Apr 03, 2013
Marathon des Sables – one of the world’s toughest footraces
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The Marathon of The Sands, a 6 stage self-sufficient footrace held in the middle of Morocco’s uninhabited Sahara Desert, is one of the world’s toughest endurance events.
Gael Couturier, The Outdoor Journal Editorial Director and an 8 – time Ironman athlete has been sending us heat-struck, disoriented yet entertaining updates that we’ve decided to share with you, raw and unedited. This is his 5th time at MDS! Stay tuned for daily race updates on this page.
Stage 2, from Oued Tijekht to Jebel El Otfal. 30,7 km.
Hundreds of headlamps shone in the middle of the Sahara desert on Monday night, forming a guard of honour to welcome the last five finishers in the 28th edition of the Sultan MARATHON DES SABLES.
As many as 980 out of the initial 1,024 participants started the fifth leg of this year’s MDS.
The coveted trophy for the epic footrace held annually in Morocco where the runners cover 240 km in 7 days was brought back home by 40-year old Mohamad Ahansal (18h.59’35).
A winner on four previous occasions – 1998, 2008, 2009, 2010 – and second a total of 10 times, it seemed effortless for the runner, and quite a family affair. This was the humble Moroccan’s victory statement: “It’s my fifth title but I’m not striving to equal my brother Lahcen’s record (11 titles)”.
And as if they merely exchanged the baton, the first runner-up was last year’s winner Jordanian Salameh Al Aqra (19h.41’15).
But, the legendary race also brought out the winning spirit among European runners too, with close finishers like Spaniard Miguel Capo Soler (20h19’31), Italian Antonio Filipo Solaris (4th), Portuguese Carlos Alberto Gomes de Sa (7th) and some others.
First time women’s winner, American Meghan Hicks (24h42’01) ran everyday in the Utah desert to prepare for the MDS-2013, and also arrived in Morocco two weeks prior to the race, to acclimatize better to the heat.
The final day also featured a unique run for charity across the Merzouga dunes of the South Moroccan Sahara, sponsored by UNICEF .
And after all the running was done, the party started, with runners digging their blistered and bloodied feet one last time into the sand to dance with their companions.
Gael’s epic finish:
The Outdoor Journal’s Editorial Director Gael Couturier ran his 5th MDS, and sent us daily, heat-struck, disoriented yet entertaining updates which we shared with you, raw and unedited through the race.
Apart from the super-human fitness required to participated in the race, Mr. Couturier banked on deep breathing and yoga during breaks, to help him cross the Sahara’s endless dunes and massive landscapes.
Signing off from the MDS, he says:
“It’s always the same game. I love this. Every time I’m done with this race, I want to do it again, almost right after I pass the finish line. No other race on earth feels the same for me, no marathon, no ultra-running event, no triathlon (and god knows I love Ironman races). I’m usually so tired or bored that I even wonder why I ran it in the first place. But MDS is special, very special.
A friend of mine told me a camel spider tried to get into his sleeping bag on the last day. He had to kill it with his Hoka running shoe. Splatch!
Patrick Bauer had a genius act this year: he replaced the wearisome Paris opera orchestra classical concert with a rock concert in the middle of the desert after the marathon stage. We all sat on the ground until one of us stepped on a scorpion and killed it. We then stood up and went dancing. The desert makes you do stupid, crazy things.
The race, finally over, I felt miserable on the last morning. My feet were so damaged and swollen that they did not fit in my Adidas Boston shoes anymore (My heart goes out to those killed and injured at the Boston marathon).
The run over, I could not wait to head to the comforts of a hotel. I yearned for a swimming pool, a beach towel, a Coke and a deck chair. I was so tired. I know I’m repeating myself here but that’s on purpose. No more shoes, I wore the light flip flops I was carrying with me all week and only took them off on the dunes because the sand was fantstic to massage my feet.
A couple of Japanese runners giggled at me when they passed me, the helicopter hovered above me so the photographer could take a picture of my naked feet. I was walking slowly and playing in the sand like a kid again with some of my friends. One last time, I soaked in the beauty of my surroundings. Blue sky, orange terrain, yellow baby scorpions. That’s all there was. And buildings. Buildings of sand. Those dunes were as tall as NYC skyscrapers. I’m not joking (or high on sand).
• 30.7 km, W/SW (course 140°)
• Cross a large track
• Continue W/SW on flat ground
• Cross dunes for 1.2 k
• Climb up Hered Asfer Jebel
• Follow a marked path on the crest
• Cross hilly terrain that descends into a valley before ruin-shaped rocks
Running and storytelling, Gael’s tales from the desert will include how the first bivouac will be erected near the Irhs djebel amidst the setting sun, while participants will take to the sands for scrub downs and to stretch their legs. Others will test their gear.
Common strategy amongst the runners include keeping pace with the Jordanians, Moroccans, Spaniards, Armenians, Finns, Italians, French and every other badass ultra-marathon runner.
Participants include MDS veterans such as Briton Danny Kendal, Rachid El Morabity, and 2012 winner Jordanian Salameh Al Aqra.
Photo © Cimbaly | Pauce – MDS2013
We will be back for MDS 2014!