Ultra Racing Archives

Marathon des Sables Stage One; Erg Chebbi to Erg Znaigui- 19.5 Miles

I lay in bed feeling a tinge of excitement and more than a tinge of nervousness. This was it- after two years of preparation, floods, torrential rain, mud and disappointment we were actually going to start the Marathon des Sables!!

As we waited for the coaches to arrive to take us to the start I was relieved to see that it was a nice day- sunny and dry but not overbearingly hot and more importantly no clouds in sight. Oddly enough, I had mixed feelings about this- the cooler weather would make for easier walking, but I felt that we weren’t going to be as challenged by the heat as we should have been and wondered whether I would feel cheated as a result.

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The market in Erfoud

I woke to the depressing sounds of the spray of vehicles driving through sheets of water, and so it was no surprise to peer out of the window to discover it was still raining. We went for a subdued breakfast, walking through courtyards where the rain was pooling and dripping off the trees, to hear the news that stage one of the Marathon des Sables had definitely been cancelled.

Although we had expected this it was still a shock and a bitter disappointment, and I was starting to feel that whatever happened I would not be able to say that I had completed the Marathon des Sables. We were informed that there was to be an official announcement later, so a group of us decided to explore the village to kill some time.
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Hell And High Water On The MdS!

“You are lucky”, our coach driver informed us, “It hasn’t rained here for twelve years!”

We certainly didn’t feel lucky as we peered through the rain streaked windows at the desolate scene before us- a darkly threatening sky with torrential rain driven by the winds into horizontal sheets, turning the desert sands into thick, sticky mud.

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So… What Is The Marathon Des Sables?

Every year, around March or April, around 1000 ultra runners and endurance athletes gather in the Sahara desert hoping to complete the Marathon des Sables, otherwise known as the ‘Toughest Footrace on Earth’. I first heard about the Marathon des Sables (or MdS as it’s more commonly known) around 8 years ago, when flicking between channels I caught a documentary about it. My initial reaction was ‘no way could run that!’ but then I noticed something… many of the competitors were actually walking through the desert rather than running. I remember thinking that if I didn’t have to run it all then it could quite possibly be achievable- and a little obsession was suddenly born…

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