re-sized MdS

The Marathon des Sables – a formidable footrace

While the Iron Will spins itself out in Zimbabwe, this race, one of the toughest in the world, began on Sunday, 8th April. It is a 6 day/151 mile (243 km) endurance race held in the Sahara Desert, Morocco. The Marathon des Sables was started 26 years ago by Patrick Bauer, a former concert promoter from Troyes in France, who created the race after he walked 200 miles alone across the Algerian Sahara in 1984. He found the experience so harsh yet uplifting that he decided to make it an annual event. The result is the annual ordeal that is “Marathon of the Sands”.

The course for the event varies each year, but the distance covered is generally about 153 miles (245 Km) which is run or walked over 6 stages of roughly  25, 34, 38, 82, 42, 22 kms. Some people take 7 days to finish it. This is a self-supportive race with competitors carrying everything they will need for the duration on their backs in a rucksack (food, clothes, medical kit, sleeping bag etc). Everything apart from a tent which will be ready and waiting each evening – and water. Water is distributed every 10 km.

The spectacular and spectacularly exhausting MdS

Marathon des Sables, Morocco, the toughest footrace in the world

Mid-day temperatures of up to 120°F (48,8°C) can be expected which, combined with running or walking on uneven sandy, rocky and/or stony ground as well as 15 – 20% of the distance being in sand dunes makes for a hellish few days! Physical fitness is very important, but mental stamina probably answers for at least 50% of whether you will complete the distance or not. Don’t let this put you off. MdS has had people aged from 16-75 take part in this annual race including people with disabilities – blind people, semi-paralysed people, people on crutches and Chris Moon who achieved it with only one leg and one arm.

Tough it might be, but some people’s determination is even tougher!

The 4th day, being run today, is the meanest. By this stage, the heat will be taking its toll but your body will be relatively used to the daily grind  – much the same mileage day after day, although day 3 with its dunes would have been a bit of a shock to the system. But this day, day 4, is a beast. 82km (51 miles).  Few people will complete this before dark and some will not come in till after tomorrow night.

This might amuse you. Last year’s race saw the use of :

  • More than 6.5 kms of Elastoplast, 2700 Compeed, 19000 compresses
  • Over 6000 painkillers and 150 litres of disinfectant !!!

As always, there is some point to putting your body through this grueling exercise. The aim is to raise as much money as possible for the charity Facing Africa – Noma. NOMA is a terrible disease which kills over 100,000 very small children every year, children who are caught in a vicious circle of extreme poverty and chronic malnutrition.

What’s the marathon like? Watch the video and see what Ben Fogle thinks about it!

Marathon des Sables – Ben Fogle

The majority of participants do finish the race but occasionally people have got lost along the way. In 1994 with sandstorms raging, an Italian Olympic Gold medallist went missing and after a massive rescue effort was found 9 days later, 125 miles away and 44 pounds lighter, in Western Algeria.

Photo courtesy of Facing Africa – NOMA

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