Sue Ding and the 2018 Marathon des Sables #MDS2018

Marathon des Sables is an iconic race. For over 30-years it has been the leading example of multi-day racing all over the world. It has often been copied, but never bettered. In its incredible history, runners from all over the world have toed the line for the experience of a lifetime.

In 2018, for the first time ever, a Malaysian lady toed the line in the hope to be the first Malaysian lady ever to complete the race.

Sue Ding has been living in the UK for over 20-years. She came from Kuala Lumpur to study law at Liverpool University and then stayed successfully building her own legal practice in London. She is an entrepreneur, business woman and is extremely successful.

Running became an escape from the everyday stress of work. Like many, Sue built to the marathon distance and has successfully completed London, Berlin and Tokyo. But Marathon des Sables was something very different – a new challenge.

I first met Sue when she joined our Lanzarote Training Camp (HERE) in January 2018.

I was fortunate to follow her journey as she prepared for the 2018 MDS, both in training and then day-by-day throughout the race.

It turned out to be quite a story and shows that the mental aspect of ultra-running is often far more important than fitness.

You can listen to a full and in-depth interview with Sue on Talk Ultra podcast HERE

What initially made you decide to take part in MDS?

I had heard about the Marathon des Sables from friends and I had seen images on Instagram. It enticed me, I was looking for a new challenge and although I thought the race was beyond my ability I took the plunge and entered. I told nobody for two weeks as I couldn’t decide if I had done the right thing. When I did finally disclose my intentions, some friends and relatives were negative saying I was crazy and that I couldn’t do it… I needed no better motivation to prove them wrong!

You have run several marathons such as London and Tokyo. How does the MDS compare?

Other than running or walking, there is no comparison really. A road marathon is a challenge but it is safe, you have aid stations, there is always help at hand. MDS is just so much more than just running. It brings in elements of survival, it plays games with your mind and it pushes the individual to depths that they maybe never even realised they could reach.  MDS is truly a transformational experience and although I will always remember my first road marathon, I now think, ‘it is only a marathon!’

What was your training and preparation like for the MDS? What are the differences in comparison to a road marathon?

In all honesty, marathon training is actually good preparation for MDS as the individual stages are marathon distance or below. Of course, the exception is the ‘long day’ which in 2018 was 86.4km (around 53 miles, so two marathons). Marathon training works well but of course one needs to build up strength and stamina for the challenge ahead. Therefore, most people allow 12-months to get ready for MDS. Time on feet is important and also including some specific ‘training’ races that provide a similar scenario to MDS. For example. Several races in the UK last 2 or 3 days therefore providing a mini MDS scenario.

I also signed up for a specific desert training camp in Lanzarote, 3-months ahead of the race. This proved to be essential as I met other competitions, we trained on terrain specific and comparable to Morocco and I was able to test equipment. We even spent one night sleeping inside a volcano to simulate camp conditions in the Sahara.

Training Camp information HERE 

Finally, two points. 1. Many runners think they will run MDS – the reality is that they will not! Walking is an essential and integral part of completing MDS for most participants and I can’t stress enough to walk, walk and walk in training. 2. Prepare the mind for the challenge. If you get the mind in the right place it will take the body to the line.

What was the biggest challenges out in the Sahara?

The challenges change daily. For example, just starting on day 1 seemed like a huge challenge as I was so anxious and nervous.

Then on day 2 I was silly and neglected taking my salt tablets, this impacted on my hydration and caused me to be dizzy. It was touch and go but I rallied and achieved the finish line.

That night we were hit by a sand storm which wiped out our tent and reduced sleep to a minimum. So, as you see, the challenges change daily, by the hour or even by the minute at times. This is what makes MDS so special, it is how you adapt both physically and more importantly, mentally at times.

How did you cope with the challenges, did you feel prepared?

One can only prepare so much. I really dedicated myself to the task and prepared methodically for the challenge. But after Tokyo Marathon I picked up a stress fracture.

Photo ©sueding

This resulted in no running for three weeks and then a slow return to training. Ironically, my final preparation to MDS was terrible and that worried me. Friends were always positive, they told me, ‘You can do this!’ I trusted them and despite my reservations, I achieved the start line.

Equipment is equipment but it is essential. I took advice from the training camp and honed my equipment for my needs. I made last minute changes to the pack I would use and I also changed my down jacket. It all worked well. During the race you must be flexible and adapt to conditions – tiredness, dehydration, sore legs, snoring tent mates, sharing a space with 7 others – you can’t really prepare for that, it is this that makes MDS such an experience, it is a journey into the unknown.

What did you enjoy most about the whole experience?

I was so anxious before the race but I feel like I blossomed as the race progressed. I embraced the challenge and got the race done – I did that and nobody can take that away. But my tent mates, Tent 95 were incredible and they will be friends for life. You were also at the race and shared my journey, that was so special and something that I will never forget. The race is a life changer, I was told this before I went to Morocco, it’s only now, afterwards, that I realised that this is true.

What were some of the most memorable or unforgettable moments for you, explain why?

1. Tent 95 – Gary, Daniel, Mark, James, Brian, Taka and Denise were just the best. We laughed, we shared our stories in the morning and the evening and we rallied and encouraged each other. We all finished – what an experience!

2. On the long day it was dark, I was walking through large sand dunes and I was listening to Craig Armstrong music, I looked up to the sky and saw thousands of stars… I was lost in my mind and thoughts and it was truly magical.

3. I had low points throughout the race, times of despair and worries if I could push on through. They were my lowest moments but each time they became the most memorable – you would always arrive, just at the right time.

4. I got some really bad blisters which needed medical treatment and caused great pain – I had to continue on, ignore the negative and fight each day to achieve my goals.

How did you manage the conditions – heat, survival, rationed food etc?

In all honesty, I was expecting the worst and the reality was not as bad. We had cold nights, sand storms and hot days but I managed. I wore the same clothes for ten days with no showering or proper washing, it was unpleasant but I survived. I craved fresh food and had to eat dehydrated food.

I wanted so much a different drink other than water but water is the only thing available. I keep saying it but this is MDS. It is meant to test you mentally as much as physically and you need to embrace it. If you fight it, your week will be miserable. It’s best to laugh and soak up the experience.

A Coke after the long day was so magical – simple pleasure! Going to the toilet is also somewhat an experience… you will need to use your imagination for that one!

What went through your mind during the race?

Ha! What didn’t I think about…? I put the world to rights, thought about my past, thought about my future. I concentrated on one foot ahead of the other and I escaped with music.

You have a great deal of time to think and I think this is why, for many, MDS has such an impact. You suddenly realise what is important. I have realised it. Experiences and memories are far greater than things and possessions – the Sahara and the MDS made me feel truly alive, pushed me to the limit and beyond.

Did you doubt yourself at any time, elaborate?

I had huge doubts and anxiety before the race but did as much specific preparation as possible and I listened to you and Elisabet Barnes,  you both told me I could do it. I was so nervous on day 1 and of course on day 2 I was extremely worried.

However, as the race progressed the stronger mentally I became. I was more tired, my body ached, my feet hurt but my mind was strong, there was no way I was giving up or not finishing – I had to prove all the doubters before the race wrong.

One lady had said, ‘If you finish the race, I will eat my hat!’ Guess what? I bought a hat in Morocco after the race…

What was crossing the finish line like?

On the marathon stage I had a moment early on when I cried but I got over it and pushed on despite the pain.

The miles ticked by and then as the finish line came, you were waiting as were all my tent 95 teammates.

I had no more tears left, just smiles and gratitude. I was flying the Malaysian flag, I kissed my cross which was around my neck and I gave thanks for the opportunity to complete a truly magical, life changing journey.

What are the biggest takeaways from the race?

We are too protected, too comfortable in the world and we shy away from tough times. A little tough, some challenge, some hardship and some pain makes you realise you are truly alive.

I went to so many low points during the race and overcame them, I made new friends and I triumphed over arguably the toughest challenge I have ever undertaken.

I now feel invincible, I feel alive!

If you did MDS again, what would you change in preparation and why?

Well, I would definitely try not to get a stress fracture just 8 weeks before the race. In general though, I feel everything clicked into place. I would make sure my shoes did not give me blisters, I made a mistake there going with a shoe size too large.

What advice would you give to future MDS runners?

Prepare the mind and the legs and lungs will followI also had a ‘special’ bag with me ‘Not Gonna Happen’ it contained daily inspiration to keep me going… It was invaluable.

MDS is described as the toughest race on earth, on a scale of 1-10 give it a rating and explain why?

Tough question as I have done nothing like it to compare, so, for me it would be a 8, or 9. But the daily cut off times are generous and it is possible to complete the race walking, so, like I said previously, get the mind right and anything is possible.

Certainly, no change of clothes, carrying everything one needs on ones back and having rationed food and water takes things to another level and therefore it’s a combination of all those elements that makes the race so tough.

MDS is not cheap, can you elaborate on how much the whole process cost?

I don’t really want to think about it… The race costs so much more than just the entry fee. For example, entry fee, flights and hotels around £4000. But I started to prepare 12 moths in advance. I did training races, I did the Lanzarote training camp, I purchased all my equipment and then changed my equipment. I added some extras such as staying in Morocco afterwards. I have not tallied up the total cost but it would easily be £10.000.

You are the first Malaysian woman to complete the race, how does that make you feel?

I am proud to be Malaysian and cross the line flying the flag – it is a real honour.

You ran for charities, Make A Wish Malaysia and Malaysian Dogs Deserve Better, how much did you raise?

The total goes up daily as donations come in, but currently it is over £25.000.

“We all have our stories, we got together, encouraged each other, were there for each other, we went on a 250km MDS journey together… We are friends forever Tent 95! I was also privileged to have the additional support of a truly dear friend who documented our journey. Friendship and love completed the journey.”

#suckitupprincess

Check out Sue in MARIE CLAIRE – http://marieclaire.com.my/lifestyle/features/marie-claire-amazing-women-2018/5/

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 Peru #MDSPeru on Sidetracked

On my recent trip to the inaugural Marathon des Sables Peru, I decided to shoot a portfolio specifically in B&W. For me, the desert transfers well to tones of light and dark.

I was very happy when Sidetracked agreed to publish a portfolio with some words to introduce this new race to the Marathon des Sables family.

“Way back in time, running was never about fun, it was about survival. Deprived of luxury, deprived of technology, deprived of phones and deprived of connecting to the outside world, participants have one objective at MDS: to journey from one place to the next. Racing like this forces everyone to connect, to sit in groups, help each other, talk about the day, share the journey in words and mutually bond.”

You can view the full article HERE

Marathon des Sables PERU 2017 #MDSPeru – RACE DAY 4

Stage 4 of MDS Peru was the eagerly anticipated long-day, it was billed as a stunning stage and it didn’t disappoint, however, with beauty came difficulty and many said how hard it was. The thought of views of the Pacific Ocean pulled the runners through to the 51km mark and then from here, the sea was by their side all the way to the finish line.

Erik Clavery dictated the race early on but by Cp2 he was caught and it was Also Ramirez from Peru who forged a fast pace looking for a top-3 finish. Fellow Peruvian, Remigio Huaman, was never going to let a countryman run away from him and the duo ran at the head of the race before Rachid El Morabity budged the gap. It was interesting to see the dynamics at the front of the race, it would appear, that El Morabity was not having a ‘normal’ dominating day and this was reflected in him crossing the line with Huaman, hand-in-hand, in 7:10:24. Ramirez held on for 3rd just 7-minutes later with Gediminas Grinius and Clavery placing 4th and 5th.

The ladies race once again had a very similar format as all the previous days with Nathalie Mauclair dictating from the front and never looking back. She is, with all due respect to the other ladies, in a race on her own! She crossed the line in 8:08:45 and Melanie Rousset finished 2nd once again over 1-hour later in 9:19:10. Peruvian, Rocio Carrion, was as consistent as ever placing 3rd in 10:01.

The long-day will be remembered for the stunning landscape and the variety. Beautiful white dunes, white stone flats, amazing valleys flanked by mountains and then the stunning sandy drop to the Pacific and bivouac 4 next to the sea.

 

  1. Remigio Huaman 7:10:24
  2. Rachid El Morabity 7:10:25
  3. Aldo Ramirez 7:17:21

 

  1. Nathalie Mauclair 8:08:45
  2. Melanie Rousset 9:19:10
  3. Rocio Carrion 10:01:15

 

GC

 

  1. Rachid El Morabity 17:09:53
  2. Remigio Huaman 17:47:54
  3. Aldo Ramirez 18:49:51

 

  1. Nathalie Mauclair 20:23:35
  2. Melanie Rousset 23:15:44
  3. Rocio Carrion 25:46:50

 

Stage 5 of MDS Peru is as the Moroccan brother, the marathon stage. Staring on the beach in Barlovento, the runners will cover 42.2km to Mendieta hugging the coastline of the Pacific. It will be a stunning stage!

Marathon des Sables 2017 #MDS – Stage Three 31.6km

Day 2 of the 32nd Marathon des Sables was a tough one. The general mood in bivouac was one of exhaustion, fatigue, tiredness and the question – ‘How will I do it all again tomorrow?’

On the stroke of 0830, the remaining runners were released on a truly spectacular but tough and challenging day 3.

Just 2km out of camp dunes waited and a sandy passage through two mountains, Running through a Oued, the first challenge of the day came at 7.4km with a sandy passage and steep climb to the summit of Joua Baba Ali jebel and then a technical path lead to Cp1 at 10km. From here a small section of flat running preceded arguably one of the highlights of the 32nd Marathon des Sables – the second section of Joua Baba Ali jebel. This section is ‘skyrunning’ in nature – technical, exposed and a real challenge. A sandy descent lead to the flat valley and a long flat run to Cp2 before the tough and challenging climb to the summit of El Oftal jebel. Descending down a stony gulley, dunes followed and then a flat and expansive run to the bivouac concluded the 31.6km day.

The day started with Rachid El Morabity bidding his time and running a little behind his Moroccan friends. However, the early stages saw a charge from Remigio Human, Andy Symonds and Thomas Evans. Was he El Morabity struggling? The simple answer is no! After Cp2 he regained the front of the race and although he didn’t pull away and gain a huge margin, win the day he did! El Morabity crossed the day 3 finish in a ridiculous 2:33:14, his brother Mohamad was 2nd in 2:34:25 and then Abdelaziz Baghazza, Abdelkader El Mouaziz and Thomas Evans took the remaining top-5 placings in 2:34:26, 2:35:59 and 2:38:53 respectively. I think they were all thinking of the ‘long-day’ of 80km tomorrow!

Elisabet Barnes lead from the front once again and it remained that way all the way to the end. However, the technical terrain allowed Nathalie Mauclair to keep her much closer in sight and at times they were just seconds apart. It was in the flatter final stages that Barnes opened a little time crossing in 3:13:07 to Mauclair’s 3:15:14. Fernanda Maciel one again returned to form finishing 3rd in 3:27:11. However, Barnes took a fall today after being distracted on the course. At the finish she has received an injection and stitches… I have no other information at the moment and will report back after chatting in bivouac. Melanie Rousset, Emilie Lecomte and Aziza Raji took the other top-6 places in 3:28:02, 3:33:44, and 3:47:23.

Attention now turns to the much feared ‘long-day!’ At 86.2km and a 35h cut-off, this day will be a challenge for all. There are two starts with the majority of the race leaving at 08:15 and the top-runners departing at 11:15.

Results available HERE

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Marathon des Sables 2017 #MDS – Stage Two 39km

The mood in bivouac on the second morning of the 32nd edition of the Marathon des Sables was one of mixed emotions. Satisfaction on completing day one, a good nights sleep and then the daunting contrast of a ‘tough’ day two and 39km with some significant technical and sandy terrain.

An 0830 start would allow runners a little more time to complete the stage – the cut-off was 11h 30min.

Heading south the early km’s were full of sand, dunes and climbing – Bou Laadam Jebel a significant marker at 5km. A plateau and then a steady sandy climb at 8.5km would lead to Cp1 at 12.8km. The next 12km would follow a southerly direction of sand, hills and dunes. Cp2 would offer some recovery before the push to Cp3. Dunes would sap the runners energy here and then a tough climb would lead to the highest point of the day via a gulley of rock. Elotfal jebel offered stunning views and then a steep sandy descent before the final Cp3 and a flat run to bivouac.

Day 2 was all about Rachid El Morabity and Elisabet Barnes. The duo dominated the day from the front and have well and truly laid a foundation for potential victory in the 32nd edition of the Marathon des Sables. Of course, there is still a long way to go…

El Morabity ran within himself till Cp1 but then opened up a gap leaving the rest to follow. The men’s field was spread throughout the sand, dunes and plateaus of Morocco – El Morabity was having none of the group running of day 1.

Abdelkader El Mouaziz, Mohamed El Morabity and Thomas Evans followed but they were not match for the MDS master. At the line, the gaps were significant. El Morabity crossed in 3:04:52 and then it was 3:12:15, 3:14:31 and 3:14:35 for El Mouaziz, El Morabity (younger brother) and Evans. Aziz Ek Akad placed 5th and Andy Symonds 6th.

In the ladies race, Elisabet Barnes is showing the form that gained her victory in 2015. She looks relaxed, happy and focussed. Last year’s second place Nathalie Mauclair commented on how strong she was running. Barnes lead from the front and never looked back, just as day 1, a way she like to run. She crossed the line in 3:49:04.

Following behind there was a change with Fernanda Maciel returning to form and pipping Mauclair to 2nd, the times 4:00:42 and 4:04:14 respectively. Emilie Lecomte placed 4th, Aziza Jaji 5th and rising star Jennifer Hill 6th.

FULL RESULTS HERE

The third stage will start 0830 and a distance of 31.6km and a 10h 30m cut-off will be applied.

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The 2017 32nd Marathon des Sables Preview #MDS

The 32nd MARATHON DES SABLES draws near and as usual, we take a look at several of the main contenders who will toe the line looking to place on the podium of this iconic race. We look at some of the impressive statistics and we preview at the route the runners will need to cover.

Since 1986, over 20,000 participants have raced at the Marathon des Sables and over 1200 are registered for 2017. Of the 52 Nationalities represented, the British are the largest contingent followed by the French.

2017 ROUTE SUMMARY

The 32nd edition will cover 250km in five timed stages and one compulsory charity stage. Daily distances will vary from 30km to 90km. The only provision to runners is rationed water and a bivouac each night which must be shared with seven other runners. The race requires self-sufficiency and everything a runner needs must be carried for the duration of the race.

Day 1 – A relatively flat stage with small dunes, lots of sand and a slight climb to the finish. It’s a day when many runners go too fast. Tip: Ease into the race.

Day 2 – Will be a tough stage that is long with a great deal of sand. You will climb a gorge and run down a very steep descent. Tip: Tough day, keep focused, watch your pace and keep hydrated.

Day 3 – A climb starts the day and it is followed by rollercoaster terrain taking runners up and down. One section is very steep with technical passages. If that wasn’t enough, this stage contains the first ‘real’ dunes of the 32nd edition. Tip: One foot in-front of the other and remember the big day is tomorrow.

Day 4 – The long one: a feared and formidable stage. A lot of sand and some pitfalls for the feet. Two start times: 8.15 a.m. for most people and 11.15 a.m. for the first 50 men and the first 5 women. It’s a day of much sand and difficult terrain underfoot – be careful not to fall! Two passages through small gorges, a climb up a djebel, a roller coaster through the sand, and a technical descent add to a tough day. Tip: Watch out for the heat and manage the night carefully! Get your head in the right place.

Day 5 – Two start times: 7 a.m. for the majority and 8.30 a.m. for the first 200 runners. Dunes at the start and then no major difficulties, however, be prepared for a hot stretch over a long plateau… Tip: If you finished the long day, the race is in the bag. Smile!

Day 6 – Compulsory charity stage.

 

THE TOP MEN AND WOMEN

Rachid El Morabity returns and is without doubt, once again, the host favorite for male victory. Russian Natalia Sedyh, who won the race in 2016 has decided not to return in 2017 and this leaves the door open for 2015 MDS champion Elisabet Barnes but it will be no easy run – 2017 is arguably one of the strongest female line-ups the race has seen.

THE WOMEN RACE

Nathalie Mauclair placed 2nd in 2016 and Fernanda Maciel placed 3rd, with Natalya not returning, could victory go to one of these very strong ladies? Of course, yes! They both now know the race better, they will have adjusted their training and equipment and will arrive prepared. Nathalie has won Diagonale des Fous twice and has been trail World Champion twice – this combination of speed and endurance is just what is required in the Sahara.

Fernanda Maciel, like Nathalie, is a powerhouse on trails. A regular competitor on the UTWT she brings incredible experience to the race and a tenacity to push to the line.

Elisabet Barnes won MDS in 2015 and what has followed is a string of world-class performances in multi-day races all over the world – Australia, South Africa, Costa Rica, USA and so on. Elisabet loves the Sahara and this year has stepped up her training and prepared meticulously for the 32nd edition.

Emilie Lecomte will run MDS for the first time in 2017 but last year, pipped Elisabet Barnes to victory at the Grand To Grand in the USA. Emilie is a specialist in long races and the multi-day format suits her. She still holds the FKT for the GR20 in Corsica and like Nathalie has won the Diagonale des Fous.

 

Ester Alves from Portugal won The Coastal Challenge in 2016 and this year placed 3rd. Like the ladies’ above she is a fierce competitor and although this is her first foray into the Sahara, I have a feeling we will see her contend for the top 5, if not the podium.

Our women’s top ten to watch:

Aziza Raji is the Moroccan hope. She won the race in 2008 and 2009 but the speed of the race has increased and she is unlikely to contend with the other top elites.

Lizzie Wraith from the UK is a strong runner who will be under the radar here in the Sahara – watch out, she may surprise many people! Lizzie made the podium at the UK’s tough, Dragons Back Race.

Mélanie Rousset is attempting MDS for the first time but has a string of top-10 results at Diagonale des Fous and UTMB.

Nahila Hernandez San Juan from Mexico placed 8th at MDS in 2009 and was 5th at Badwater 135 in 2013.

Marie Eve Trudel a newcomer to ultra but placed 4th at the Grand To Grand in 2015.

Amy Costa winner of the Badwater 135 in 2013.

Kerri Kanuga 6th at Badwater in 2016.

THE MEN RACE

Rachid El Morabity, Samir Akhdar, Aziz El Akad and Abdelkader El Mouaziz are the strong men on this 32nd MARATHON DES SABLES. Rachid has won the race in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016 – do you want to bet against him?

Samir Akhdar is a MDS regular but his best result came in 2015 when he placed 4th. In 2017, he has the potential for 2nd or 3rd. Equally, Aliza El Akad although he is getting on in years, his seven completions at MDS and all within the top-5 would suggest he will continue that consistency.

This year the race does not have Chema Martinez from Spain or Danny Kendall from the UK. Therefore, the great European hope comes with a trio of Brits.

Andy Symonds is a world-class runner who has made the podium all over the world in iconic ultras. Although this is his first MDS he has the running skill to be up there! It all depends if he has adapted to the pack and the additional weight.

Nathan Montague is coming to the race with clear intentions to do well and ideally be the first Brit and hopefully that highest placed Brit ever. He’s a fast runner with some impressive times for 50km and 100km.

Damian Hall has been top-20 at UTMB and placed on the podium at The Spine. He raced in Costa Rica in 2016 with an excellent performance against a world-class field. Like Andy, Damian is on a MDS learning curve but he has the potential to do well.

Moroccans may well provide the competition for the other Moroccans. Abdelkader El Mouaziz is a 2:06 marathon runner and has won London Marathon in 1999 and 2001. He may well be slower now with the passing of the years but class is permanent. His highest placing at MDS is 2nd – one to watch!

Miguel Capo Soler was 3rd at MDS in 2013 and is the most experienced non-Moroccan who will potentially contend the top-10 placing. In recent years, he has run at The Coastal Challenge and Everest Trail Race.

Our men’s top ten to watch:

Mustapha Ait Amar finished MDS 13-times and was 12th in 2012.

Andrew Fargus placed 11th at MDS in 2013.

Luca Papi is a novice MDS runner but brings a wealth of experience.

Marco Olmo is a legend of ultra-trail and MDS – he will not contend the podium but he will be up around the top-20. Not bad for a 68-year old!

Notable mentions for blind runner Didier Benguigu who aged 67 will participate in his 13th MDS.

Also, Duncan Slater from the UK who lost both legs during a mission in Afghanistan. He did not complete in 2016 due to medical complications – he’s back this year for the medal!

Finally…

1216 runners will toe the line and the youngest male is Oscar Daglish from the UK who is just 16-years old. He will be running with his father who has already completed MDS.

The youngest female is Emily Rolfe, also from the UK. Emily will also run with her father.

Claude Leonardi from France is the oldest male runner. The 32nd edition will be his 5th time on the race, not bad for 80-years old!

Edda Hanna Bauer got into sport late, she ran her first marathon and 60. Now aged 72 she has made up for it clocking up 26 marathons and 63 ultra-marathons.

Crazy Statistics of the MDS

“The logistics are a big headache and we organize every detail in advance! We’re a village of 2,000 people that must be set up and dismantled every day. We need to be self-sufficient in energy, food, water and fuel. As one of my friends says, ‘Let’s expect the worst because the best will never surprise us!’ We also benefit from the infallible support of the Royal Moroccan Army, which makes available about 25 6WD military trucks to transport all of our equipment.” – Patrick Bauer

You must see Marathon des Sables t appreciate the size and scale of the event. It’s like the largest moving circus you will ever see and it’s impressive to witness.

Following statistics provided by the Marathon des Sables office:

▪      150 volunteers to supervise the race,

▪      450 general support staff,

▪      120,000 liters of bottled mineral water,

▪      300 Berber and Saharan tents,

▪      120 all-terrain vehicles and trucks,

▪      2 Squirrel helicopters and 1 Cessna plane,

▪      8 Transavia ‘MDS special’ commercial planes,

▪      30 buses,

▪      4 dromedaries,

▪      1 incinerator lorry for burning waste,

▪      5 quad bikes to monitor race environment and safety,

▪      72 medical staff,

▪      2.3kms of Elastoplast,

▪      12,200 compresses,

▪      6,000 painkillers,

▪      150 liters of disinfectant,

▪      1 editing bus,

▪      5 cameras,

▪      1 satellite image station,

▪      10 satellite telephones,

▪      30 computers, fax and internet,

▪      20,000 competitors since 1986

▪      3 runners aged 10-20, 108 aged 20-30, 314 aged 30-40, 491 aged 40-50, 299 aged 50-60, 66 aged 60-70 and 13 aged 70-80 years.

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

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

30 Years of the MDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014 – Rachid EL MORABITY (MOROCCO) – Nikki KIMBALL (USA)

2015 – Rachid EL MORABITY (MOROCCO) – Elisabet BARNES (SWE)

2016 – Rachid EL MORABITY (MOROCCO) – Natalya SEDYH (RUSSIA)

A brief history of the MDS:

1984: At 28 years of age, Patrick Bauer decided to make for the Sahara to try to traverse a 350km expanse of uninhabited desert, on foot, alone, where he wouldn’t come into contact with a single village, oasis or watering place. Totally self-sufficient, with a rucksack weighing 35kg and containing water and food, he set off on a journey that was to last 12 days. It was the starting point of what was to become the MARATHON DES SABLES.

1986: The creation of the first MDS in the Moroccan Sahara. The 23 pioneers who took the start never imagined that their footprints would mark the start of a legendary event, which has today become a must among the major adventure sport meets. The creation of a non-mechanical competition in the Moroccan sands offers adventure runners a wealth of new prospects.

1987: Creation of the MDS logo: the face of a runner covered by a keffiyeh, the eyes protected by a pair of sunglasses and the pipette from the runner’s water container clenched between the teeth.

1989: 170 competitors take the start of the race.

1991: The gulf drama puts the MDS at a disadvantage and the financial partners withdraw. Fortunately, some runners answer the call. For these competitors, the true victory lies in meeting athletes from different backgrounds and their communion in the desert around the same goal. Sport proves once again that it can bring people together and create bonds.

1992: One and the same regulation for everyone. This year sees the establishing of unexpected draconian tests, to ensure that each participant properly transports all his or her gear from one end of the course to the other. A 30-point charter is drawn up.

First participation by the Moroccan Lahcen Ahansal

1994: Arrival of the Doc Trotters at the event.

1995: 10th anniversary. Since the start, over 1,500 men and women have left their footprint and their passion in the desert. Installation of water-pump for the inhabitants of the village of Ighef n’rifi (South of Er-Rachidia) – an idea by competitor Gilles Flamant and backed by Rolland Barthes and Patrick Bauer. Its success is to be repeated again and again

1996: First participation by Mohamed, a younger sibling of Ahansal. The two Moroccan brothers set off together and rank 4th and 5th respectively.

1997: This year heralds the start of the Ahansal saga. Morocco is honored with Lahcen’s first victory. He beats his two pursuers by nearly 30 minutes, despite them being international long-distance running champions.

1999: A mobile hospital on the MDS comes into being. There are around thirty practitioners on the ground, with doctors and nurses joining the caravan. A dedicated helicopter and ten all-terrain vehicles track the competitors each day. On- board these vehicles there are doctors of course, as well as high-tech equipment. The village boasts a genuine field hospital.

2000: Internet appears in the large MDS village. The organization decides to broadcast the texts and photos of the race live, day after day. The competitors can communicate with their nearest and dearest and receive messages of encouragement.

2001: For the first time the long leg, traditionally called “The 70”, exceeds the 80km barrier to reach 82km. The threshold of 240km is also surpassed since the 16th MARATHON DES SABLES spans 243km. Another first relates to the fact that there are no Moroccans on the podium this year.

2002: This edition is punctuated by a sandstorm, involving headwinds, which lasts the entire week. The doctors invent a machine for ‘low pressure cleansing’ to rinse out the runners’ eyes. Despite the difficult conditions, there are few retirements to report as the wind considerably reduces the temperature.

2005: The Luxembourg runner Simone Kayser is the first woman to win 3 MARATHON DES SABLES. For this 20th edition, the total number of runners exceeds 700 for the first time, with no fewer than 777 runners taking the start.

2006: A drying wind and very high humidity levels cause damage to the runners’ bodies. Despite additional allocations of water, a whole series of retirements ensues. There is a total of 146 retirements ultimately, which equates to double that of the previous record… Race management decides to shorten the long leg by over 10km given how tired the runners seem.

2008: The Solidarité MDS association is created. The aim: to develop projects to assist children and disadvantaged populations in the domains of health, education and sustainable development in Morocco. 

2009: MDS is disrupted by flooding and the 1st and 6th stages are not able to take place. To avoid the flood zones, the organization is obliged to improvise new legs on a day-to-day basis. In this way, the edition goes down in legend for its 3rd leg, which is the longest ever contested: 92km of sand, loose stones and rocks… The leg even sees the retirement of Lahcen Ahansal… At the prize giving the 2 winners admit to having competed in their hardest MDS. However, it was also the shortest: 202km.

2010: For its 25th edition, the number of participations reaches a record high of 1,013 participants. It is to be the longest MARATHON DES SABLES. It spans 250 kilometers with a course considered by former entrants to be the most difficult ever organized.

2012: A dramatic turn of events on the longest leg as the then leader in the overall standing, Rachid El Morabity (MAR) injures himself one kilometer from the finish. Medical examinations reveal a serious muscular lesion in the quadriceps. After over five years on the 2nd or 3rd step of the podium, Jordanian Salameh Al Aqra secures the title.

2013: 1,027 competitors on the start line make this a new participation record. New feature: a final “Charity” stage sponsored by UNICEF and traversing the Merzouga dunes round off the race. Sports wise, Mohamad Ahansal and Megan Hicks are the champions of the 231.5km event. On a human level, all the finishers pull off their crazy bet.

2014: 2011 winner, Moroccan Rachid El Morabity (MAR) wins the overall ranking and takes Mohamad Ahansal’s crown. In the women’s category, another American stamps her mark, Nikki Kimball. The French revelation is one Michaël Gras, 22 years of age, 8th overall and top Frenchman. A major athletics star, Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj lines up to take the start of Saturday’s Unicef Charity leg.

You can follow the 2017 Marathon des Sables on this website.

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Please remember, communications in the Sahara will be sporadic and we will upload content as and when possible.