Marathon de Sable

The Marathon des Sables (known as the MDS for short) is considered the ultimate running race in the world.  This Marathon of the Sands is a six-day, 243km/151 miles ultra marathon across the southern Moroccan desert.

The Marathon des Sables is the equivalent to running six regular marathons in six days, with the longest stage a mind numbing 91 km (55 miles).  It has been held every year since 1986, and has few challengers for the title of the toughest foot race on Earth.  Although water and tents are supplied by the organizers (water is rationed and handed out at each checkpoint), competitors must carry all personal belongings and food for the entire event in their backpack, including food, clothes, medical kit, and a sleeping bag.

How tough is the Marathon des Sables?  The race covers 243km/151 miles, with daily legs of around 25, 34, 38, 82, 42, 22 km – for most people that equates to a speed of between 3 and 14 km an hour.  Mid-day temperatures of up to 120°F are not uncommon, and you will be running (or walking!) on rough, uneven, rocky, stony ground, in addition to the many miles of rolling sand dunes – these account for around 15 - 20% of the total distance.

All of these elements combine to create a torture fest – heat, dehydration, massive distances to cover each day, these will combine to trash your feet, particularly if incorrect shoes and equipment are used.

Competitors say that endurance is rarely a problem – if you can run a marathon, you can complete the MDS physically – so ultimately it is the mental side of things that determines whether or not you complete the distance.

This typically comes to a head on the 4th day – this is the longest stage, where you have to set off across the barren wilderness to complete 45 to 50 miles.  Few competitors are able to complete this distance before nightfall, with some people not finishing until after dark the next night!  Survive that, and you have to get up and run a full marathon – 42km – the following day.

The good news is that you won't be alone.  Despite the high cost of entering the race (around £2500 currently) there will be 700 other people out there enduring this madness with you.  However, during the course of the race you are likely to form numerous friendships – the type of friendships that can only develop when people share a common bond of suffering.

So if you have the money, the endurance, and most of all the mental stamina, the MDS may be the type of challenge that tempts you.