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 Four 86.2km

Two start times, 0815 and 1115, the same distance – a gruelling 82.2km of the best of what the Sahara has to offer, incredible views and at times brutal terrain with intense heat.

The route echoed much of the 2016 edition passing early through the oasis of El Maharch, a flat dried up lake before the first couple of climbs of the day starting at 10km. Cp1 offered some refreshment before the climb of Mhadid Al Elahau followed by a high level plateau traverse before a fast and thrilling sandy descent. Heading south a great deal of soft sand took the runners to Cp2 and then climbing a path, the runners came back on themselves through the nest valley. Cp3 to Cp4 was a long sand passage that eventually crossed a Oued. Cp4 to Cp5 and Cp5 to Cp6 were relentless dunes to sap the mind and energy. The push from Cp6 to bivouac via Cp7 was relatively flat but continually sandy – a tough day in Morocco!

The day in many ways unfolded at the front as one may have anticipated with Rachid El Morabity and Nathalie Mauclair taking stage victories. However, the story was not clear cut.

Mauclair took the race to Elisabet Barnes in a last ditch effort for victory. It was expected by everyone, after all, Mauclair is a long distance specialist. Through half the race the gap between the two hovered around 3-4 minutes. From Cp5, Mauclair extended her lead over Barnes but the 2015 Marathon des Sables champion dug in, used her flat running speed and closed on the French lady. Mauclair took victory in 9:39:58 and Barnes crossed the tape in 9:41:16 – job done! With the marathon stage to follow tomorrow, Barnes is in a strong perdition for a 2nd victory at this iconic race. Fernanda Maciel, also a long distance specialist, followed the duo ahead and she finished in 10:00:58. Emilie Lecomte was 4th.

In the men’s race, Rachid ran behind a lead pack that continually changed for much of the day. He never quite looked his fresh self but he pulled it out of the bag as he has done so many times before. He finished in an impressive 8:16:44.

Man of the day was British runner Thomas Evans who set his stall out on day 1 and has played the Moroccans at their own game. He has impressed day-on-day and on the long stage he didn’t sit back and defend, he attacked. At times leading the race. His efforts were rewarded with 2nd in 8:27:46. The margin of time behind him and El Morabity does not reflect a stunning performance! Rachid’s brother Mohamad placed 3rd and then Abdelaziz Baghazza and Remigio Huaman in 8:28:33, 8:41:42 and 8:43:39 respectively.

As I write this, runners are still out on the course enduring another day that will test them to the limit. Don’t listen to anyone who says ‘this’ is an easy race – it is not! So many are fighting demons, some fail, but the grit and determination is inspiring. For example, two people have inspired me – Duncan from the UK who is participating with two prosthetic legs and Louis from Luxembourg who has no arms – inspiring!

The fifth stage of the 2017 Marathon des Sables if the classic marathon stage of 42.2km and medals will be awarded on the line. The race is Rachid El Morabity and Elisabet Barnes for the taking – four sections of dunes will not make it easy!

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.

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

Natalia Sedykh – FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE #MDS2016

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Niandi Carmont writes from within the bivouac of the 2016 Marathon des Sables, a series of insightful profiles that brings to life the highs, the lows and the inspiration from the worlds most inspiring multi-day race. Lets kick off these interviews with ‘From Russia with Love’ the 2016 ladies champion, Natalia Sedykh.

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The Russian rocket takes us by surprise …

I peep under the bivouac and ask for Natalia SEDYKH. The girl sitting there indicates that it is her. She invites me to sit down. She’s a little distant. She looks calm and composed, not like an athlete who has just completed the long stage of the MARATHON DES SABLES. But then I was expecting that – her race management has been exemplary. She’s paced herself regularly winning every single stage apart from the long one. She’s gained 45 min over her closest rival and is 11th in the overall general.

She relaxes and starts chatting about what got her running and her life in Russia.

“I was in love with a boy when I was 16 and he did 100m hurdles and I wanted to see him every day. So I decided to do track. Initially I couldn’t run consecutive 400m laps because I when I was a child I was told not to run because of my health issues. But I persevered and gradually increased my distance. Since then I’ve trained really hard. If you can dream it, you can do it.”

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She initially concentrated on sprint, then longer distances but she admits to being more of a track athlete. Her PB over 10km is 33min54s.

“I don’t like extreme events. Life in Russia is extreme as it is.”

Her big break came 5 years ago when a coach Serguei Popov discovered her potential. At the time she was still a sprinter. After a period of injury, she stopped for 2 years. She set herself the objective of running her first marathon.

“I am not a professional runner. I’m a professional coach so I coached myself.”

Her marathon PB is 2.46 last year. Her half marathon PB was on slippery ice with -25C. Not exactly your typical MDS temperatures! We talk a little about her life, it’s not easy living in Russia, you need determination, commitment, strength and most of all, willpower.

“I am an ordinary woman. I want to travel, keep fit, maybe get married, have a family and cook nice soups. My father is a train driver and my mother a seamstress. The standard of living in Russia is low. I hope to save and help my parents financially. They believe in me – I need to do my best for them.”

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So back to the subject of MDS. How did she train?

“I did a lot of preparation for this race. Last year I got a penalty so I decided to come back and settle a score. Last year I didn’t get in a lot of preparation. I was a tourist.” She laughs. “I was living in Russia. It was sub-zero, icy, a lot of snow.”

Needless to say the conditions were not the same.

“In addition to that I was overworked. I was working in a fitness club and worked long days.”

She then goes on to explain that she’s been in Dubai for 2 months and is still coaching – novice runners this time.

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I wonder if the past 2 months have allowed her to be heat-adapted?

“In March I missed 2 weeks of peak training as I wasn’t used to the heat. In Dubai you need to get up very early at 5am or 6am to go training because of the humidity.”

I ask her if training in Dubai is complicated?

“Women run with veils. They are very health-conscious. I do my training sessions early or in the desert so I don’t attract attention.”

It’s getting dark and she has to prepare for the next day. I leave her and wonder if this girl who doesn’t like extreme will be back to defend her title in 2017.

Time will tell …

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Words by Niandi Carmont for the Marathon des Sables media team ©marathondessables

Images ©iancorless.com

Natalia went on to dominate the 2016 Marathon des Sables. It was an outstanding performance. As Niandi questions, will Natalia return in 2017? Part of me things not, but then again, who knows… One thing is for sure, Natalia has set a benchmark for all the other ladies to follow, just as Elisabet Barnes did in 2015 by winning every stage. Natalia is the first lady to make the top-10 overall. A remarkable achievement.

Read a 2016 race summary HERE

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