Sun, sand....and six marathons
The Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands) has been held annually since 1986 in southern Morocco and similar to the other races we have previewed, will test endurance levels to the maximum.
By Declan Whooley
With a race distance of 151 miles, runners can take it over six or seven days depending on training/ability/endurance. It is the equivalent of six marathons in a row - though one stage is 56 miles, followed by a rest day. And all in the searing heat of the desert sun.
More than simply a race, it requires each runner to carry and prepare all of their own food while carrying gear and a tent on their back.
One family has ruled the roost since the race was conceived 26 years ago. Local runner Lahcen Ahansal has won the event an incredible 10 times while his younger brother has three wins to his name and was second this year. We're not sure what their mother fed them as children, but it must have worked.
As one would expect, Africans generally tend to fare better in the race, with the Ahansal brothers usually taking a mere 19 or 20 hours to complete the journey. Two years ago Olympic rower James Cracknell finished in 12th place overall to become the highest placing Briton in the race’s history,while 25 per cent of all entrants have come from the UK and Ireland. In 2009 we had 13 competitors from Ireland enter the gruelling event.
400 support staff distribute 120,000 litres of water throughout the event, and similar to most endurance races, competitors of all ages take part. The youngest entrant for the race was 16 while the oldest recorded competitor was 78 years old. Yes you read that correctly, 78 years old, the current age of Larry King and Joan Collins.
The race website gives the following bit of advice. “You will struggle to explain to people why you would want to do this.” That could be one of the understatements of the century.
Facts and figures
In 1994 Italian police officer Mauro Prosperi (pictured in main image) lost his way during a sand storm and went 186 miles off course into Algeria. He survived on drinking his own urine, eating bats he found in an abandoned mosque and the occasional snake found in the desert. Bear Grylls eat your heart out.
To cut short the agony, he attempted to cut his wrists with a penknife but he was so dehydrated his blood thickened and clotted the wound. He was found by a Nomadic family and taken to hospital and lost 18kg in body weight. He survived and attempted the race again but injury cut it short. Ten out of ten for effort.
Competitors must carry all personal belongings and food for the entire event in their back pack though water and tents are provided by race organisers.
2012 winning time
19 hours, 59 minutes and 21 seconds.