It’s countdown time to the 2023 Oman Desert Marathon.
Now in its 8th edition, the Oman Desert Marathon will take place January 21st to 24th. A self-sufficient race, the race takes place over 4-stages with a total distance of 165-kms.
January offers excellent conditions for a desert adventure, with highs anticipated and 25-degrees and lows of 17-degrees.
A unique race, the route provides participants the opportunity to explore and discover untouched sands and the highest dunes of Oman while running 47, 55, 42 and 21km.
“The OMD, changed my perspective on ultra-marathon running for the better. The desert is magical and beautiful, but will test you mentally and physically to your limit, but you will be a better person from it. The OMD event should be on every runner’s calendar.” – Adam May.
Arrival in Oman will be on January 20th with transfers to Al Jawharat Resort in Bidiyah. The afternoon will taken up with admin protocols and a race dinner.
Stage 1 – 47km
Satge 2 – 55km
Stage 3 – 42km
Stage 4 – 21km
Daily start times fluctuate and interestingly, Stage 3 has three starts, 1200, 1400 and 1600.
Stage 4 has an 0800 start with the race concluded by 1300 at the Al Jawharat Resort in Bidiyah resort. In the evening, an award ceremony and prize giving will take place.
While Omani runner’s will make up the majority of the field, there are participants from Spain, France, Ukraine, Italy, Germany, Poland, Britain, Belgium, Switzerland and not surprisingly, Morocco will have the main contenders for overall victory.
King of the desert, Rachid El Morabity, 9x winner of the Marathon des Sables will once again lead the field and he is without doubt, the hot favourite for overall victory.
Rachid’s brother, Mohammed, will be his main contender and should Rachid have a bad day, his brother will be able to pounce.
For the women, desert specialist, Aziz Raji, also a winner of Marathon des Sables, will be the main protagonist not only for the female victory, but quite possibly, a highly-ranked overall placing.
How to follow:
Daily reports and images will be issued on this website (connection allowing) each evening and a full and detailed race summary will follow after January 24th. On IG, @iancorlessphotography and @marathonoman
We look forward to welcoming you to the Oman Desert Marathon experience.
The 2022 Marathon des Sables was memorable. Then again, it always is! There is something very unique about the Sahara, the sand, the desert, the dunes and the movement of some 1400-people on a journey. 2022 was my 9th year on the race and while B&W images appear in my galleries, for this 36th edition I wanted to produce a specific B&W gallery and portfolio.
Of course, MDS is a very colourful race, so, to strip it back to tones and shades from white to black is for me, something quite special.
There is a grit and rawness to B&W imagery, particularly in the close-up portraits which really convey the tough journey undertaken.
Sand storms, intense winds, bivouac life. It is all there to see.
Back to basics, one tent, 8-people, one bag per person; rationed food, clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, mandatory equipment and rationed water – multi-day experiences come no better. Stripped back from connection and technology, this week in the Sahara really is one of the ultimate raw experiences in this crazy modern and connected world.
MDS is a wonderful, magical, moving road show that is difficult to understand and appreciate until you are in the Sahara. A small city moves seamlessly and like clockwork day-by-day, it is mind-blowing; a magical Saharan experience that really is one of the greatest experiences in running.
The 2022 and 36th edition of the Marathon des Sables concluded in the iconic Merzouga dunes (Erg Chebbi) on April 1st. Coming just 5-months after the 2021 race, re-scheduled from April 2021 to October due to the ongoing complications with the Coronavirus pandemic, the two races could not have been more different.
October 2021 was plagued by a Norovirus that debilitated many of the staff and runner’s, also, some of the most sustained and intensive heat that the race has experienced. It was a perfect storm that resulted in nearly 50% not completing the race. An in-depth article is HERE.
The 36th edition by contrast was the opposite, only confirming that extreme endurance challenges can bring anything and being prepared and adapting is key and integral for successful completion. Starting in March, a cooler MDS was anticipated and this is what we got.
Early evening, nights and mornings were cool and some would say cold, requiring additional layers and the use of a down jacket became essential for many, if not all participants. For those who raced too light, evenings were a somewhat miserable affair that wasted valuable energy trying to remain warm instead of recovering.
Daytime temperatures were on average mid 20’s, at least 20-degrees cooler than those experienced in 2021. One particular day did see a 10-degree rise in temperature in just 1-hour, even then, the temperatures never came close to 40-degrees. However, the race was marked by two days of storms that saw wind increase from early morning and become stronger as the day progressed bringing with it harsh and brutal sand storms. Day 2 in particular was very tough and on this day, over 60-participants did not complete the stage – A high number in any year!
Despite the storms, and occasional rain shower that appeared a couple of times on the ‘long day,’ the 2022 edition may well have had some of the cooler and easiest weather conditions that the MDS has ever experienced. Coming after October, that was no doubt a welcome contrast.
From an organizational stand point, the race was slick, streamlined and a pleasure to experience. No doubt some lessons were learnt in October and changes were made. With those lessons, those changes, the 2022 race gained praise from staff and runners. The mood was one of joy, positivity, laughter. Throughout the race and post-race three comments could be heard everywhere: ‘Best experience of my life… Super organisation… Faultless…’
From a racing perspective, 801 people completed the race with a dropout race of 11% (tbc) – exact figures will be confirmed in the coming days. Notably, over 50-people did not make the start line due to positive PCR checks in the 48-hour before departure for Morocco, a cruel blow coming so close to the race.
Covid and the pandemic was not a consideration during the race.
As with all races we have winners and as per usual, the 2022 race was eagerly anticipated with Rachid El Morabity going for his 9th victory and the potential of Aziz Yachou spoiling his winning streak. One thing was clear to me pre-race was Rachid looked more toned, a little lighter and focused.
On day 1, Rachid attacked from the start, he never does this, he always comes from behind and takes victory. This to me only confirmed that he feared Aziz and he wanted to set his stall out from the start. He won day 1 from the front but only by a slender margin. He had a race on his hands… From day 2 a strategy came in to play that was fascinating to watch and experience. Rachid, with his brother formulated a plan to fool Aziz that Rachid was not in the best shape. On stage 2 and 3 Rachid once again attacked from the front but on both days he gave up his lead and lost time. Aziz was positioned to lead the race and defend and by the time the ‘long day’ came, Rachis was in 3rd with 9-minutes to gain.
Come the long day, Rachid stamped his authority and put the plan in to action. By 10km he had 2-minutes lead, 4-minutes at 20km, 6-minutes at 30km and at 50-km he had 10-minutes – Rachid had gained the deficit and taken the race lead on the trail. By the finish he had gained almost 15-minutes on Aziz, a stunning and impressive run that was off-the-scale.
However, the tactics did not stop there. Behind, Mohamed marked Aziz all the way to 50km, noticing Aziz starting to slow, he made his move clawing back the 4-minutes he needed and at the finish line, he was crowned overall leader of the race with his brother, Rachid 37-seconds back.
Anticipation was high for the final marathon stage, would Mohamed win? Of course not! This plan had been formulated from day 2 and quite simply, Rachid and Mohamed would police Aziz on the last day and as the stage came to conclusion, Mohamed would slow allowing his brother to gain the required time and in the process his 9th victory. It was a masterpiece of tactics that worked perfectly. It was a pleasure to experience.
The women’s race was far less dramatic with Anna Comet Pascua winning each stage with a superlative performance of domination. Stage 1 started slowly as Anna eased in the race, but as the stages progressed, the Spanish runner felt comfortable and continually opened gaps to win by a convincing margin and place very close to the top-10 on general classification.
Sylvaine Cussot from France was always a contender and throughout the week ran a strong and consistent race, her 2nd place was one that was never in doubt, however, the gap to Anna was far too great for victory ever to be a possibility.
Azia Elamrany represented Morocco along with the 2021 female champion, Aziza Raji. Although not in 3rd place in the early part of the race, her consistency shone through and by the conclusion of the race her podium slot was secured ahead of her fellow Moroccan.
Outside of the top-3 in each category, there was countless string performances with Merile Robert once again showing his experience in the race, the return of Julien Chorier and the rise of the American, Jordan @@@@@@@. Patrick Kennedy placed 7th in 2021 and once again achieved a top-10 with 9th in 2022.
For the women, Aziza Raji will no doubt be disappointed with 4th after victory in 2021. Beth Rainbow and Amelia Culshaw from the UK both had top-10 placings, Beth placing 6th – a great result. We also saw the return of multi MDS champion, Laurence Klein who ran a solid race despite contracting Covid in the final build up to the race.
All Marathon des Sables are memorable. There is never a dull race. Personally, 2022 will be remembered for the stunning men’s race and the tactics used to ensure a 9th victory for Rachid. It was a masterpiece to see unfold and one that required supreme mental and physical confidence from Rachid. It’s all very well formulating a plan, pulling it off is the game changer… Imagine going in to an 85km stage with a 9-minute deficit knowing that you need to pull that back and in addition gain more time to provide a buffer so that victory can be secured! It was stunning. It’s important to mention the dedication, skill and ability of Mohamed El Morabity, he sacrifices personal glory for the greater good of his brother. It’s pointless asking the question, ‘Could Mohamed win the race?’ The simple answer is, as long as Rachid is in with a chance of a 10th and maybe 11th victory, no.
Anna Comet Pascua confirmed her ability as a versatile and adaptable runner. Known for trail, mountain and skyrunning with a victory at the multi-stage Everest Trail Race, her MDS victory confirms her as one of the top female trail runner’s in the world. Sylvaine Cussot has also confirmed herself as a one-to-watch for the future, I have this feeling she will be back at MDS very soon.
The 2022 route is arguably one of the most beautiful, last used in 2018. It has variety, stunning views, ridges, climbs, soft sand, two crossings of Jebel Otfal, salt flats and oasis. The long day, while not the longest (92km in 2009) is significant with an abundance of soft sand.
Finally, MDS is a wonderful, magical, moving road show that is difficult to understand and appreciate until you are in the Sahara. A small city moves seamlessly and like clockwork day-by-day, it is mind-blowing; a magical Saharan experience that really is one of the greatest experiences in running.
Back to basics, one tent, 8-people, one bag per person; rationed food, clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, mandatory equipment and rationed water – multi-day experiences come no better. Stripped back from connection and technology, this week in the Sahara really is one of the ultimate raw experiences in this crazy modern and connected world.
The 2022 and 36th Marathon des Sables concluded today on the edge of the Merzouga dunes after the classic ‘marathon’ stage.
It was a hotly anticipated stage with the top-3 men being so close, however, it soon became apparent that Aziz was not going to try a heroic effort to gain back his 4-minute plus deficit for 2nd place or victory. In all honesty, who can blame him, the El Morabity brothers of Rachid and Mohamed would never have allowed it.
It was in the last 5km that Rachid started to open a gap with bivouac off in the distance. Aziz chased and Mohamed policed it but the writing was on the wall.
Rachid ran in the final straight with a Moroccan flag waving, Aziz finished 2nd on the stage and importantly Mohamed finished 3rd losing more than the 37-second advantage he had going in to the stage and therefore crowning Rachid champion with his 9th victory.
We could argue all day asking the question, ‘Could Mohamed have won?’
The simple answer is, this race was built around an El Morabity plan and that plan came together to perfection granting Rachid that all important 9th crown. You need to look at the men’s race from a cycling perspective and quite simply, Mohamed worked as a domestique to facilitate a beautiful 1st and 2nd. Rachid will now be thinking of an all important 10th victory in 2023.
The women’s race went to format with Anna Comet Pascua winning the stage and confirming overall victory by a substantial margin.
Sylvaine and Aziza rounded the overall general classification placing 2nd and 3rd.
Tomorrow, the runner’s must do a 7.9km charity stage to complete the 2022 MDS but the timing does not rank.
In the coming days I will write more with a full summary but is important to say, this edition has been seamless with stunning and impeccable organisation. The weather has brought challenges with two days of storms, wind and even some rain. The heat has been mild and although on occasion temperatures have rose, in comparison to other years, it has never been really hot.
The women’s race may not have had the nail biting action of the mens race, nonetheless, it started with Sylvain Cussot and Anna Comet Pascua running together to Cp1 and beyond. Anna, no doubt running with reserves and safety ensuring that she did nothing to put at risk her overall lead on the general classification.
As the race progressed, Anna eventually moved away from Sylvaine and increased her lead to cross the finish line in 9:43:19 – an incredible time and one that brings her ranked highly on the GC overall. It’s yet to be confirmed but she may well be in the top-10?
Sylvaine has embraced the MDS and has revelled in the conditions, always smiling, always happy. She crossed in 10:10:53 and now her 2nd overall is secured.
Aziza Elamrany once again ran a brilliant day and her 3rd place on the stage in 10:23:20 ahead of the 2021 chapion, Aziza Raji in 11:17:12, now places her 3rd on GC.
Notably, Beth Rainbow from the UK had a great day and finished 5th in 11:34:19.
The long day is feared for many reasons, the distance, the weather, the night, the unexpected… As in every edition, there are demons to be fought and mental battles to be won. Conditions were, in general, kind, with less heat, some cloud, the odd rain shower and a cooler night. As I write, some are still battling to achieve a finish, the main priority is to keep ahead of the camels!
Tomorrow, stage 5 is marathon distance and the 2022 champions will be crowned. The women’s race, barring a disaster will be a formaility with Anna, Sylvaine and Aziza placing 1, 2 and 3.
The men’s race will be a nail biter. Early in the week I disclosed that I was convinced that the El Morabity brothers had a plan and strategy, that came to fruition yesterday. Now with the marathon stage to go, the duo will mark Aziz and make sure he is kept under control so that 1st place and 2nd is secure. At some point, Mohamed will allow his brother Rachid, to take over the front of the race and gain the 37-second deficit that currently places him 2nd and therefore will allow him his 9th MDS victory. Can Aziz mess up this plan?
It may well have been one of the most exciting days in the history of the Marathon des Sables… It was the feared long day of 85.8km. A long one for the 36th edition but the longest came in 2009 with 92km!
As I write, the top men have finished and the first woman is to cross the line, so, I will update on the men and follow up on the MDS ‘rest day’ with a report on the women’s race.
Today was all to fight for. Aziz Yachou was in 1st place, Mohamed El Morabity in 2nd and surprisingly, 8x MDS champion, Rachid El Morabity was in 3rd – 9-minutes behind the leader.
Some had said Rachid was not in form. I doubted this… To me, all along, Rachid had respected and feared the ability of Aziz and he had to race smart.
Rachid started day 1 from the front to build time over Aziz, he won the stage but his time gain was minimal. He therefore had to rethink and place doubts in Aziz’s mind about his fitness and strength. He set out on day 2, once again from the front but relinquished the lead and lost time. On day 3 he ran for over an hour in the lead and was then caught and passed, once again losing time. His brother however raced strong.
Come the long day, my thoughts were Rachid would play his ace and his brother would defend and block helping facilitate his brothers 9th victory. Of course, this plan was risky. It required superb form and confidence from Rachid. It also required Aziz not to be a strong.
It was a masterpiece day. By 10km Rachid had 2-minutes, at 20km 4-minutes, then 6, 8 and at 50km the lead was over 10-minutes. It was incredible to watch.
Behind, Mohamed marked Aziz but sensing Aziz fading at the 50km mark, Mohamed also made a move and pulled away from his fellow Moroccan. Now bridging the gap to his brother.
Racing comes no better than this. Chess in running.
After a stunning day of racing, King Rachid crossed the line in 7:27:04. Mohamed crossed in 7:30:46 gaining a great deal of time on his brother from the 50km to 85.8km finish. Finally, Aziz crossed 7:39:48.
Of course, everyone was keen to know the overall classification? With 15:25:26 elapsed, Mohamed El Morabity leads the 36th MDS. Rachid is in 2nd just 37-seconds behind and now Aziz is 3rd 4:34 behind Mohamed.
One thing is for sure, the ‘marathon’ stage is going to be a nail biter as the El Morabity brothers put their final phase of their plan in to action.
Wow, what a day!
Now the race continues for the many hundreds who will see darkness disappear and they enjoy a journey through the night. The allocated time to complete is 35-hours.
By MDS standards, today was not a hot day. Cloud moved in and out, once or twice it rained and as the sun disappeared, the wind started to increase. It may well be a cold night for many!
The relentless wind and sand storms eased during the night to reveal a clear day that was considerably Warmer than those that had gone before. Another windy day was forecast and of course sand would be blown about, hopefully the full-on no visibility conditions of the previous day would not reappear – everyone hoped! As afternoon came the wind constantly increased making conditions challenging!
Stage 3 at 32km is a beautiful stage with two exposed ridges split by Cp1, a flat plateaux crossing, the climb of Jebel El Otfal from the normal side and the descent using the gully which the runners climbed on stage 2. At the bottom, a small section of dunes and then flat terrain all the way to the finish. For some, me included, one of THE best stages in all of MDS history. The two ridges and Otfal provide more climb, exposure and challenge and if you like the mountains and vertical, this is a Sahara dream.
Rachid, once again, went off from the front and set the pace. Three days in a row he has done this – most unusual. I chatted with him in camp before the stage. He was having breakfast with his brother. I asked how he was, his reply simple, he winked and said, “I am very good my friend!”
I am convinced he and his brother have a plan!
Rachid controlled the front of the race for an hour or more and then relinquished the lead to Mohamed and Aziz. The duo pulled away and crossed the line together in 2:36:43.
Rachid, once again for the 2nd day finished 3rd and lost more time, his finish coming in 2:38:21.
For those in the know, Rachid never concedes time and does not not finish 1st often. To allow his brother and Aziz to pull away only confirms for me that he has a big plan ready for the long day… It’s risky, he is now nearly 9-minutes behind the race leader, Aziz. My thoughts are that he wants Aziz to believe that he is not in good form, that he is struggling and then on the long day, he will unleash a ferocious pace, take back the lost time and gain time to take the lead. Of course, Mohamed will be used as a distraction and a game maker to make this happen. It’s exciting to see how this will play out.
Of course, the other scenario is that Rachid really is tired and not on form? I don’t believe that.
Anna Comet Pascua once again delivered a solid performance and with her skyrunning background, I am sure she will have revelled on the ridges and climbs. She won the stage in 3:26:49 ahead of Sylvaine Cussot in 3:35:51. A smaller margin than yesterday but no doubt Anna was conserving energy for the 85km long day.
Aziza Elamrany once again finished 3rd in 3:49:11 ensuring that the Moroccan home ground will be happy with a podium ranking.
Tomorrow is the long day and as always it will be a key day that will dictate the potential outcome of the 36th MDS. Nothing is guaranteed, anything can happen on a day of this length and in these conditions. Each runner will need their ‘A’ game to run to their potential and dreams.
Rachid went off like a shot again… Pushing the pace and behind everyone pursued. Then suddenly, in the space of a couple of km’s he relinquished the lead and hovered somewhere around 10th. I am not sure if there had been a ‘natural break’ requirement or if this had been an intentional move? Certainly it wasn’t blowing up!
His brother, Mohamed took over the lead and on a climb before Cp1 was pushing the pace with Aziz following.
Rachid was now further back. It all made sense, in my opinion, the brothers were playing a tactical game on Aziz. I guess my cycling background is at work and my conclusion is Rachid has sent Mohamed out as a decoy, to allow Aziz to take over the lead in the race and placing Mohamed in second. This is a great move potentially. It would take pressure of Rachid to defend and force Aziz and Mohamed to control the front of the race and thus allowing Rachid to pounce… Rachid will need to feel very confident for this move, if not, his 9th victory may not happen!
After Cp2 and climbing the stoney side of Jebel Otfal, Mohamed descended first and he continually looked over his shoulder for Aziz. Aziz followed not long later, within 60-seconds. It was however 4-minutes before Rachid appeared, now in 3rd. Was Rachid tired, or was he playing the tactic as mentioned above?
At the line, Mohamed crossed in 3:07:40, Aziz in 3:08:52 and Rachid 3:16:22 for the 38.5km stage. You don’t usually see a result like this in the early stages of MDS for Rachid!
The overall placing Aziz in first, Mohamed in 2nd and Rachid in 3rd, 5:13:29, 5:17:56 and 5:20:38 respectively.
The 36th Marathon des Sables is now Aziz’s to defend and the brothers to pursue. What an exciting 36th edition this is going to be.
The women’s race was strung out with Anna Comet Pascua dictating from the front with an incredibly strong performance. I said yesterday, she came her to win and this is being proven with her result in stage 2, crossing the line in 4:06:17.
Sylvaine Cussot as on stage 1 pursued and always with a smile, she finished a strong and convincing second in 4:18:46.
Aziza Elamrany had showed promise on stage 1 for a podium place and today that came true finishing ahead of the 2021 MDS champion and fellow Moroccan, Aziza Raji, her time 4:39:38.
The overall podium after 2 stages placing Anna and Sylvaine 1 and 2 ahead of Aziza Raji in 3rd, 6:58:37, 7:15:11 and 7:45:03 respectively.
It’s all to fight for on stage 3!
Stage 2 was marked by extremely strong wind and sandstorms that battered the runners. There was also an increase in temperatures recorded at cp2 of +10deg in 1 hour. At the time of writing there have been 49 drop outs today.
The 2022 Marathon des Sables got underway today, the 36th edition coming quickly after the 35th which took place in October 2021.
Conditions in March are very different to those encountered in 2021 with cool nights and relatively mild daily temperatures for the Sahara.
Of course, anticipation was high in bivouac, a mixture of excitement and nerves. However, Patrick Bauer, as per usual, calmed everyone from the roof of his Land Rover with his daily morning introduction to the day. The race was underway at 0900 as planned.
Unusually, Rachid El Morabity went to the front and set the pace. He meant business! He was followed by Julien Chorier and within 400m they had already opened a gap… This was a very unusual Rachid tactic. He usually bides his time, eases in to the day and the slowly speeds up; not today.
Rachid started as he meant to go on and won the day! But why did he start so hard? Quite simply, in my opinion, he knows he has a race on his hands this year with Aziz Yachou who pushed him last year and had he not had a time penalty, the result just may have been different?
After the fast start, Aziz pursued and at the line had closed the gap, Rachid 2:04:16 and Aziz 2:04:37. So close!
Julien Chorier faded to 5th in 2:16:12 and Mohammed El Morabity after a slow start moved in to 3rd 2:10:16 with Cédric Fleureton 4th in 2:14:40.
One thing is for sure, Rachid will need to work his year and it is clear that he knew this before the start. He looked leaner and fitter, not that he has ever looked any different. But pre-race there was a different look. It’s subtle. The cheeks just a little gaunt and his legs more defined.
The women’s race was a different story with a more gradual start to the day with a clear strategy forming. Anna Comet Pascua came here to with the race and although she had run with others in the opening km’s, by Cp1 she had taken the lead and she went on to win the stage in 2:52:20.
Sylvaine Cussot finished 2nd in 2:56:25 and the 2021 champion, Aziza Raji finished 3rd in 2:59:41. Amelia Culshaw from the UK was 4th ahead of multi MDS champion, Laurence Klein, 3:06:10 and 3:13:01 respectively. The women’s race is set for an exciting battle as the terrain becomes more challenging and the distances increase.
The stage one route was just over 30km’s, flat but had plenty of soft sand and several small hills and dunes but nothing substantial to make the day difficult. It was a good day 1 for all to ease in and for the top men and women, a fast one! Rachid’s time was incredible… We are in for a fast men’s race.
Over 130 runners from 23 nations stepped forward to undertake a circular 100km route through the Tunisian desert. Heat, sand, mixed terrain, palm groves, oasis all providing a stunning backdrop to an ultimate running challenge. The calm and quiet of the Sahara broken only by the sound of birds.
Any running journey can be a lonely one, but the desert really does provide isolation, only a snake or a camel providing any company. Of course, the sun only leaves the runner with darkness and as the rest from intense heat may be welcome, the complete darkness of the desert provides its own challenges as the runners navigate via reflective strips all the way back to where they started, the lunar landscape of Mos Espa and the bulbous film set village made famous by Star Wars.
The 2017 champion, Mohamed El Morabity had returned to defend his title, however, the desert king (Mohamed’s elder brother) Rachid El Morabity was also on the start line looking to upset the 2017 champions dreams. In the women’s field, two-time MDS champion, Elisabet Barnes was returning to racing after an almost year-long hiatus – what would the day hold for all of them?
On the stroke of 0700 the runners were released. They had 20-hours to complete the desert journey via marked route and 5 checkpoints placed at 20km, 35km, 50km, 65km, 80km and the finish providing an end to an epic journey.
With no wind, the 30-degree temperatures seemed intense. From the start, the experienced runners reigned in their pace but at the front, Marwen Kahil from Tunisia dictated the pace followed by fellow Tunisian, Mohamed Mnsari – the duo no doubt wanting to put on a good show on home ground. All the main contenders followed some way back, they were in no rush to push the pace and Rachid, Mohamed and Sondre Amdahl maintained a close eye on each other.
In the women’s race, Elisabet Barnes dictated the pace, shadowed by Tunisian, Shefia Hendaoui. Behind, Orianne Dujardin from France followed looking relaxed and in control.
At 20km, the positions had hardly changed. However, Elisabet had broken away from her shadow and was now dictating the pace at the front. With 80km to go, it was a brave move, but she looked strong and in control. For the men, there was little but the front of the race was starting to fragment with runners either forming small groups or running alone seconds and minutes apart.
By CP2, it was all change. The desert king Rachid had gently pressed on his accelerator pedal and in doing so he had split the men’s race apart. The early protagonists were left to struggle with the only runners able to follow the Moroccan’s pace coming from his brother, Mohamed and Tunisian, Emir Grairi. The duo looked strong and in control and then minutes later it was the arrival of Sondre Amdahl.
For the women, Elisabet was now pulling away from Shefia and Oriane and her pace was starting to impact on the men’s race with the Swedish runner placing well in the top 10.
With 50% of the race covered and the arrival of the first Oasis the race was taking shape. Rachid and Elisabet had opened huge gaps and were looking strong for victory, but behind them both the race was changing.
The 2nd male to arrive was the Tunisian Emir looking strong. Then Sondre arrived. What had happened to the 2017 champion Mohamed? He finally arrived walking, looking broken and explaining that he had hurt his ankle. He looked set to drop out but at the 3rd CP he pushed on.
For the women, the early pace had impacted on Shefia and now Oriane was running in 2nd. It was all to fight for though, the duo was only separated by minutes!
50-65km were the most challenging of the race with relentless soft sand that slowed the front runners to a walk at times. Behind, this section would eventually take its toll with over 30% of the UMED field not progressing past this section. Rachid and Elisabet took it in their stride but the impact on Emir was noticeable and he relinquished 2nd place to an in-form Sondre. Mohamed was somehow rejuvenated, and he now ran with the Tunisian, the duo looking for the final podium place.
Rachid arrived at the 80km checkpoint looking tired and exhausted. The day was taking its toll. He searched for food and drink, but the fatigue was obviously confusing him, he was undecided what he needed. Sitting down he consumed two cartons of juice only to vomit them back up. He left for arguably the toughest 20km’s he would ever run. The gap Rachid had accumulated was crumbling and Sondre arrived just 3-minutes later. The fight was on!
Sondre hunted the Moroccan down slowly pursuing but Rachid despite chronic fatigue never gave in, he arrived at the finish broken. He crossed the line and collapsed into the arms of the RD, Amir Ben Gacem. Moments later he was in the medic’s hands with an IV in his arm. Sondre finished a stunning 2nd just 6-minutes later. It had been an epic battle. The fight for 3rd came to an easy conclusion for the 2017 champion Mohamed when Emir dropped from the race with severe cramps just 5/6km from the line.
Elisabet was the next to arrive, the new female champion and 4th overall – she was back! This was a stunning world-class performance and her time was just 9-minutes slower than the 2017 champion, Mohamed.
“UMED was a really great experience. It was good to be back in a desert race after a break this year. I enjoyed the varying terrain, the heat, and the perfect mix of friendly atmosphere and hard racing.” – Elisabet Barnes
Behind, Oriane secured her 2nd place ahead of the local woman, Shefia.
With the arrival of darkness, the race took on a new challenge as the participants battled the terrain, darkness and the 0300 cut-off. As with all races, the dream of medals evaporated like water in a Mirage. Blisters, fatigue, dehydration, missing cut-off times, each runner had a story to tell.
“I did not dream of medal. I wanted to run strong and run well. That was my UMED goal. At half way I felt very unwell and I knew it was the beginning of heatstroke. I also had damaged feet with blisters… We had been advised that gaiters were not necessary, they were! I was mentally and emotionally strong, but I knew it was time to be kind to myself and I allowed myself to call it quits. I had done what I set out to do, I had run well, I had run strong, and that was for 50km. Next year’s goal will be to run well, run strong and get that medal.” – Sue Ding from Malaysia who had completed the 2018 Marathon des Sables.
As Roosevelt rightly said:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Racing does not give guarantees. It is why we test ourselves. Pain eases, memories fade, skin heals and soon, often the next day, the desire to return and put the demons to rest is what motivates everyone. The desert is magic and leaves only one desire: to come back and tame it!
Post-race, RD Amir Ben Gacem was proud of the race, “Last year, we had just 60 runners, this year we had over 130 and I am proud to say, over 30 women. That is stunning. The race will evolve, and we learnt some lessons this year that will be applied for 2019 only to make the UMED bigger and better!”
“Wow, I am really happy with that,” Sondre exclaimed. “I am the first ‘human’ – to place 2nd behind the desert king Rachid and to have his brother behind me is a true honour.”