Marathon des Sables 2024 #MDS – The New Features Discussed

The 37th was a tough one from many perspectives, heat, sandstorms, route and a very long, long day at 90km. You can read my summary HERE.

30% did not make the finish, the second highest in the race history, the highest coming in 2021.

Now, all eyes, look ahead to the next edition, the 38th in 2024. Many were looking to register in May, however, Marathon des Sables communicated a delay in registrations opening till the end of June. Of course, delays are never good and of course, questions get asked.

There has been many rumours if the 37th edition would be Patrick Bauer’s last? There has been no communication on this and no confirmation, equally, for clarity, there has been no official communication of new ownership. This, I assume, will be communicated in due course.


In recent days, Marathon des Sables has communicated in multiple languages to notify of significant changes that will take place for the 38th MDS. There are 3 key points:

Words as provided by Marathon des Sables.

Point 1:

The 38th MARATHON DES SABLES will take place over 5 stages instead of 6 previously. The total distance, around 250 km, does not change, and this will only slightly change the distance of each stage:

  • Stage 1 from 28 to 35 km
  • Stage 2 from 28 to 39 km
  • Stage 3 from 28 to 39 km
  • Stage 4 (The Long One) from 75 to 85 km (over 2 days)
  • Stage 5 (Marathon Stage) of 42.195 km

The removal of the sixth stage will allow everyone to celebrate obtaining the Finisher medal at the end of the Marathon stage: no more stress about the ten kilometers of the sixth stage! This will also allow us to offer a more substantial Solidarity program associated with this same Marathon stage, which will strengthen support for the Solidarity MARATHON DES SABLES association.

Point 2:

The MARATHON DES SABLES is contested in food self-sufficiency: only water, in limited quantities but sufficient to cover the needs of an athlete evolving in the desert, is provided to you each day. You must take along for your entire stay in the desert everything you need to eat and prepare to eat (freeze-dried meals, semolina, cereal bars, stove, etc.). This self-sufficiency will include for this 38th edition the day of your arrival in the desert, and the day of control preceding the race. These first two days will allow you to test yourself in real desert conditions, and to reduce sanitary risks.

Point 3:

To offer you more flexibility, and to reduce the carbon footprint of the event, we will charter fewer planes than in previous years. Only 400 places will be available from Paris, and 200 from London. As usual, we will of course take you from OUARZAZATE airport to the first bivouac, in the heart of the desert. And for those who wish, free shuttles will be set up from MARRAKECH to allow you to easily reach OUARZAZATE. You will thus have the possibility of anticipating or extending your stay, or of being joined by your family, much more simply than before.


The Marathon des Sables is loved and it’s fair to call the participants, staff and volunteers a family. Without doubt it’s a community that is 37-years in the making. So, when changes come, they are often taken with a sense of held breath. Some will dislike them, some will like them, some will be indifferent and if you are new to Marathon des Sables, you will probably be no wiser as you have nothing to compare to.


For perspective, Marathon des Sables has gone through many changes in its 37-years.

  • In 1989 participation increased to 170. I am sure competitors from previous years did not like the increase.
  • In 1991 the Gulf War impacted on the race and sponsors.
  • In ’92’ the establishment of regulation regarding equipment and food were implemented.
  • ’94’ Doc Trotters arrives.
  • In ’99’ a mobile hospital becomes part of MDS.
  • Internet arrives in 2000.
  • In 2001, the ‘long day’ originally called §The 70’ exceeds 80km.
  • 2006 146 DNF due to heat and humidity.
  • In 2008 Solidarité MDS is created.
  • Flooding at MDS in 2009.
  • For the 25th edition, 1013 participants.
  • In 2013 the final “Charity” stage sponsored by UNICEF is introduced.
  • 2020 Coronavirus.
  • 2021 and D&V sweeps through MDS and causes the highest DNF rate.
  • 2023 heat impacts on the race with 30% DNF.

Quite simply, if anything can be learned from the above, change and changes happen, planned or not. So, let’s look at the new 3 changes and see the pros and cons.



The charity stage has always been a discussion point, from my perspective, having been at the past 10-editions is that the stage has been pointless. The race is over, so, it just drags out the agony for one more day.

But the counter argument is that it provides this great opportunity for a ‘tent’ to spend the time together, in the desert as a moment of celebration.

For 2024 this stage will go. Give MDS one or two editions and I don’t think it will be missed.

The downside may well be the impact on the charity and fund raising, however, the communication says, ‘…offer a more substantial Solidarity program associated with this same Marathon stage…’ So, this addresses this point.

The race will be 5-Stages. This is no different to what has happened since 2013. The race has been 5-stages and the medal is provided at the end of the ‘marathon’ stage, stage 5. However, the release outlines the following:

  • Stage 1 from 28 to 35 km
  • Stage 2 from 28 to 39 km
  • Stage 3 from 28 to 39 km
  • Stage 4 (The Long One) from 75 to 85 km (over 2 days)
  • Stage 5 (Marathon Stage) of 42.195 km

If we take the longest distance from the above, 35, 39, 39, 85 and 42.195 this provides a total distance of 240.195km.

If we take the shorter distances, 28, 28, 28, 75, and 42.195 this provides a total distance of 201.195km.

So, moving forward, the Marathon des Sables has the potential to be as long as 240.195km (a significant way from 250km) and potentially as short as 201.195km and an average distance of 220km.

In fairness, the potential to have a shorter distance race could reflect or compensate for a very difficult route, for example, a great deal of soft sand, dunes, climbing and technical terrain. And by contrast, a longer route could reflect an ‘easier’ more runnable route.

For the race to live up to ‘The Toughest Race on The Planet’ and the tag of 250km or 6 marathons may/ will need to be addressed.

Does the distance matter?



One of the key attractions and challenges of MDS is the self-sufficiency. It makes the race exceptionally difficult, and this is why the race is so hard. Carrying all one requires, food, clothing and equipment is THE Marathon des Sables, and this has been copied worldwide.

This self-sufficiency is manageable as before the race, one is not self-sufficient and post-race, one is NOT self-sufficient, just ask any hotel, restaurant, or cafe in Ouarzazate!

So, the new point 2, ‘Self-sufficiency will include for this 38th edition the day of your arrival in the desert, and the day of control preceding the race. These first two days will allow you to test yourself in real desert conditions, and to reduce sanitary risks.’

The above has some pros and cons.

PROS: Ironically the mention of ‘sanitary risks’ does make one ask what element of food poisoning or similar took place in 2021? Certainly, reducing any outside risk does improve one’s chance of making the stage 1 starting line without a problem, so, being self-sufficient and relying on one’s own food addresses this.

CONS: You should NOT be testing your food strategy in the two days before the race, this should have been done before! Catering by MDS took away stress and worry, getting dinner on arrival day and then breakfast, lunch, and dinner the following day offered an opportunity to fill up on calories and dine with tent mates and others, to remove this IMO it will be seen as a negative. BUT, if you haven’t been to MDS before, you will not know difference!

My initial reaction to the removal of catering was negative. The more I have thought on it, I have started to appreciate some of the benefits. But my conclusion is that the removal of catering impacts on the MDS experience, especially for those who have been before and experienced it.


Quite simply, if you are someone who likes or needs a more ‘package’ holiday experience and you are French or English, you need to enter early to make sure you are one of the 200 or 400 who will have a flight included.

Outside of this, once you enter the race, you would need to arrange your own travel. For perspective, this has always been the case for anyone outside the UK and France, flights were chartered because entries made a charter possible.

PROS: The option to arrange one’s own travel offers flexibility, such as arrive early and or depart late. You may be able to get better prices. MDS are offering free shuttles to Ourzazate from Marrakech, it roughly takes 6-hours. Carbon footprint will be saved as charter planes fly out full of runners and then home empty. They would then fly out empty and return full back to UK or France.

CONS: With only 400/200 flight options for French and UK participants, this may will impact on those ‘who want’ this option and cannot have it, maybe they will not enter? Meet point in Ouarzazate will mean increased costs as it will require a hotel stay. It’s also a 6–8-hour drive to bivouac 1 the following day. For the past few years, planes have flown to Errachidia requiring only a short drive to B1 and no hotel stay.

One point not addressed is the option to meet at Bivouac 1. This would make more sense, particularly if one is arranging one’s own travel. I personally would fly to Marrakech, then fly to Errachidia and then taxi to B1.


The prices for the MARATHON DES SABLES 2024 are as follow:

  1. Offer with flight included from Paris: 3,990€/person for an individual registration and 4,090€ for a team registration (priority to the participants with French residency; then reservation has to be requested by email for other countries according to the availabilities).
    This offer is limited to 400 people. It includes the round trip flight from Paris to Ouarzazate.
  2. Offer without flight: 3,540€/person for an individual registration and 3,640€ for a team registration
    This offer does not include flight. Participants will meet at the airport in Ouarzazate on April 12.

The prices for participants living in Great Britain, Ireland and the British Islands are as follows (different service):

  1. Offer with flight included from London: 5,280€/person for an individual registration and 5,380€ for a team registration
    This offer is limited to 200 people. It includes the return flight from London to Ouarzazate.
  2. Offer without flight: 4,680€/person for an individual registration and 4,780€ for a team registration
    This offer does not include a flight. Participants will meet at Ouarzazate airport on April 12.


Change is always difficult. Runners who been before may not be happy, but can they learn to accept the change? If not, they may well never enter MDS again. For those who have never done the race before, they will have nothing to compare it to, so, it will be the norm! For them, it will still be an amazing experience and one that they will prepare for based on the rules.

In regard to prices: “In the history of the MARATHON DES SABLES, many crisis have affected the organization and endangered the sustainability of the event. The Covid-19 crisis is not the least, and yet, since 2018, our rates have only increased by €90 (for an individual participant taking our planes from Paris). At the same time, the costs related to the organization of the event exploded (transport, equipment, security, etc.). The increase between the 37th and 38th editions therefore acts as a rebalancing to ensure the future of the legendary desert event. And that’s without counting on the novelties, like this famous gala evening which will close the event in style! We are fully aware that this registration fee can make it difficult for some people to participate, and we will do everything to help you make your dream come true (payment in several times, advices in your sponsorship process, etc.).”

As I was told, this is evolution, not revolution. Do you agree?

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Marathon des Sables 2023 #MDS Stage 5


A beautiful sunrise over bivouac and the final timed stage of the 2023 and 37th edition of the Marathon des Sables would get underway.


The marathon stage had been highly anticipated as it was expected, that Rachid El Morabity would come from behind and gain time on his brother, Mohamed and clinch his 10th victory. However, this was not to be!


Rachid, along with Aziz El Akad failed an equipment check before the long stage (stage 4) of the Marathon des Sables. This check showed items that were not present at the initial kit check on admin day. The items, coincidentally, were provided each day in lunch packets for MDS staff. In simple terms, Rachid and Aziz were obtaining ‘outside assistance’ to gain an advantage and this, of course, is outside the rules of the race and the sense of fair play. On the rest day, a penalty of 3-hours was given to Rachid and Aziz and also, the Moroccan team was penalised. Rachid and Aziz decided to leave the race and not participate in the last stage.

Rachid has since posted on his Instagram account, and I quote:

“…it is with heavy heart I have decided to quit Marathon des Sables because I was punished unfairly for a mistake I dod not commit. When you are wrongly accused, it’s better to stand with your head high than to remain to suffer injustice…”

Sadly, this is a sad chapter in the history of the Marathon des Sables and the legacy of Rachid. However, it’s greatly important that self-sufficiency in the true nature of the MDS is held and when applicable, penalties are given, irrespective of if you have won 9 editions or not.

Mohamed before CP1©iancorless

The 2023 edition will go down in the history of the race as one of the toughest! A beautiful but tough route, was made considerably tougher with intense heat that not only lasted the week, but increased in temperature daily. Also, early days were impacted with multiple sand storms. At the time of writing, the DNF rate is approximately 30% with just 771 runner’s starting the marathon stage.

First victory ©iancorless

It was a day full of emotion, finally, Mohamed El Morabity was finally released from the pressures of working for an elder brother and ran a smart race. He consolidated his lead by marking his closest rival Aziz Yachou and then in the final km’s he opened a gap crossing the line in 3:18. A huge victory for the Moroccan.

Aziz Yachou ©iancorless

Aziz placed 2nd on the stage and 2nd overall on GC with Visiili Korytkin rounding out the stage podium. Mathieu Blanchard placed 3rd overall on GC, a great step up from his 2021 5th place.


For the women, Maryline Nakache won the stage and the overall GC. Tomomi Bitoh who won the marathon stage the last time she raced MDS today placed 2nd and 3rd on GC. Aziza El Amrany placed 3rd on stage and 2nd oveall.

Tomomi ©iancorless

Of course, today, the finish is full of tears, joy and emotion. The 37th edition has been a tough one and it’s clear to see the elation as the line is crossed and finally, it’s possible to relax and let go. There have been many highs and lows for all. As always, there are countless stories that transcend running and in time, those stories will be told. But just look at the images below to get a glimpse of the inspiration, the journey, the transformative process that MDS brings.


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Marathon des Sables 2023 #MDS Stage 3

Mohammed El Morabity ©iancorless

Day 2 was tough. It was a challenging route, incredibly beautiful but the added technicality, vertical gain and intense heat took its toll with many DNF’s.

Mathieu Blanchard ©iancorless

The organisation made a decision to bring the stage 3 start forward by 1-hour, 0700 instead of 0800. It maybe caused some logistical, admin and timing issues for all but it was a good call.

At 34km, stage 3 had less challenges than stage 2, but still a tough day.

Ragna Debats ©iancorless

With flat km’s to Cp1, the pace was high and Mathieu Blanchard was a main protagonist. He often pushed the pace, closely followed by Aziz, Mohammed and Rachid.


After Cp2 a resplendent area of green vegetation brought a different life to the Sahara. Camels, birds and reptiles, rare to see so much wildlife in one area.

Mathieu pushing the pace ©iancorless

The main protagonists pushed the pace and eventually Mathieu faded leaving the overall top-3 on GC together.

Aziz ©iancorless

As I expected, Mohammed attacked and not only took the stage but the overall lead. It’s what I expected. The ‘brothers’ have a plan for the long day, but, at 90km’s, anything can happen.

Tactics, all about tactics ©iancorless

For the women, it was business as usual with Rgna leading. But, after Cp1 she went through a bad patch and Aziza El Amrany took over the front of the race with Ragna complaining of, ‘…feeling fine and lacking power.’

Ragna ©iancorless

As the race progressed, it all changed. Ragna regained the front and won in 3:29:36.

Aziza El Amrany ©iancorless

Maryline Nakache once again ran a strong and consistent stage to not only catch Aziza, pass her and put time into her, the duo finishing in 3:4104 and  3:42:36.

Maryline ©iancorless

Tomorrow is the big day! It’s beautiful route with some MDS classics in the terrain. At 90km, it will be extremely tough for all. The race will start 1-hour earlier than planned, 0700. The top-50 will start at 1000.

Corina and Tomomi ©iancorless

General Classification:

  • Mohammed El Morabity 7:46:41
  • Rachid El Morabity 7:49:39
  • Aziz Yachou 7:50:47
  • Mathieu Blanchard 8:29:04
  • Vasilii Korytkin 8:37:23

  • Ragna Debats 10:15:30
  • Maryline Nakache 10:54:09
  • Aziza El Amrany 11:32:25
  • Corinna Sommer 12:21:46
  • Tomomi Bitoh 12:23:11

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Marathon des Sables 2023 #MDS Stage 2

Ragne Debats ©iancorless

It was a tough first day to the 2023 Marathon des Sables with 17 dropping out, a combination of heat, dehydration and exhaustion. Although a shorter day-2 was welcomed, it had increased technicality and vertical gain, therefore making it an equally hard day.

Mathieu Blanchard ©iancorless

Mood in camp was high, many telling war wound stories of day-1 and somewhat apprehensive about what was to come.

Aziz and Mohammed ©iancorless

From the gun, Rachid went hard and immediately opened a gap. A rare tactic for him, he usually like to hold back and slowly speed up. Today, boom, he was gone. By Cp1 the carnage behind was taking hold, the pace high!

Rachid ©iancorless

On one of the key ridges of the day, Rachid held a lead over the pursuing Aziz who was marked by Mohamed El Morabity, the brothers once again using tactics to an advantage. Mathieu Blanchard was 5th.

After Jebel El Otfal, the descent, following sand dunes and flat run to the line, Mohamed and Rachid switched places (a tactical move?) and Mohamed took victory in 2:29:05. Rachid followed in 2:29:30 and then Aziz 2:29:42.


What can we make of this? My thoughts are Rachid would like Aziz to think he is not as strong as he imagined, therefore casting a doubt… I wouldn’t be surprised if Rachid gave away minutes on stage 3 to the the pressure off for the long day, and then, attack!

Ragna attacj=king at the start ©iancorless

The women’s race once again was dominated by Ragna Debats, she is too strong! Of course, the race is not over, anything can happen, especially on a 90km long day, but, Ragna, in this form is unbeatable. She crossed the line in 3:19:14.

Maryline ©iancorless

Maryline Nakache and Aziza El Amrany ran together early in the day, but the elastic snapped and once again, Maryline pulled away to finish in 3:36:36. Wl Amrancy crossed in 3:55:55.

One to watch, Catherine (Katy( Young ©iancorless

Notably, Jodie Moss from the UK, 4th on stage 1, finished out of the top-5 today. A tactical move? I am sure she would prefer to start in the 0800 start and not the midday start for the long day.

Stage 3 is 34.4km and in principal, will be an easier day. But the heat is strong and the challenge real.

Stats -1085 runners started stage 1, of which 228 were women. At the end of stage 2, the drop outs were nearly 100!

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Marathon des Sables 2023 Preview #MDS

Rachid and Aziz

The 2023 MARATHON DES SABLES draws near and as usual, here is a preview of the coming edition. We will look at the top contenders for the male and female podiums, provide an overview of MDS history and look at some crazy statistics.

Since 1986, well over 22,000 participants have raced at the Marathon des Sables and we have record (or close to record) for 2023, with1200+/- toeing the line. As per usual, the race is multi-national with over 50 represented. The French and British providing the largest contingent.


Rachid El Morabity returns looking for his 10th victory, all eyes will be on him, but he is in for a fight! 2019 female champion, Ragna Debats returns and is without doubt the hot favourite for the top of the women’s podium.


Ragna Debats

Ragna Debats dominated the race in 2019 and in recent years has become one of the top trail, ultra and skyrunner’s in the world. When in form, she is incredibly difficult to beat. In 2022 she had an incredible season with four top victories, Transgrancanaria 129km, Istria by UTMB, Montreux Trail Festival and the 100m Nice Côte d’Azur by UTMB. Ragna has had a relatively quiet start to 2023 and recently she has changed her coach of 13-years. She will be meticulously prepared for MDS 2023.

Gemma Game

Gemma Game from the UK has been on the podium of MDS twice, 2018 and 2019, on both occasions placing 3. Gemma most definitely can win MDS but, as she will tell you, she runs for fun and MDS is an escape from a very busy and hectic life with a high-powered job and family. Is she wants to, she will be on the podium again in 2023.

Manuela Socco from Belgium is not a runner I am very aware of; however, two results stand out, victory at Cappadocia Medium Trail in 2019 and Tarawera 100km in 2020. She has also represented Belgium at the Olympic Games in the marathon distance. With a 35min 10km, a 1:16 half marathon and a 2:37 marathon, she has all the running fire power to create a stir in the Sahara.

Maryline Nakache from France has a string of top results, she often wins! However, stand-out markers come from Templiers (3rd) 90km du Mont-Blanc (3rd), CCC (5th) Transgrancanaira Advanced (1st), Tenerife Blue Trail (1st), UTMB (6th) and in 2022 alone she was never out of the top-5.

Tomomi Bitoh

Tomomi Bitoh from Japan was 3 in the 2021 MDS and has recently participated in The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica. She is an incredible personality, a fierce competitor and although the podium is a possibility in 2023, I feel that she will just be outside the top ranking.

Elise DELANNOY (France) was 18th in the 2016 MDS in 38-hours. This is a long way off the pace required to podium in 2023… But a great deal has happened since then, notably a 7th place at UTMB in 2019, so, Elise cannot be ruled out of shaking up the front of the race.

Corina Sommer ©iancorless

Corina Sommer from Zurich recently won the Oman Desert Marathon against Aziz Raji (past MDS champ) and Aziza El Amrany who had led the race only to have Corina run two incredibly strong days and take the victory. New to trail, she placed 18th at Templiers and 3rd at Istria by UTMB for the 68km. She will need a great week to make the podium, but it’s a distinct possibility.

Jodie Moss from the UK was 8th at MDS in 2019 and has been preparing meticulously for the 2023 edition. However, recent injury issues placed the race in question, but it looks like she will be in the Sahara, hopefully in great shape.

Ester Alves won The Coastal Challenge in 2016 and placed 3rd in 2017. She also raced MDS in 2017 but the race did not go to plan… In recent years, she has had time away from the sport, but last year, Ester raced Everest Trail Race which will have no doubt provided some great momentum for the Sahara.

Maria Semerjian has results going back to 2009 and without doubt, she enjoys the tough mountain courses, UTMB, Raid de la Reunion, Grand Raid Pyrenees, UTMF, and more… The distance won’t be a problem, however, the speed to make the top-5 may well be the problem.

Brunhilde Girardet recently won Trail de Cité de Pierres as a warmup for MDS. It’s her first edition, so, let’s see…

Wild card – Katie Young from the UK.

Laurence Klein returns, she has won MDS three times, with no disrespect to the Queen of the desert, there is no chance of victory in 2023, but she will no doubt bring colour to the race.

Aziza El Amrany ©iancorless

Currently, Aziz Raji and Aziza El Amrany are NOT on the start list, but I hope they do make it to the 2023 edition. It’s important that Morocco has female representation and of course, both of them have great potential for the top 5. Raji has won the race and El Amrany was 3rd in 2022.


The men’s race is extremely notable in 2023 as Rachid El Morabity will look for a 10th victory. This will without doubt add an extra dynamic to the race, particularly after the superb tactics which played out in the 2022 edition.

Rachid El Morabity

Rachid El Morabity is the boss of the Sahara and the hot favourite. BUT, I believe this year will be his toughest challenge. There are multiple reasons for this… Rachid has expectation on him, this is not really an issue, he can handle that. He has raced a great deal in the past 12-months, he may be tired? The Moroccan team is probably at its weakest, especially when compared to the past ten editions, so, the support network will be less. The competition, namely Mathieu Blanchard and Aziz Yachou are a serious threat. Will Rachid win? It is very hard to bet against him, but 2023 has the potential to be the upset year.

Mohamed El Morabity

Mohamed El Morabity is the eternal 2nd at MDS and his possibilities of victory in 2023 are zero if Rachid is in good form. The only opportunity for Mohamed is if Rachid falters and he gets the green light from his elder brother to attack. In Oman Desert Marathon earlier in the year, Mohamed took victory ahead of Rachid, don’t be fooled in to thinking Mohamed was stronger, he was gifted the win as credit for April and the 2023 MDS. Mohamed can win the race, but just as we saw in 2022, he will be the super domestique for Rachid.

Aziz Yachou

Aziz Yachou is the fly in the Moroccan ointment and 1-year on, has the potential to create fireworks and upset Rachid’s dream. He was 4th in 2021 and 3rd in 2022. Last year he was worked over by the tactics of Rachid and Mohamed, he will be prepared for that this year. Little is known about his training in the early part of 2023.

Mathieu Blanchard

Mathieu Blanchard raced MDS in 2021 and finished 5th – he was hit by the bug that swept through camp just in time for the long day. One thing is for sure, after placing 2nd at UTMB in 2022, we are looking at a different Mathieu. He raced The Coastal Challenge in February and placed 2nd, he recently summited Kilimanjaro and most recently ran a 2:22 marathon in Paris. Mathieu can win MDS and the French have put a team together to potentially make that happen. Beating the Moroccans on home soil (sand) is tough, but THIS may be the year.

David KILGORE from the USA has been top-10 at Leadville 100, and recently 7th at Tarawera 50km. On paper, he is not an MDS podium contender, but he will be in the mix for the top-5.

Erik Clavery adds more fire power to the French line-up. He was 5th at MDS in 2016 and a fierce competitor. He has raced UTMB, WSER, Eiger Ultra and even 24H championships, so, he brings something special to the MDS.

Vasily Kortytkin (Russia) comes to MDS with a history in 6H and 24H races, he has PB’s of 86.493 and 260.570 respectively. He has won some trail races in Russia in 2021 and 2022, how he performs in the Sahara is a big question.

Pierre Meslet (France) placed 9th at MDS in 2021 and returns in 2023 not only to perform to the best of his ability (top-10) but to also help the French maybe win the race and also get the team prize.

Anton Samokhvalov also from Russia has been racing trail since 2014. He has a list of solid results but nothing spectacular, in 2021 he made 10th at Transgrancanaria Advanced.

Notable mentions:

Duncan Slater from the UK lost both legs during a mission in Afghanistan, he’s back this year for another medal!

Christian Ginter, dinosaur of the desert, returns for the 35th time!


1150 runners will toe the line (1263 were registered) and the youngest runner is 16-year-old Girard Fialon (she will run with her father, Grégory) and the eldest, Henry Botha, 81!

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, ‘Lets 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 our equipment.” – Patrick Bauer

You must see Marathon des Sables to 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!

Patrick Bauer

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.

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 are 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. Sportswise, Mohamad Ahansal and Megan Hicks are the champions of the 231.5km event. On a human level, all of 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.

2020: The Corona virus takes over the world.

2021: The Marathon des Sables returns but with an October edition due to the global pandemic. Celebrating 35-years, it is remembered as on one of the hottest editions and almost 50% not completing the race due to a possible Norovirus that swept through bivouac.

2022: Rapid El Morabity wins his 9th edition setting himself up for 10 in 2023. Sandstorms made for some difficult and challenging days.

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Two Weeks to Marathon Des Sables #MDS – Don’t Panic!

It has been a long journey, and here you are, 14-days to the start of the Marathon des Sables.


You – You signed up for the challenge, you wanted to be on the start line and therefore you are responsible for the outcome. Believe me, the you that leaves the Sahara is not the same you that entered. Arguably, you changed the moment you paid the deposit, the transformation process had already begun. Embrace the journey ahead and apply yourself. But keep perspective, the MDS journey is an enhancement of you as a person. It’s easy to become too obsessed. Ultimately the majority of runners at MDS are enthusiasts, if you keep that in mind the journey will be a complete one.

Pack – Minimum pack weight is 6.5kg plus water (8kg,) get as close to this as you can. Additional weight is additional stress and just makes the journey harder.

Friends – You are going to share bivouac with 7 other people and you are going to have some serious highs and lows. These tent mates will pull you through and motivate you. They will become friends for life. Ideally find tent mates before you head out to the Sahara and create a support network. Now, with 14-days to go is the perfect time to do this, if you haven’t already done so.

Feet – Look after them, along with dehydration, blistered and damaged feet are a key reason for failure in any multi-day race.

Extras – Mandatory kit is as one would expect, mandatory! So purchase what is on the list. You can save weight by shopping around. Simple rule; the lighter and smaller, the more expensive it will be! Optional extras are very personal and my advice would be take nothing extra other than a MP3 player and earphones.

Mental Game – The legs, lungs, heart and feet will only get you so far. The mind is what will get you to the finish. Broken individuals with bodies in tatters but mentally strong can make the finish. Despite the hardships and pain, they embraced the journey and mentally where superior in strength. It was the mind that got them to the line.

Laugh – If you laugh, you are having fun. Laugh when you hit rock bottom, why not. Laugh when you are going the toilet in a brown plastic bag and most of all laugh with and at your tent mates and fellow runners. The comradeship of MDS is quite unique, embrace it.

Heat – In the final 14-days, make sure you get some heat acclimation, bikram yoga, sauna, heat chamber, hot batch, whatever it may be, get 6-8 sessions before the race. You have signed up for a race in the Sahara, no point in complaining it is ‘too hot!’ This is the challenge you signed up for. Dehydration is one of the main causes for NOT finishing the race.


  • Take essentials on the plane and wear your run apparel and shoes. That way, should a baggage disaster happen your chances of racing improve.
  • Take food with you for the travel and on the plane.
  • The journey from the airport to bivouac 1 is now typically 1-hour or less, this helps considerably with fatigue and tiredness.
  • Night 1 and night 2 in bivouac are NOT self-sufficient so take extras such as an inflatable bed, food and luxuries. Don’t use them? Give them away to the berbers. May as well have 2 comfortable nights and a comfortable day before the racing starts.
  • Food before the race starts is by Moroccan caterers. It is excellent food BUT for some, may be too challenging for the stomach. Take options to be self-sufficient should you need to make the choice.
  • Admin day is slick and streamlined now, but, you may be in the sun for over 1-hour. Wear a hat, take shade (an umbrella) and have water and snacks.
  • Keep sun screen on and keep hydrated. No need to drink vast volumes – drink to thirst before the racing starts.
  • Have additional items such as a base layer, sleeping bag liner and other items that may be on a ‘question’ list for the race. On night 1 and before you go to admin, you can make final decisions of what to and what not to take. Particularly important if you think you may be cold at night.
  • Remember that after bag drop and check-in you have no access to any additional items, however, you only become completely self-sufficient when you start the race. With that in mind, you can have additional food and luxuries with you until day 1 kick-off, it’s a useful tip and does mean that you can have additional comfort for a good 12-hours.

Marathon des Sables is a magical and life changing journey as are most if not all multi-day races. It really is a true challenge of mind and body to race over many days, irrespective of finish time. It’s a hark back to a more primitive time, a time without clutter and modern technology. Embrace this. Embrace the silence of the surroundings and the simplicity of placing one foot in front of the other, eating, resting and sleeping and then doing it all again.

Finally, set yourself a realistic goal (that may just be to finish) so that you manage not only your expectations but pace. Way too many start off too quick and most dropouts come on days 1 and 2.

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The Coastal Challenge 2023 #TCC2023 – Stage 6

The women’s podium, Katie Schide, Paolo Herrera and Tomomi Bitoh ©iancorless

The 2023 The Coastal Challenge concluded today in Bahiá Drake on the north side of the Osa Peninsula located on the coast of southwestern Costa Rica.

Party time on the trail ©iancorless

In many respects, the 2023 race concluded in regards to general classification after stage 5 when Didrik Hermansen opened up a 20-minute gap over race leader, Mathieu Blanchard.


It was clear as day 6 started that there would be no racing, instead a victory loop with friends.

Mathieu leading through Naguala waterfall ©iancorless

For the women, the same applied, Katie Schide ran conservatively enjoying the day. Tomomi Bitoh ran in 2nd place and Paolo Herrera took it easy finishing in 3rd with a 2nd place on GC confirmed.

Katie on the home straight to the finish ©iancorless

Stage 6 is a highlight of TCC with a loop that manages to encapsulate a little of everything that has gone before in the previous five stages. Gravel roads, river running, waterfall crossings, water crossing, beaches, rocks, coasteering and of course, heat and humidity.


It was a day to run slower, with friends, enjoy the views and get ready to relax and recover.

Tomomi 3rd place ©iancorless

As with all races, there was plenty of emotion at the finish line, tears, joy and relief.


Now it’s time to relax, hang up the run shoes and enjoy some down time. Next year is the 20th edition of TCC, already the plans are being made for a special edition.


Classification: (times to follow)

  • Didrik Hermansen
  • Mathieu Blanchard
  • Dani Jung

  • Katie Schide
  • Paolo Herrera
  • Tomomi Bitoh


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The Coastal Challenge 2023 #TCC2023 – Stage 5

Didrik Hermansen ©iancorless

Crossing the Sierpe river at dawn with a new sun welcoming the day, stage 5 of TCC is always a key day due to large amounts of gravel road, a technical and steep descent, the iconic estuary crossing and the heat and humidity that punishes the runner’s when they leave the shade.


Of course, all the talk was about Mathieu Blanchard and Didrik Hermansen, we and they knew it was going to be a key day. The writing was on the wall when Didrik offered Mathieu his hand before the start, it was a clear statement of let the best man win.


In the early stages the duo were matched but it didn’t take long before Mathieu dropped back on one of the early climbs. As the race progressed, this gap opened and at first it was difficult to ascertain if this was a tactic by Mathieu?


At CP2 the gap was 3-minutes, at CP3 it was 6-minutes. Didrik was pushing hard and looking relaxed and in control.


Mathieu by contrast seemed to be off his normal relaxed look. The toll of 4 hard stage was taking its toll and it was clear to see.


Didrik came to the estuary crossing, 4km to go. He jumped on the boat, crossed and pushed for the line.


It was over 20-minutes later when Mathieu arrived. It’s fair to say, the 2023 TCC was decided today. Didrik’s effort, pace and consistency has been text book stage racing.

“After yesterday, I would not have been happy with 2nd. So the plan was to push the pace. Mathieu was having a bad day and he let me go early. I pushed and kept it steady. I opened a gap and more, and more minutes. It was motivating. I had considered taking it easy and saving something for stage 6, but, if Mathieu was having a bad day, I decided to push and get more time. It’s not over, we still have a day to go.” – Didrik Hermansen

Mathieu joking before the start ©iancorless

“Yes a tough day. But last night I had already decided to go easier. Yesterday I witnessed Didrik push the downhill at an incredible pace. I little bit mad maybe? But for me, it’s February, I have a long season and I can’t risk it all here in Costa Rica. Today we had another downhill like yesterday, he took many minutes again and it’s just not possible for me to get that time back when he runs so well. I came here for an adventure and fun, I didn’t expect these first 4-days and such a pace. I am very happy.” – Mathieu Blanchard


For the women, Katie Schide had a controlled and relaxed day. Her lead is far in advance of 2nd and 3rd and still she was able to take another stage win.

Paolo Herrera ©iancorless

Behind, Tomomi Bitoh started strong leading Paolo Herrera. But as the day passed they switched places and although close together at the end, it was another solid 2nd for Paolo.


Tomorrow, the final stage at 35.7km and with 875m+ is to all intents and purposes a victory loop, if you can call running 35.7km a victory loop. With GC places decided, I don’t anticipate a charge from Mathieu, so, let’s expect a Pura Vida loop of enjoyment.


Stage Reasults:

  • Didrik Hermansen 3:59:38
  • Mathieu Blanchard 4:22:14
  • Dani Jung 4:55:02

  • Katie Schide 5:22:47
  • Paolo Herrera 5:55:55
  • Tomomi Bitoh 6:02:26


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The Coastal Challenge 2023 #TCC2023 – Stage 4

Head-to-head, Mathieu and Didrik ©iancorless

Stage 4 of The Coastal Challenge and today, the runner’s move away from the coast and climb high on the relentlessly rolling terrain that is backed by the Talamanca range.


Steep climbs, steep descents and technical terrain. It’s a tough stage, especially when you add heat and humidity.

Mathieu Blanchard ©iancorless

Today, was an anticipated key stage for Mathieu Blanchard and Didrik Hermansen, the duo have been closely matched each day and despite Didrik’s best efforts, Mathieu has come 1st each day.


The duo today once again went head-to-head, it’s stunning to watch and also exhausting. The pace is unbelievable and between them it’s impossible to tell who is the most tired.


At each point along the route they were never more than meters apart but for those watching, and knowing the course, the crux would come at the end of the day with a very steep and technical descent to the line.


Didrik threw caution to the wind and attacked. The gap opened and opened and he crossed the line in 4:39:23.

The clock ticked, 1-minute, 2-minutes and Mathieu crossed in 4:42:23, exactly a 3-minute gap. Wow! Seriously exciting racing and then the calculations, had Mathieu held the overall on GC?

Yes, 16:48:32 for Mathieu and 16:49:16 for Didrik. Before stage 4, the 19th edition of the TCC was witnessing an epic race, now stages 5 and 6 are going to be epic. Who’s your money on?


Dani Jung once again placed 3rd looking relaxed despite a sleepless night. He had questioned wether to start, gladly he did.

“I had to do something, I felt during the days I was better than him on the downhill and I was willing to take the risk, I couldn’t believe I would take 3-minutes… It’s a real fun battle, we are neck-and-neck, we are so similar in strength. It’s fun, it’s cool. Nice to finally take a stage. I feel as though I could have pushed harder. I wanted to win and obviously reduce the gap. I am prepared to fight and compete, if I come 2nd so be it, but I will fight!” – Didrik Hermansen

By contrast, Mathieu looked relaxed post-race and he was candid with his thoughts.

“Didrik went down the last decent like a mad man. It was steep, technical with many potential problems.  I have a long season ahead and I wasn’t prepared to risk everything here. I feel good, so, let’s see what happens.”

Katie Scide ©iancorless

For the women, Katie Schide was a long way clear of any other competition and looked relaxed on the trail. Victory in the 2023 The Coastal Challenge is hers to lose, so, she just needs to run smart over the next two days.

Tomomi Bitoh 2nd on the stage ©iancorless

Tomomi Bitoh today ran strong and finished 2nd ahead of 2nd on GC, Paolo Herrera. The gap between the two only 6-minutes.

With no ocean and beaches, today was a contrast of farms, farmland, animals and epic rural vistas. It felt like ‘real’ Costa Rica.


Tomorrow stage 5 with 40.6km and 1670m+.

Stage Results:

  • Didrik Hermansen 4:39:33
  • Mathieu Blanchard 4:42:23
  • Dani Jung 5:15:57

  • Katie Schide – 6:11:08
  • Tomomi Bitoh – 6:40:10
  • Paolo Herrera – 6:46:11


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The Coastal Challenge 2023 #TCC2023 – Stage 3

Didrik Hermansen ©iancorless

The ‘Queen Stage’ of The Coastal Challenge at 49km’s is for many, a highlight stage. Have no doubts though. it’s a tough one!

A rollercoaster day, the early km’s are spent boulder hopping through a river bed and then the impressive Nauyaca Waterfalls.

Nauyaca Waterfalls ©iancorless

Fire roads, steep climbs, brutal descents and eventually a beach section arrives before several water crossings and then a very demanding road section leading to camp 3.

It may come as no surprise that Mathieu Blanchard and Didrik Hermansen dominated the day. The duo battled it out foot-for-foot in an impressive display of tenacity, grit and endurance.

Didrik and Mathieu head-to-head ©iancorless

With less than 10km’s to go they were neck-and-neck, the final sections of road certainly would play in to the hands of Didrik.

Mathieu Blanchard ©iancorless

But no, the strength of Mathieu is currently off-the-scale and he managed to apply pressure and win by 2-minutes, 4:51 to 4:53 respectively.

Dani Jung chilling out ©iancorless

Dani Jung ran a solid day, with the withdrawal of Sebastian Krogvig and now Peter van der Zon, Dan’s 3rd place is secure and so he ran a smart race.

Katie Schide ©iancorless

For the women, Katie Schide set the pace early on and by the waterfall she already had a huge lead. When Marianne Hogan finally arrived, all was not well, she was suffering… Marianne would eventually drop at CP2 with a sprained ankle.

Paolo Herrera ©iancorless

This opened the door for Costa Rican, Paola Herrera to move into a strong 2nd place.Tomomi Bitoh now in 3rd.

Katie cooling down ©iancorless

Katie once again clinched victory with a huge margin, she just needs to now run smart for the remaining three days. Paolo is on a strong 2nd and Tomomi a secure 3rd. However, we are only halfway through TCC and the first three stages have only confirmed one thing, anything can happen!

Tomomi Bitoh ©iancorless

Stage 4 tomorrow at 35.5km and with 2434m+ is considered ‘a very tough day’ by the race organisation

Stage Results:

  • Mathieu Blanchard 4:51
  • Didrik Hermansen 4:53
  • Dani Jung 5:35

  • Katie Schide – tbc
  • Paolo Herrera – tbc
  • Tomomi Bitoh – tbc
Pura Vida ©iancorless


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