The Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands) is a 6 stage/7 day foot race of aproximately 250km across the Moroccan Sahara desert. It is regarded as:
‘The Toughest Foot Race On Earth’.
It covers 250km/153 (in sections similar to 33, 38, 38, 82, 42.2, 17.5 km) run over 6 days (7 for some) - equivalent to 5 1/2 regular marathons. That is a speed of between 3km [walking] and 14 km [running - fast!] an hour for competitors aged between 16 and 78. In addition to that, competitors have to carry everything they will need for the duration (apart from a tent) on their backs in a rucksack (food, clothes, medical kit, sleeping bag etc). Water is rationed and handed out at each checkpoint.
We have to carry and prepare all of our own food throughout the race and we will not find any supermarkets or corner grocery shops dotted around the Sahara. We will experience mid-day temperatures of up to 50°c and nights down to 0°c. All this whilst running or walking on uneven rocky, stony ground, no hard concrete or black strip of bitumen to run on and 15 - 20% of the distance is in sand dunes.
The heat, distance and rubbing has potential to destroy feet and may cause severe trauma if incorrect shoes and equipment are used. Mental stamina probably constitutes at least 50% of whether I will complete the distance or not. Physical fitness is important but mental stress should not be underestimated.. Even if you have run dozens of marathons, this does not mean that you will automatically find the Marathon of the Sands easy - either way I will be planning to do lots of training prior to the MdS.
On the 4th day, we will set off across the barren wilderness to complete an 84km stage.
The top 50 men and top 5 women start at noon with the rest of the field [that are left standing] heading off at 9am.
Few people complete this before dark that evening and some will not come in until after dark the next night. This is followed by the 42km Marathon stage. It's very tough!
OVER 11 000 COMPETITORS SINCE 1986
30 % repeat competitors
70 % international
30 % French
14 % women
45 % veterans
30 % in teams of three or more
10 % walkers
90 % alternate walking and running
14 km/hr: average maximum speed
3 km/hr: average minimum speed
Age of youngest competitor: 16
Age of oldest competitor: 78
Some data about medical care during the race:
To get a sense of how much the body – feet in particular – suffer, all you need to know is that the 'Doc Trotters' medical team [the doctors who look after us during the event] handed out
4.2 km of elastoplast;
13,000 compresses and 97 litres of disinfectant.
Add to that 1,750 medicines for diarrhoea,
3,700 painkillers; and
2,400 litres of saline (for drips) for a total of 4,680 interventions