compared, maybe Paris-Dakar. It was a ground breaking moment.

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IC In the early years, was participation mainly French?

PB Yes, French with the exception of one Moroccan. We had 23 runners at the first edition. It took 24 months to plan and create. Little did those 24 know that they would be the pioneers of one of the most beautiful stories that will soon be 30 years old?

IC In the early 1990’s you contacted ‘The Best of Morocco’ to introduce British and Irish runners, was this a long term plan to expand the race?

PB We already had contact with this agency (Best of Morocco) but by 1990 I had already done 5 editions of the Marathon des Sables. I wanted to expand internationally and I wanted as many countries present as possible. We started in a tentative way and today we have as many English runners as French and potentially more in the future.

IC British entries have reached 250+. The race is known worldwide. Did you know it would become so big?

PB I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined it would be what it is today. When a race is over, I start immediately on the next year. I have a passion and I don’t think about it all the time.  I want to be more strategic with my long-term vision. 2015 is the 30th edition; I like to plan 3 years ahead so I already anticipate higher demand for 2015.

IC What is it that makes the race so special. You appeal to novices and experienced runners. It is a difficult balance but you do it so well.

PB I think it is the concept. The cocktail of the desert, running and the self-sufficiency. Nobody at the beginning thought it would be possible to run with a pack. The expedition was an extra bonus…. You need to manage everything; calories, water, clothing, rest etc. All these elements combine to create the ultimate experience. It was new! Today we have additional security. Runners tell us that the safety element is key. Believe it or not, the average age is 40yrs+. These participants have families and children so risk is not negotiable. We want to offer security and safety for all these participants. We have helicopters, planes and insurance to make sure everyone is protected. Finally, it is about testing your limits; in our busy lives we find going back to basics a wonderful experience. Under the stars with friends, sat around a campfire, simple conversation and no luxuries. It is primal. It brings out true values that we may have forgotten. Because the desert facilitates all that is around us, the stars, the universe, you don’t need a book to tell you that ultimately we are all insignificant.

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IC What is it that makes runners that go back year after year?

PB Yes, we have some people returning for the 22nd or 23rd time. But it is not the same for all. If everyone came back we would have the same race, this would not be good. But we have a faithful family that we have created from the start. We have affinity and we love to find each other in the desert. We are also happy to find new friends. Maybe we have people return years later to celebrate a key moment such as a 50th birthday. We have a fraternity side, we share values. We have a respect for difference and other countries. All the languages that are spoken. These are the experiences that make the event. It is the combination of so many elements that make it great. We have an edge I think and that brings people back.

IC What is the future of the race? Will the race become bigger with more runners?

PB Yes, I think we will have more participants in 2013. We will have 350 from the UK. We had a meeting with worldwide representatives some time ago and it was decided that we would all work together on a communication strategy and we discussed the 30th edition. We have had great demand; we have refused more than 2,000 entries. I get messages about the 30th edition asking if it will be 300km as the 25th edition was 250km. Because of the worldwide economic crisis we may need to take more entries so that we can ensure the quality of the race such as safety. This is why we prepare 3 years ahead.

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IC As a race director can you give us an insight into the Marathon des Sables?

PB The advise to the runners is repeated every morning, like, hydration, protecting your head, sun block and more specific advice concerning the course. Storms can just arrive and then last a half-day or even 4-5 days. A few years ago we had floods… that year we had to plan from day-to-day. It wasn’t easy. The biggest problems are usually weather related. For the rest of us, it is a safe country. We have government backing should we have a problem, for example we have military assistance. We have trucks and soldiers who transport the tents everyday and we have 400 people who work on the event. If you add journalists, drivers, volunteers etc. then we have more like 450 people.  I have 110 people who directly report to me.

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IC It is so impressive, the tents, the staff, and the helicopters. A circus!

PB It is a little like the circus. Up and down, load up and move. I am always impressed. It is fantastic.

IC Since the beginning can you pinpoint any highlights?

PB The feeling you get from every event. We have an extraordinary experience. We share values with participants and it creates a bond. Some say ‘never again’ and then two years later we see them again. We all strive for equilibrium to balance the experience and we all strive for positive thoughts. If we have them then we can share beautiful things.

IC In 2005 you had an Opera singer to sing before the start. A magical experience.

PB Yes, for the 20th anniversary we had a spectacular start with an Opera singer and musicians. She was Japanese. It was a moving experience. Classical music is in harmony with the desert. At the beginning the runners are still fresh so they can enjoy the experience.

IC What do you think of Olympian James Cracknells performance at Marathon des Sables, he is not your ‘typical’ desert runner?

PB He was an excellent champion, a top-level athlete who understood how to test the limits. So I think he had a new experience in the Sahara. He asked himself what he was doing at the race several times I think. Discovery Channel did a documentary on him. He demanded respect as an athlete. As a man I did not get to know him but as a sportsman I am sure he has great values.

IC Has the race become easier over time or have you made adjustments to make the experience more challenging?

PB The race is not easier. The distance has increased over the years but water can be a key issue and we now have great water supplies which was not so in the past. In the past water was an issue. But we all have short memories. We forget the hardships. Every year has new demands. We now have more positive incline. We used to spend time in the valleys.

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IC True, we all forget hard times very quickly. We always remember the good times and they are our memories.

PB At the end you have sore feet and blisters… but your mind is selective. We filter the negative to retain the good. The human and sport experiences. We forget the soreness and remember the positive.

IC Do you still run, do you have the time?

PB Yes, I run after the sponsors, I run after my planes, I run after my trains… I started cycling a little and I do a little running. It’s not a good time for me. But then again, I always have an excuse. It is difficult but I am motivated to try to be more regular with my own exercise.

IC Patrick, it really has been excellent to get an insight into such an iconic race. Thank you so much.

PB Merci beaucoup

2013 RACE PREVIEW HERE

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

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