Marathon des Sables: A Race Profile from Grand Trail

Grand Trail by Frederic and Alexis Berg GT_400phA new book, Grand Trail: A Magnificent Journey into the Heart of Ultrarunning and Racing, shares the stunning beauty and raw emotions of ultrarunning, paying tribute to the passion and splendor of the sport and lifestyle. Filled with powerful photographs and intimate stories, Grand Trail portrays ultramarathon champions and their extraordinary world.

Grand Trail features the icons of ultrarunning—people, places, and races—in spectacular color and black-and-white photography by Alexis Berg. Exploring iconic courses like Western States, Hardrock, Marathon des Sables alongside personal portraits of heroes like Kilian Jornet, Emelie Forsberg, and Scott Jurek, Grand Trail is as inspiring as it is beautiful.

Enjoy this chapter used with permission of VeloPress from Grand Trail.

Marathon des Sables
Morocco
Course: in the Sahara
First edition: 1986
Distance: 155 miles in 6 stages
Date: beginning of April
2016: won by Rachid El Morabity (Morocco) and Natalia Sedykh (Russia)

This race is a legend, the ultimate adventure. A story of the desert, of life, of friendship. For thirty years, the Marathon des Sables (MdS) has been blazing its very own trail on the running race scene. More than elsewhere, it is a tearful affair at the finish of the last of the six stages, when, after 155 miles, everything suddenly comes to a stop. A unique feeling at the end of a unique week almost cut off from the rest of the world, in the middle of the Sahara in southern Morocco.

Since it was first launched by Patrick Bauer in 1986, the MdS has always been a story of powerful friendships and intense sharing, starting with the tents that receive the runners in groups of eight, which are taken down each morning and re-erected at the next bivouac. The MdS is a massive race—the 2015 race registered a record starting lineup of over 1,300 runners from fifty countries—as well as being an extremely lonely experience. In the hollow of the dunes, on the plateaus, in the ocean of sand, each person finds themself alone with their self, each day, facing the silence and the wind, and the heat, which can easily soar into the hundreds. There are strict rules governing self-sufficiency: All competitors are required to carry in their backpacks all the food they need for the week’s meals, as well as clothing and bedding. It is a totalizing event, but its spectacular beauty makes all the effort worthwhile.

The course

The Marathon des Sables follows a different route each year across a region of Morocco southeast of Ouarzazate, near the famous Merzouga dunes, the Erg Chebbi. On the other hand, the race format does not change: 155 miles in six stages, including a 26.2-mile marathon and another stage over 50 miles long, the only one to carry on into the night. All the stages start in the morning, and throughout the day competitors turn up at the bivouac. Apart from a few rocky hills, the course is fairly flat, although running on sand remains a major obstacle. As an Ultra-Trail World Tour event, the Marathon des Sables has been won on several occasions by female ultrarunners from America or Europe. In the men’s race, on the other hand, with the one exception of a Jordanian winner, the Moroccans have always come out on top since 1997.

Click the gallery below to see larger images. Grand Trail includes exhilarating photography of 13 iconic trail races in addition to its intimate stories and runner profiles.

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Grand Trail shares the stunning beauty and raw emotions of ultrarunning, paying tribute to the passion and splendor of the sport and lifestyle. Filled with powerful photographs and intimate stories, Grand Trail portrays ultramarathon champions and their extraordinary world.

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