Launched in 1986 by Patrick Bauer, the Marathon des Sables has established itself as one of the most famous races, but also one of the most difficult, in the world. The competitors come to cover 250 km through 5 stages in the Sahara desert. The 36th edition will take place from March 25 to April 4.
No less than 1,100 competitors from all over the world – 50 nationalities are represented – will be on the starting line, 31% of whom are French. The youngest competitor is 16 years old, the eldest in the competition is 85 years old. 20% of participants are women, with 10% walkers and 90% runners, with speed variations ranging from 3km/h to 14 km/h. The Marathon des Sables can also count on the presence of 420 people for supervision, and 70 medical professionals.
Very special conditions
The great particularity of the Marathon des Sables lies in the food self-sufficiency imposed on the runners. No food is provided. In their bag, the competitors brought with them, for the duration of the race, soups, pasta, rice, muesli, rice cake, compote, etc. in dehydrated format in order to limit the weight in their bag where there is, in particular, a bedding for sleeping (in addition to the other essential elements). In the evening, the competitors share one of the 450 Berber and Saharan tents set up for each stage.
In the Sahara, runners must cover several kilometers every day in a heat oscillating between 30 and 45 degrees. Water is provided in abundance by the organizers, as well as salt tablets to compensate for losses due to perspiration. Equipment is essential to face the heat (cap, bandana, sunglasses, etc.). It is also essential to be equipped with gaiters at the level of the shoes in order to prevent them from filling up with sand (and favoring the appearance of blisters).
Being equipped with a compass is vital on the Marathon des Sables. But the risk of getting lost is almost non-existent today. The route is marked along its entire length. Competitors are also equipped with a beacon that allows the organization to know where they are at all times. It is equipped with two SOS buttons, one in the event of a non-urgent problem, another in the event of a vital problem requiring immediate emergency intervention.
Blisters are the main reason for abandonments in the Marathon des Sables. The preparation of the feet, before and during the race, is essential. The choice of shoes and socks is also crucial.
All the runners who have already surveyed the dunes of the Sahara say it: the Marathon des Sables is more than a simple race, it is a human adventure from which no one returns unscathed. The race takes place in the middle of the desert, far from civilization and tourist areas. The competitors live with each other, and share the joys and difficulties of the race day by day. They all share the same pain, with fatigue, heat, hunger, sand, blisters, bivouac, etc.
The 10 runners to follow
Record holder for the number of victories in the Marathon des Sables with 10 successes, the Moroccan Ahsen Ahansal returns to the race with one goal: to have fun.
Rachid El Morabity
With 8 victories to his credit, Rachid El Morabity pursues his dream of equaling the 10 victories of his eldest. He will have to be wary of his brother, Mohammed, second in the last four editions. But also Aziz Yachou, the young Moroccan hopeful who impressed his opponents in the previous edition by finishing in 4th place.
The Frenchman is taking part in his sixth race. He climbed on the third step of the podium in 2018 and 2021, a feat that no Frenchman had achieved for 16 years.
The Frenchwoman is taking part in her tenth race. She has already won three times in the women’s category.
The 2021 winner comes to defend her title. The Moroccan will be the big favorite of this 36e editing.
An emblematic candidate for Koh-Lanta, Claude Dartois is taking part in his first Marathon des Sables. He will be accompanied by three other candidates from the famous TF1 adventure game: Sam Haliti, Alix Noblat and Mohamed Siaaliti.
Mohamed Driss and Claude Leonardi
The Spaniard Mohamed Driss will be the youngest rider with his 16th birthday, which he will celebrate during the race in the presence of his father, Ismael. The French Claude Leonardi, originally from Corsica, will be the oldest competitor at the height of his 85 years, for his 10e participating in the race.
Siu Wai Leung
This 55-year-old Hong Konger found himself in professional and social breakdown after losing his sight. He has now put himself at the service of others, and participates in this race with the intention of raising funds for various NGOs.
Ex-professional rugby player, this Briton took on the incredible challenge of running 48 marathons in 30 days with the aim of raising funds for the fight against cancer, after the death of his mother from the disease.
Britain’s Paul Templer has lost his arm after being attacked by a hippo while kayaking in Africa. He now runs for his own children’s foundation, which he set up after his 15-year-old daughter died in 2020.