Taming The Dragon – The 9 Dragons Ultra 2019 Summary

Running a race in Hong Kong is a unique experience! Failure to do your research will no doubt results in a painful and potentially traumatic experience. Heat, humidity and steps – hundreds if not thousands of steps hurt the legs and mind to an overwhelming experience.

No other place in the world (that I know of) has soaring skyscrapers and city life so close to a myriad of trails that weave in and out of the landscape providing endless possibilities. It is why Hong Kong’s is such a popular destination, and let’s face it, trail, mountain and ultra-running is booming here. Each weekend there and multiple opportunities to race.

I was in HK for The 9 Dragons Ultra organized by Race Base Asia – a trio of Steve Carr, Michael Ormiston and Nic Tinworth. After just two editions, word was out that The 9 Dragons was a brutal race – statistics proved it, the DNF rate as high!

Comprised of two races, a 50-mile race and a 50-km race, 9 Dragons is an action packed weekend of trail running. However, the real challenge was the 50/50. Open to just 250 people, the opportunity to run 50-miles one day and then wake up the next and complete 50-km was of course the ultimate test.

Ultra-runners love a challenge!

The 50-mile race starts as the clock counts down on Friday evening and with the chime of midnight, runners depart for a night and day of running. Of course, the faster you finish, the more rest you get. Cut-off time is 1900 at the Tai Po Tau Playground.

The following morning, the 50-km race starts where the 50-mile race finished at 0730. The finish is at Shing Fung Studios and all runner’s must finish before the cut-off of 2000 hours. 

Both races weave in, out, up and down Hong Kong’s network of trails and in the process runner’s must slay the ‘8 Dragons’ climbing 8620m – 5070m for the 50-mile and 3550m for the 50-km. The respective male and female winners (combined time) become the 9th Dragon!

The 8 Dragons are Kowloon Peak, Tung Shan, Tate’s Cairn, Temple Hill, Unicorn Ridge, Lion Rock, Beacon Hill and Crow’s Nest. The 9th Dragon was a title given to the Emperor himself and herein the story of The 9 Dragon Ultra was created.

View images from the race HERE

The 50-Mile Race

Darkness provides its own challenge and as runner’s departed on the stroke of midnight, it was clear that the challenge ahead had not be missed by every runner – there was no shortage of anxious looks. Temperatures were a little chilly and a strong wind swirled. One unique element of the 9 Dragon’s is the race within a race. The 50-mile would have a 50-mile winner, but at the same time, it would have a 50/50 winner. Pre-race discussion and been all about Hong Kong trail running legend and 2018 9 Dragon, John Ellis. However, just a couple of weekend’s ago he had run at HK100 and then the following weekend he had competed in the ‘King of the Hill’ series. It is here that he picked up a calf injury – would a week of rehab get him fit for the start? Well, the answer was yes! He is a master of pacing and from the off he settled into his own rhythm and he allowed the rabbits to run off into the night. Julien Chorier from France and Kazufumi Ose from Japan dictated the 50/50 pace and Justin Robert Andrews took the reigns in the 50-mile race.

Eventually, Chorier opened a gap and started to pull away from Ose. Ose has experience of the 9 Dragon’s course and he commented after the race that Chorier managed to run when others have walked. Ose managed to yo-yo to Chorier but it was in the final 20-km that the Frenchman opened a 9-minute gap on the Japanese runner. John Ellis despite his injury relentlessly battled the terrain with his usual 100% commitment rounding out the podium. Their times, 10:47:51, 10:56:15 and 11:21:15. Remarkably, the top three 50/50 runners all ran faster than the standalone champion, Justin Robert Andrews who concluded his journey in 11:46:56 ahead of KurtErik Evans in 12:22:42.

For the women, Magdalena Boulet dictated the race from the front and although her lead was slender at times, by the time she reached the finish in 13:45:51 her margin of victory was convincing over race revelation JCY Ho who finished in 14:17:52. Boulet, who is a remarkable ultra-runner, was way out of her comfort zone on the HK trails. She notably said post-race that the trails were the hardest she has ever run and of course, the stairs would haunt her for weeks and months to come. “It has been stair 101 for me,” she said with a laugh. Christine Woon Chze Loh was the 3rd woman.

View images from the race HERE

The 50-KM Race

Morning came all too quickly and as light rain dampened the 0730 start, heat and humidity soon became the order of the day. Unsurprisingly, the 50/50 runners eased into the day allowing the 50-km runners to speed off at a breakneck pace. In particular, Guomin Deng looked set to blaze a trail all the way to the line. He had company early on but from cp1 he opened up a gap and never looked back. At each checkpoint he was ahead of the old course record and at the finish, he smashed it by an amazing 40-minutes ahead of Yuta Sudafed and Blake Turner. Deng’s time a remarkable 6:09:21. 

In the 50/50 race, Julien Chorier looked to be running a smart and sensible race early on and coming from a cycling background, he no doubt used the tactic of marking the 2nd placed runner Kazufumi Ose knowing that his 9-minute margin, if held, would provide him overall 50/50 victory. However, unlike day-one, the heat and humidity was relentless. It soon became apparent that Ose was handling the conditions better and with just over 20-km to go to the finish he had managed to break away and take 3-minutes from Chorier’s lead – could Ose break the Frenchman? Chorier pushed, but the more he pushed, the hotter he became… The intense humidity and countless steps conspired against him and at the finish, Ose managed to claw back the lost 9-minutes from day-one and win by 3-minutes. It was an epic battle and one that will go down in the history of the race. John Ellis despite incredible pain, somehow, managed to hold on for 3rd place in the 50/50 in 19:27:15 combined time. As he ran the final meters, he was doubled in pain and at the finish he collapsed, racked with pain. His result only confirmed his legendary status to the HK trail community. Ose’s combined time was 17:34:28 to Chorier’s 17:38:19.

The women’s race had a similar feel to the men’s with the solo 50-km runners setting of at a relentless pace; a pace they would hold to the finish. Whereas the 50/50 runners would ease into the day and take on the challenge, one stride at a time. Charlotte Taquet was a convincing winner in 7:07:11 ahead of Sandi Menchi and Kim Mathews.

Magdalena Boulet had recovered remarkably from her day-one efforts, no doubt all her multi-day experience coming to the fore. She looked fresh and strong all day and although the local HK trail community hoped that JCY Ho would use her local knowledge to reel Boulet in, the Hoka One One runner was just two strong. Boulet crossed the line first once again in the 50/50 runners and became the 9 Dragon for 2019. Ho finished 2nd in a flood of tears and emotion. It was a huge day and weekend of running for this women who only started running a few year’s back. Christine Woon Chze Loh once agin placed third and secured the final 50/50 podium slot. Combined times for the women were 22:18:04 for Boulet and 24:24:41 and 25:32:23 respectively for 2nd and 3rd.

View images from the race HERE

Race Notes

I see many races and I have to say, The 9 Dragon Ultra race and team excelled from beginning to end. The HK trail running scene is like a huge family. It is more than running, it’s like a huge social experiment that brings people from all walks of life together, for one common goal. The Race Base Asia team headed by Steve, Michael and Nic really know how to put on a race and make it go like clockwork. There are so many things to praise, from the detailed documents that explain how a checkpoint should look, to the incredible burger (veggie option available) and beer that is offered at the finish-line. I only wish that all races could be like this.

Personal Thanks

Many thanks to Steve, Michael and Nic for making my stay slick, enjoyable and fun. We had some great times in our week long adventure. Hannes was my man with a motorbike for the 50-mile and he did a stunning job of getting me around in the dark. Janine and Mo hosted me for the week and well, it was just a pleasure – I cannot wait to return, And finally, thank you to everyone who came and said hello. You made my HK adventure a pleasant one and I am keen to return.

Images are available at www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

The 9 Dragons Ultra 2019 in Images

An epic weekend of racing took place in Hong Kong over two days for the third edition of the 9 Dragons Ultra.

The main event, the 50/50 offers the brave two races, a 50-mile and 50-km event where the combined times provide a female and male 9 Dragon champion.

Many congratulations to Kazufumi Ose and Magdalena Boulet who produced two incredible runs to be crowned the 50/50 9 Dragon champions.

The 50-mile event was won by Julien Chorier and Magdalena Boulet. The 50-km event was won by Guomin Deng in 6:09:21 obliterating the old CR by 40-minutes, Ch Chaa was the female winner.

In the words of Mo Devlin, who placed 6th in the 50-km event:

9 Dragons…this race really is something special.

In our world of ultra running words like epic, legendary and awesome get thrown around like confetti at a wedding but 9D is the real deal. It’s a unique race that deserves every accolade it gets.

This year only added to its reputation and growing status in the Ultra calendar with international Elites like Julian Chorier, Magda Boulet, and Ben Duffus rubbing shoulders at the start line with our own Elites such as John Ellis, Guomin Deng and Kazufumi Ose…what a line up!! We even had the renowned Ultra photographer and host of Talk Ultra Ian J Corless in town for the race.

Congratulations and Thank You to Steven Carr, Michael Ormiston, Josianne Robb and Nic Tinworth. You have created a monster of a race that is unlike anything else in Hong Kong, provides an unforgettable experience for everyone who is involved and should be on everyone’s Bucket List….

Race summary and report to follow

All images available at www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

IMAGES 50-MILE EVENT

IMAGES 50-KM EVENT

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The 9 Dragons Ultra 2019

The 9 Dragons Ultra presented by HOKA ONE ONE is a challenging, multi-day trail and ultra-running event taking place on the 1st to the 3rd of February 2019, in Hong Kong.

The first race, starting at midnight on Saturday, consists of an 89km (50 mile) trail run with a an elevation gain of 5,070m. Sunday features an entirely different 50km course with a further 3,550m of elevation gain.

 250 places will be available to runners who hope to aim to complete both events over the weekend –The 9 Dragons 50/50– and a further 250 will compete in either the 50 Miler(82km) or 50km race.

 Elite runners, Julien Chorier from France, Magdalena Boulet flying in from the USA and Frncesca Canepa from Italy will trade blows with local talent that includes, Ben Duffus, John Ellis, Kazufumi Ose, Chor Kin Law, Jeremy Ritcey, Hisashi Kitamura and Jacky Leung. For the women, Corinne Williams, JCY Ho and Ruth Theresia will provide the competition at the from of the race.

History

A transliteration of the Chinese 九龍, gau lung, or “Nine Dragons”, Kowloon is named for the eight mountains which rear up behind the plateau—and one final dragon besides. 

Legend goes that Kowloon was named in the year 1278 by the boy Emperor Bing, of the Southern Song Dynasty. Noticing the eight hills of Kowloon (Kowloon Peak, Tung Shan, Tate’s Cairn, Temple Hill, Unicorn Ridge, Lion Rock, Beacon Hill, Crow’s Nest), the emperor was pleased to name them the “Eight Dragons”—but a quick-witted courtier pointed out that the emperor was a dragon himself, making it nine dragons.

What was Emperor Bing doing counting mountains at the southern tip of his empire? Well, he had nowhere else to go. For the whole of the 13th century the Mongols had swept down from the steppes, moving south through China and crushing the ruling Song Dynasty. First Genghis and then his grandson Kublai Khan stormed south, pushing the Song back, and back, and back.

By 1278, Emperor Bing’s older brother, 10-year-old Emperor Duanzong of Song, had been pushed out of Fujian province and fled south to Guangdong. After Duanzong died from an illness contracted while running from the Mongols, the throne passed to 7-year-old Emperor Bing. The child was crowned at Silvermine Bay, on Lantau Island.

But Bing’s reign was not to last. The Mongols pressed onwards and just one year after the emperor’s coronation, the Song Dynasty made its final stand against the invaders. At the naval Battle of Yamen on March 19, 1279, a Mongol navy of some 50 warships smashed the Song flotilla of more than 1,000 ships to pieces. There was nowhere left to run. Lu Xiufu, the emperor’s most loyal general and statesman, picked up the 8-year-old king and leaped into the sea, in search of an honorable death. Kublai Khan had unified China under his fist, and the sun dawned on the Yuan Dynasty. 

You can visit the “Terrace of the Song Kings,” in the Sung Wong Toi Garden park in Kowloon City. It’s home to a rock carving which commemorates the two-year reign of the Song kings in Hong Kong.

But the legacy of the last emperor of the Song doesn’t lie in a rock, but in those eight dragons: The boy emperor who named a city.

RACES

The 50-mile event will begin at 11:59pm on Friday 1st of February 2019 at the Po Leung Kuk Jockey Club Holiday Camp near Yuen Long and finish at Tai Po Tau Playground. The cutoff is at 19:00pm on Saturday 2nd February.

The 50 Mile course starts at the Po Leung Kuk Jockey Club Tai Tong Holiday Camp near Yuen Long, and finishes at Tai Po Tau Playground, an 8 minute walk to/from Tai Wo MTR (East Rail line). It crosses Kowloon and the New Territories in Hong Kong from West to East. The route uses a variety of trails including the MacLehose and Wilson trails, and has an accumulative vertical gain of 5,070m.

The 50km event will begin at 07:30am on Sunday 3rd February at Tai Po Tau Playground and finish at Shing Fung Studios. The cutoff will be at 20:00pm on the same day.

The 50km course starts at Tai Po Tau Playground, an 8 minute walk from Tai Wo MTR (East Rail line) in the New Territories and finishes at Shing Fung Studios in Kowloon, running from North to South. The route uses a variety of trail including the Wilson and MacLehose among others, and has an accumulative vertical of 3,550m.

50/50 

250 places will be available to runners who hope to aim to complete both the 50 Miler and 50km events over the weekend – The 9 Dragons 50/50.

50/50 – Men

  • Julien Chorier
  • Ben Duffus
  • John Ellis
  • Kazufumi Ose
  • Chor Kin Law
  • Jeremy Ritcey
  • Hisashi Kitamura
  • Jacky Leung

50/50 – Women

  • Magdalena Boulet
  • Corinne Williams
  • Francesca Canepa
  • JCY Ho
  • Ruth Theresia

Ultra Trail Mont Blanc #UTMB 2018 Preview

UTMB is upon us and the hype just keeps on building and building. The 2018 edition looks set to be another great race and the year when the chances of an American at the top of the podium, have probably never been higher!

The 170km loop that starts in France, passes through Italy, then Switzerland and once again returns to France with 10,000m of vert is considered the pinnacle of 100-mile mountain running.

 UTMB LIVE HERE

MEN

It is easy to look at UTMB and the presence of Kilian Jornet on the start line and say, ‘we know who has won!’ To be honest, I think Kilian is the odds-on favourite to win the 2018 edition, particularly with Francoise D’Haene missing the race. What Kilian has achieved in 2018 after a very serious injury has been quite remarkable. What is most impressive is the range of his skill, he can break an almost unbreakable FKT in the UK (Bob Graham Round), win a super-fast and competitive Sierre-Zinal and then win and set a course record at the most technical and pinnacle skyrunning event there is, Trofeo Kima, just 5-days before toeing the line at UTMB. Without doubt, Kilian is the one to beat, however, the one thing he has against him is the lack of specific 100-mile training. For anyone else, that would be a huge problem, for Kilian, no!

Many will say that Jim Walmsley is the prime contender to beat KJ but let’s give a nod and respect to Tim Tollefson who has placed 3rd twice and now knows the race like the back of his hand. He prepares specifically and respects the race and the distance. His form seems a little off based on results in 2018, but, I am sure Tim has only ever had his eye on one prize.

Luis Alberto Hernando is for me one of the greatest and most underrated mountain runners in the world. He is pure class. He is a multiple world champ, has placed 2nd at UTMB before and missed the race in 2017 because he knew he didn’t have the necessary form to win. He has been quiet this year which can only mean very specific training. He hasn’t run many 100’s and this has been his downfall in the past, he always races hard and from the front which can mean he blows up. This may be Luis’s year for the win, but everything will need to go right, and Kilian will need to be a little off. A Luis victory would be extremely popular! 

Jim Walmsley finally fulfilled his dreams and ability with nailing Western States earlier this year and obliterating the course record. He has earned his 100-mile apprenticeship. Last year at UTMB it was all going well, and Jim was running a smarter race, it went wrong but he rallied and then finished in the top-10 closing hard. He has a tough decision to make at this year’s race, does he go on gut feeling and run at ‘his’ pace early on and hope he can take it to the line (think Zach Miller) or does he hand with Kilian, mark him, stay with him and then make a move late in the race where he then maybe can use his natural run speed to win? It’s important to note, that running and winning UTMB will be at least 20% more time on his feet than the WSER victory. I think Jim will make the podium this year and yes, he could be at the top of it, quite easily!

 Xavier Thevenard has done it all at UTMB winning all the main distances over the past 4-years. He will no doubt be reeling from his DQ at Hardrock and that could work either way at UTMB. It may motivate a superb performance or put questions in his mind. Podium potential for sure but not a winner this year.

 Alex Nichols is for me the greatest US potential for a win in years. However, it may take this year for him to fully understand the race before he can come back and win next year or the year after. I said many times in the last 18-months that Alex has the greatest potential and he proved it recently with his Nolans 14 FKT. He is one to watch and a dark horse.

The above are my prime podium contenders but as always, it’s a stacked field with the following toeing the line:

  • Gediminas Grinius
  • Ryan Sandes
  • Mark Hammond
  • Michel Lanne
  • Stephan Hugenschmidt
  • Jordi Gamito
  • Sondre Amdahl
  • Benoit Cori
  • Scott Hawker
  • Timothy Olson
  • Damian Hall
  • Sylvain Court
  • Javi Dominguez

That is an A-list of contenders with Gediminas Grinius and Javi Dominguez as stand outs. It is UTMB, so anything can happen on the big loop. One person to watch is the UK’s Damian Hall. Over the past 3-years he has moved closer and closer to the top-10 and last year placed 11th. He is super motivated this year and although I don’t think he will make the top-5, the chances are high for him to fulfil his top-10 dream. 

WOMEN 

Mimmi Kotka for me is the 2018 UTMB champion. She has won CCC, TDS and has crushed mountain races such as Madeira Island Ultra Trail, Mont-Blanc 90km and the Maxi-Race in Annecy. She eats mountains and although this is her first 100, something just tells me she is ready for the big loop.

Caroline Chaverot of course should be the odds-on favourite but boy-oh-boy as she had a tough time of things after winning ‘everything’ and I mean ‘everything’ a year or so ago. Her form is a real question mark and she has openly discussed on social media that she has been very unwell. Caroline in form is of course podium potential, anything less and she would be disappointed.

Uxue Fraile has a 5th, 3rd and 2nd at UTMB and that alone sets her up as a prime podium contender. She always runs a savvy race, has loads of experience and for me, she may well match her 2015 2nd place. 

Kaori Niwa has been 4th at UTMB and recently took 4th at Hardrock 100, so, we know she has endurance. That is super important here at UTMB and although victory is unlikely with Mimmi and Caroline in the race, the 3rd slot on the podium is possible.

 Sephanie Violett was 15th last-year which seems a below par performance based on her experience and skill. But UTMB is not the US and Magdalena Boulet and Kaci Lickteig also placed out of the top-10. I have a feeling that these three women will change things around this year and impact on the top-10 with Stephanie my tip as the one who does the best of the trio.

Beth Pascall and Jo Meek are two Brits who I believe this year will turn heads. Beth gets the nod over Jo as she has much experience at the long game with success at races such as Lakeland 100, Dragons Back and the Spine. She dropped at UTMB last year after getting cold, this year I am putting my neck on the line and saying top-5! Jo has trained specifically and knows the UTMB mountains after placing 2nd at CCC. This is her first foray to 100-miles and this length of time on her feet. She has all the ability to do well, so, fingers crossed she makes the top-10.

Fernanda Maciel has buckets of experience at the long game, has excelled at UTMB time and time again and I have no reason not to think she will do the same again this year. A prime top-10 contender and for sure, 4th/ 5th is a distinct possibility; she has placed 4th twice before.

Juliette Blanchet was 4th last-year and has buckets of experience and results at long and tough races… She was 2nd at Raid de la Reunion after UTMB in 2017. She will be fighting for the podium and amongst the 2018 women’s field, she has a great chance.

 Cat Bradley has won Western States but, in all honesty, I have no idea how she will fare on this monster 170km loop. You don’t win Western by accident which is why she gets a nod here, but let’s look at Kaci and Magdalena last-year, they were both outside the top-10. 

Mariya Nikolova is not a name that many will have heard but she has been in the top-10 at UTMB previously and she has won in Turkey at Cappadocia. Her recent form is a little unknown but an improvement from 9th is to be expected. 

Strong Contenders:

Emilie Lecomte has been there and done it in long distances races but seems to be lacking the speed of her prime. Amy Sproston has been 8th before, she will be in the top-10 game but not a podium contender. The UK’s Sophie Grant is another real contender with Beth and Jo, she was 15th last-year. Teresa Nimes was just outside the top-10 placing 11th in 2017. Aliza Lapierre dnf’d last year but has loads of experience as does Ildiko Wermescher who has been 6th and 7th at UTMB previously… In all honesty, Ildiko should be in the list above. Francesca Canepa is a long-distance specialist. Katia Fori also one to watch after 5th at MIUT.

It is all to fight for. The big loop with all that distance, vertical gain and descending, variable weather and just the many, many hours on foot means nothing is guaranteed. So, expect some surprises!

Action stars Friday 31st August.

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Marathon des Sables 2018 #MDS2018 – Stage 5

What a day! The 2018 Marathon des Sables concluded today on the edge of the Mezouga dunes on what will bee remembered as one of the toughest marathon stages in the races history.

The day started at 0700 with the majority of the field departing in strong winds and sand storms. The top 200 departed 90-minutes later also in sand storms.

The winds never eased and for the duration of the day, the runners encountered a full-on headwind all the way to the line.

The course was in comparison to other stages of this years race, a relatively easy one despite some large dunes in the final third. However, the combination of cooler temperatures, relentless wind, and drifting sand made for a tough day.

In reality, the race was over yesterday for the podium places and Rachid El Morabity and Magdalena Boulet were crowned 2018 Marathon des Sables champions. On the day, Magdalena won the final stage in 4:19:39 and Rachid placed 4th in 3:31:41.

The overall men’s final podium stands as:

  1. Rachid El Morabity 19:35:49
  2. Mohamed El Morabity 20:01:28
  3. Merile Robert 20:41:00
  4. Abdelkader El Mouaziz 20:51:59
  5. Gediminas Grinius 21:31:23

Gemma Game from the UK followed up a solid and consistent week placing 2nd on the final stage. 4:29:31 to Magdalena’s 4:19:39. Bouchra Eriksen placed 3rd in 4:30:58 and without doubt has been a revelation this year. Natalia Sedykh won the first three stages, gained a 1-hour time penalty, had very sore knees and stomach issues to have a very tough week in the Sarah. Today she placed 4th in 4:39:25 ahead of the USA’s Jacqueline Mariash in 4:40:22.

The overall female final podium stands as:

  1. Magdalena Boulet 25:11:19
  2. Bouchra Erksen 26:36:00
  3. Gemma Game 27:00:23
  4. Natalia Sedykh 28:26:56
  5. Anna Marie Watson 29:04:43

Of course, the final day is all about emotion and runner’s of all abilities a lifetime goal and achievement. Many a tear is shed on the finish line as Patrick Bauer embraces each and every runner, kisses them on the cheek and places a medal around their necks.

MDS is more than a running race. It is a life changing adventure of 250 km’s with intense highs and lows, elation and pain, laughter and crying. The bonds created in the Sahara are not forgotten. The pain and the joy will be remembered.

Tomorrow, a short stage of 7.7km transitions the runners from the Sahara and back to buses for the journey back to civilisation – a shower, some food, drinks, a bed and clean white sheets. Believe me, everyone has earned it!

Full Results HERE

Marathon des Sables 2018 #MDS2018 – Stage 4

The long day! It’s the day that makes the Marathon des Sables and it is the one most feared by the runners. The 86.4km’s of stage 4 are classic MDS and yes, they are beautiful km’s combining many of the elements that make the Sahara and Morocco so unique. However, soft sand and dunes are not the friend of the long distance runner, particularly when trying to cover distance as quickly as possible.

It was an epic day!

Intense heat during the day with strong winds as sunset came and then a very cold night making most runners wear down jackets to keep warm – it was a tough day for all, Rachid finished in 8:12:05 for the men and Magda 10:29:58 for the women. As I write this, 27-hours have elapsed and runners are still out on the course trying to finish ahead of the 35-hour cut off.

Camp life is key to the MDS – being self-sufficient, carrying everything you need, the only provisions are rationed water and a bivouac (tent) shared with 7 others.

The day started at 08:30 for the masses and 11:30 for the top 50.

Rachid El Morabity and Natalia Sedykh as expected dictated the pace at the front. Rachid consolidating his lead and showing the rest of the elite men who is the boss! It’s quite simple, when it comes to the desert, Rachid is the king. He glides over the terrain, almost floating – he is beautiful to watch. He dictated the day and won with a 20+-minute margin.

For the ladies, Natalia was always going to push and see if she could claw back the 1-hour penalty time and regain the overall lead. By CP1 she had 3-minutes, by CP2 Magda was catching the Russian and then after CP4 it was all over… Natalia broke with the pressure and was forced to ease up eventually finishing 6th on the stage.

For the men, Rachid’s brother, Mohamed, followed in the footsteps of teacher and once again placed 2nd, 8:33:52 to Rachid’s 8:12:05. France’s Merile Robert excelled finishing 3rd 8:43:35 and Lithuanian Gediminas Grinius finishing 4th. The ever-present Abdelkader El Mouaziz had a tough day finishing 5th in 9:19:09.

Magdalena Boulet from the USA showed her strength at long distances and dominated the stage running a clever race firstly behind Natalia and then passing her and running strong all the way to the line in 10:29:58.

With Natalia’s explosion, it was all to fight for for the ladies podium and Bouchra Eriksen once again showed real consistency finishing 3rd ahead of the UK’s Gemma Game, their times 11:22:36 and 11:29:00 respectively. The UK’s Anna Marie Watson had a bad day with stomach issues and finished 9th. This opened the door for The USA’s Emily Kratz and Jacqueline Mariash to finish 4th and 5th in 12:08:49 and 12:24:15.

With the marathon stage tomorrow, the podium looks set with Rachid and Magda the 2018 Marathon des Sables champions.

The long day though is really so much more than discussing the elites who seem to run with ease over the harsh terrain. The day is about all the runners, the mid-packers, the slow, the runner out of their comfort zone, the runner looking for a lifetime achievement, the runner looking for adventure, the runner with a mid-life crisis – the long day changes people and it changes me as I experience their journeys. The lows of a withdrawal at a CP or the highs of a hard fought finish. 

THIS IS THE MDS!

It brings a tear to me eye as I document the journey from early in the day, through the night and into a 2nd day.

I have heard ultra runners say that the MDS is easy. It is not! Trust me, it is not… The cut-off times are generous but ask yourself, running or walking, would you like to be out there for 35-hours?

I am honoured to document this race and I salute all those who tried this year and failed. It is not a failure… trust me! You put yourself on the start line and risked a great deal. You will be back.

For those who fought sleep deprivation, hunger, blisters, the cold, the heat, tired aching muscles and so much more – congratulations. You have achieved something quite incredible this long day. With ‘just’ a marathon to go. The 2018 MDS is on paper, ‘in the bag!’

Full results HERE

Overall GC going into the last official stage:

  1. Magdalena Boulet 20:51:40
  2. Bouchra Eriksen 22:05:02
  3. Gemma Game 22:30:52
  4. Natalia Sedykh 23:47:31
  5. Anna Marie Watson 24:24:21
  6. Rachid El Morabity 16:04:08
  7. Mohamed El Morabity 16:37:30
  8. Merile Robert 17:07:55
  9. Abdelkader El Mouaziz 17:28:08
  10. Gediminas Grinius 17:58:58

Marathon des Sables 2018 #MDS2018 – Stage 3

One could be forgiven in thinking that today, the two fastest runners in the 2018 Marathon des Sables, Rachid El Morabity and Natalia Sedykh had an easier day… They both won again, for Rachid that is two stage victories and for Natalia it is 3 out of 3. But the winning margin was just a handful of minutes for the duo. I think they are saving something for tomorrow’s long day of 86.2km.

Today’s stage by MDS standards was an epic one that combined a multitude of terrain. Soft sand, dunes, gorges, stoney climbs, exposed ridges, the technical climb and descent of Jebel El Oftal and then an easy and relatively flat fast run in to the finish.

Rachid and Natalia dictated the day but Mohamed El Morabity and Magdalena Boulet was never far behind. It was a controlled day. In the end, Rachid finished the 31.6km in 2:36:20. Mohamed followed just over 1-minute later in 2:37:32 and then ever present Abdelkader El Mouaziz was 3rd in 2:40:43. Peru’s Remigio Huaman had a good day today with 4th ahead of Aziz El Akad.

Despite the 1-hour time penalty, Russia’s Natalia Sedykh continues to push at the front. Today she finished 1st again just over 5-minutes ahead of Magdalena, 3:28:27 to 3:33:45. Magdalena leads the race overall but Natalia claws back the 1-hour time penalty little by little. I can’t help but think we may see an all out effort on the long day to bring things equal. It could be a risky strategy but what has Natalia to lose? Bouchra Eriksen once again was 3rd ahead of the UK’s Anna Marie Watson and Gemma Game who placed 4th and 5th respectively.

Despite some strong winds and sand storms in the night, day 3 of the MDS was calm with little wind, clear skies and relentless heat. It’s amazing to watch runners of all abilities fight their demons, particularly on the climb of the Jebel – it brings out some serious inner strength.

The key now is recovery. The long stage of the MDS is tomorrow and they have 35h to complete the 86.2km distance. Bodies and minds are now tired – everyone will need to dig deep!

  1. Natalia Sedykh 2:28:27
  2. Magdalena Boulet 3:33:45
  3. Bouchra Ericksen 3:39:13
  4. Anna Marie Watson 3:44:13
  5. Gemma Game 3:47:03

 

  1. Rachid El Morabity 2:36:20
  2. Mohamed El Morabity 2:37:32
  3. Abdlekader El Mouaziz 2:40:43
  4. Remigio Huaman 2:41:11
  5. Aziz El Akad 2:48:10

 

Overall GC going into the long stage:

  1. Rachid El Morabity 7:52:03
  2. Mohamed El Morabity 8:03:38
  3. Abdelkader El Mouaziz 8:08:59

 

  1. Magdalena Boulet 10:21:42
  2. Bouchra Eriksen 10:42:26
  3. Gemma Game 11:01:52

*Natalia Sedykh 11:03:22

Full Results HERE

Marathon des Sables 2018 #MDS2018 – Stage 2

 

Today, the king and queen of the desert set out their stalls! For Rachid El Morabity, it was a day of showing the rest of the field a clean pair of heals as he slowly but surely pulled away from the field finally finishing almost 10-minutes ahead of his brother and day 1 champion, Mohamed.

For the ladies, 2016 champion Natalia Sedykh was no doubt frustrated and angry after winning stage 1 only to be penalised 1-hour for failing to have a whistle at a kit check post day-1. A penalty was applied and now Natalia must run and race hard each day to make up the time. Today, she gained over 8-minutes on the ladies overall leader, American, Magdalena Boulet.

Day 2 was a tough day for all with relentless soft-sand which made moving tiresome. Throw in a stony and steep climb up Jebel El Otfal and then the fast and sandy descent to the final CP, and it was only really the final 4km’s that was stony, flat and faster.

Day 1 had no drop outs but day 2 was taking it’s toll. Some runners were fighting demons to get to the line but there was some real grit and MDS spirit out there as participants dug in to achieve a lifetime goal.

At the front of the race Mohamed El Morabity trailed his brother to finish 2nd just 45-seconds ahead of Abdelkader El Mouaziz. Aziz Ell Akad finished 4th and Merile Robert 5th.

 The USA’s Magdalena Boulet once again placed 2nd on the stage and looks at home in the sand, Bouchra Eriksen was 3rd ahead of the UK’s Gemma Game and Anna Marie Watson in 5th.

 

  1. Rachid El Morabity 3:04:01
  2. Mohamed El Morabity 3:14:36
  3. Abdelkader El Mouaziz 3:15:16
  4. Aziz El Akad 3:18:34
  5. Merile Robert 3:18:34

 

  1. Natali Sedykh 3:56:08
  2. Magdalena Boulet 4:04:48
  3. Bouchra Eriksen 4:16:08
  4. Gemma Game 4:19:48
  5. Anna Marie Watson 4:19:48

Tomorrow’s stage is 31.6km’s and starts at 0830 with a 10h 30m cut 0ff.

Full results HERE

 

Marathon des Sables 2018 #MDS2018 – Stage 1

The 2018 Marathon des Sables got underway today on the stroke of 0900 after an emotional Patrick Bauer released the runners into the sands of the Sahara for the 33rd edition of this iconic race.

The previous day had been a long day of admin and kit checks, so the 977 runners were happy to be finally experiencing the best of what Morocco has to offer.

At 30.3km the route was almost exactly the same as the 2017 edition of the race and an allocated 10hrs was allowed for runners to complete the distance. In MDS terms, it was a relatively easy day but the skies were clear, cloudless and it was hot with a gentle breeze allowing to cool as they ran.

The route started in a cued and at 5.5km the runners passed through a hilly passage before entering sand dunes. CP1 Brought a welcome rest at 13km and then the dunes continued to CP2 at 22.9km. There was a great deal of soft sand today and this continued in varying degrees all the way to the line with a narrow gorge at 25km and a small climb at 28.4km breaking up the terrain before the finish on a flat rocky plateau.

Predicted race times were 2:10 for the men and 2:35 for the ladies and these times were almost matched exactly with Mohamad El Morabity winning ahead of his brother and reigning MDS Champion, Rachid El Morabity, by just a handful of seconds. Ever present Abdelkader El Mouaziz was 3rd ahead of strong Peruvian runner Remigio Huaman.

For the ladies, 2016 MDS Champion Natalia Sedykh started the race with a strong performance ahead of USA runner Magdalena Boulet, their times 2:38:47 and 2:43:09 respectively.

Bouchra Eriksken was a surprise 3rd ahead of UTWT champion Andrea Huseer and the UK’s Gemma Game was 5th.

  1. 1.Mohamed El Morabity 2:11:30
  2. 2. Rachid El Morabity 2:11:42
  3. 3. Abdelkader El Mouaziz 2:13:00
  4. 4. Remigio Huaman 2:16:17
  5. 5. Merile Rober 2:17:29
  6. Natalia Sedykh
  7. Magdalena Boulet 2:43:09
  8. Bouchra Eriksen 2:47:05
  9. Andrea Huser 2:48:47
  10. Gemma Game 2:55:01

Stage 2 will start at 0830 and will be challenging day 0f 29km with a 11h 30m cut off.

Full results HERE

Marathon des Sables 2018 Race Preview #MDS #MDS2018

It is here, the 33rd edition of the iconic Marathon des Sables – 250km, 6 stages over 7 days and over 1000 runners from over 50 countries battling the sand and the heat of the Sahara in a self-sufficient manner.

The MDS is the granddaddy of multi-day racing and with its long history it is still the race that all other multi-day races base themselves on. Patrick Bauer’s vision is as strong today as it was back in the 80’s.

Bauer is not just a race director, he is a passionate man who loves Morocco and the people. The MDS ‘is’ Bauer and without him it is like the band QUEEN touring without Freddie Mercury center stage.

The stats for the race are impressive. They always are.

In 2018, as per usual. The 40-49 age group is the most popular. Yes, it is the mid-life crisis group with 349 males and 72 females toeing the line. The 30-39 group is next with 225 males and 58 females. Surprisingly, the 50-59 group comes in 3rd with a split of 177 to 37 male and female respectively.

The youngest runner is 17yr old Moroccan Ali Zaghloul who will be supported along the route by his father, Mehdi. The youngest female is Sally Wellock from the UK aged 23yrs.

France takes top honors for the oldest male, Jean-Claude Raymond aged 80yrs will look to complete his 12th MDS and Philippa Lloyd from the UK is the oldest female aged 69yrs.

I have to say, I have a soft spot for my good friend Didier Benguigui, this will be his 14th MDS and he is blind. I have seen him over the years overcome great adversity to achieve his medal. He is a true inspiration, he will make you cry – a legend of the MDS!

For those who love stats, believe it or not, the 2018 MDS will be Christian Ginter’s 31st MDS – yes folks, 31st edition – incredible!

ELITE RUNNERS

Female:

Natalia Sedykh returns to the MDS after winning the race in 2016 with a blistering performance. For me, she is the head and shoulders favourite for the 2018 race. She is currently in excellent shape and at the end of 2017 she won the Oman Desert Marathon.

Andrea Huser is a UTWT specialist and one of the strongest runners in the world with a string of incredible performances, be that UTMB or Transgrancanaria. She hasn’t run in the desert before and multi-day racing is a fickle beast. I see her doing well but I don’t think she will have the pace of Natalia.

One lady who will have the pace to take on the Russian is Magdalena Boulet. Magda has won Western States and placed 5th at UTMB. However, like Andrea, she is a desert Virgin and that will be her achilles heel for victory.

Anna Marie Watson can run in the sand, she won Half MDS Fuerteventura and recently placed top-10 at UTMB. She is likely to be a real contender for the podium this year and has trained specifically for the challenge ahead.

Gemma Game was 4th at MDS in 2015 and would have been a likely challenger for Natalia but has decided to ease of the gas for the 2018 race and she plans to have as much fun as possible.

Jax Mariash is a multi-day specialist who will bring her Gobi, Atacama and Namibia experience to Morocco. The question will be, does she have the speed to match the experience?

Also keep an eye on Bouchra Eriksen, Amelia Griffith and Beth Kay.

Male:

Rachid El Morabity is the desert king and you’d be a fool to bet against him. He won Morocco and Peru in 2017 and knows the sand like the back of his hand. He is an amazing runner with a wealth of experience and one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.

Mohamed El Morabity is Rachid’s younger brother and if Rachid was not running, Mohamed would have the nod for victory. He was 2nd in 2017, and he also won the 100km Ultra Mirage in Tunisia.

Abdelkader El Mouaziz won the London Marathon in 1999 and 2001. He has a marathon PB of 2:06:43 – ouch! He is a MDS vet having placed 2nd twice and 7th.

Aziz El Akad is a consistent Moroccan who has finished in the top 5 at MDS on 7 occasions – that speaks volumes!

Gediminas Grinius was new to sand and multi-day at MDS Peru at the end of 2017. The race didn’t start well for him, but he eased into the race and finished strong. I am sure Peru was invaluable for him to fine tweak his prep for MDS Morocco. I expect to see his kit and food fine-tuned and it to be lighter. He is a formidable performer, strong as on ox and never gives in.

Alejandro Fraguela placed 3rd at Half MDS Fuerteventura and that will set him up well for a strong and consistent run in Morocco.

Arnaud Lejeune is maybe the great French hope. However, his lack of desert experience will be against him despite great results at UTMF and a top-10 at UTMB.

Vajin Armstrong from New Zealand is a strong runner and fierce competitor, he’s a sand/ Sahara virgin and has a huge learning curve ahead of him.

Majell Backausen from Australia is also a strong competitor and like Armstrong will have his first desert experience in Morocco.

*Remigio Huaman is on my start list but I am not sure if he will race? If he does, he is a podium and most definitely, top 5 contender.

THE 2018 RACE

Speculation is always rife about the route the race will take and certainly looks like from the very brief description below that the 2018 edition of the race will be similar to 2017. I therefore predict a finish in Merzouga dunes.

For perspective, the 250km distance can be covered at 3km ph with an approximate 83hrs finish time. By contrast, the fleet of foot can cover the distance at 14km ph with a finish time of 18hrs.

For the record, 2017 distances per stage were as follows:

  • Day 1 30.3km
  • Day 2 39km
  • Day 3 31.6km
  • Day 4/5 86.2km
  • Day 6 42.2km
  • Day 7 Charity stage

I think it’s fair to say that the 2018 edition will have similar distances and therefore the key days will be day 2 and of course the long day!

2018 ROUTE OVERVIEW

Stage 1 – The terrain will be flat with a great deal of sand, small dunes and a small climb to the finish.

Stage 2 – Is a longer stage, with a great deal of sand. It will include a climb through a gorge and then a steep descent.

Stage 3 – Starts with a climb followed by small climbs one of which is very steep with a technical passage. This stage includes the first ‘real’ dunes of the 33rd MDS.

Stage 4 – The dreaded long day! It’s going to be a tough day with a great deal of sand. It includes two passages through small gorges, a climb up a djebel, a rollercoaster through sand and a technical descent. It’s a day about managing oneself and saving something for the night.

Stage 5 – Is the classic marathon stage with dunes to kick off the day. It’s a day of no major difficulty and it includes sandy oued and small sparse dunes. However, be prepared for the long plateau towards the end.

Stage 6 – Obligatory charity stage and buses will wait for the finishers to return them to civilization.

KEY STATS

Needless to say, key elements of the MDS are the distance, heat, sand and self-sufficiency. The combination of all these elements makes the race a tough one! For safety, each runner is tracked and monitored with a SPOT tracker.

Each runner must carry all the food they require for the journey and the race specifies a minimum per day. This must be adhered to; however, a runner can carry as much food as they like. The downside is the weight. Therefore, the race is all about balancing calories to weight.

The runner must also carry a sleeping bag, sleeping mat (if they wish), any luxuries and they must decide if they carry a change of clothes – many don’t!

Mandatory kit is specified by the MDS organization and this must be carried. It includes:

  • SPOT tracker
  • Knife
  • Compass
  • Whistle
  • Lighter
  • Venom pump
  • Antiseptic
  • Sleeping bag
  • Survival blanket
  • Mirror
  • Salt tablets
  • Light sticks
  • Headlamp

In addition to the above, other items are specified and failure to carry them will incur a time penalty.

The only items provided by the race for each runner is water (rationed) and a bivouac (tent) that holds 8 people.

SCHEDULE REMINDER

April 6 – arrive Morocco

April 7 – Inspection day

April 8 – race start, stage 1

April 9 – stage 2

April 10 – stage 3

April 11 & 12 – stage 4

April 13 – stage 5

April 14 – charity stage

April 15 – free day

April 16 – journey home

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