Imagine running in the sizzling 45°C heat of the Sahara desert for six days over 257km. No wonder this ultramarathon is billed by Discovery Channel as “the toughest footrace on earth”.
The Marathon des Sables (MdS) is made even tougher because the rules require runners to be self-sufficient ie: to carry the water, food, medical kit, sleeping bag and other stuff they need (for each stage of the race) in their backpacks as they go.
The race held its 31st edition from April 8 to 18 in the southern Moroccan Sahara desert.
Runners are often surrounded with nothing but rolling sand dunes for miles around. When they plough their feet through the sand, a fine dust kicks up. Yet, they can’t feel the sweat dripping down their faces because it has evaporated in the baking heat.
The idea for this race came from Patrick Bauer, a French concert promoter. In 1984, aged 28, he decided to cross an uninhabited part of the Sahara desert over 350km, on foot, alone, where he wouldn’t come across a single village, oasis or watering place. Totally self-sufficient, with a 35kg rucksack containing water and food, he set off on a journey of 12 days.
Under the heat of the scorching Saharan sun, he had a grand idea: to create a similar experience for others. It took him two years to organise the first “Marathon of the Sands” in 1986 with 186 competitors.
The latest MdS had 1,108 runners, though 200 dropped out due to dehydration, sickness or injuries.
Through the MdS foundation Solidarite, runners have raised funds for various causes to help hundreds of families. One of them is our very own Malaysian Jeff Lau, who helped raise money for the Malaysian AIDS Foundation, not once, but twice!
Information from marathondessables.co.uk and marathondessables.com.