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Digital Subscriptions > Men's Running > Jul-17 > JUST DESERTS

JUST DESERTS

IT’S BILLED AS THE TOUGHEST RACE ON EARTH, YET FOR MANY RUNNERS THE MARATHON DES SABLES IS THE VERY FIRST MULTI-STAGE EVENT THEY ATTEMPT. SO HOW HARD IS IT REALLY? DAMIAN HALL BRAVES BLISTERS, HEAT STROKE AND CAMEL SPIDERS TO FIND OUT

MARATHON DES SABLES

Photography Alexis Berg

In 1984 French concert promoter Patrick Bauer went for a walk: a 200-mile walk in the Sahara desert. Afterwards, whether through altruism or sadism (more likely the latter), he decided other people should follow in his footsteps. And the Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands) was born, a multi-stage race of roughly 250K (it varies each year) through Morocco’s Sahara Desert.

It was first run in 1986, with 186 competitors, and 32 years later that number is close to 1200. Ever since the Discovery Channel followed James Cracknell’s attempt, the British presence at MdS has been huge and, for many, it’s their first event of this nature. But it has its detractors, including myself. I once wrote that the Marathon des Sables (MdS) is, “incredibly expensive, more famous than it deserves to be and there are many, many, many more spectacular, impressive, interesting and demanding events around.” But that was before, er, I’d actually done it. This April I ran the 32nd MdS. So is it time to sit down, tuck my napkin in and treat myself to a large slice of (dehydrated) humble pie?

Some ultrarunners are snobbish about MdS, partly because it continually rolls out the epithet ‘toughest footrace on Earth’, when clearly it isn’t even close. You only need to see MdS’s completion rate of well over 90%, compared to less than 50% for many ultras, to see there are several races tougher than the Sahara’s most photographed, even in the UK. Sure, sand, a heavy pack and 50˚C temperatures aren’t conducive to a comfortable jogging holiday but the cut-offs are generous enough that it can be hiked.

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About Men's Running

Motivational mantras, preferably overlaid onto a picture of a runner in a dramatic landscape, are ubiquitous on social media. That isn’t to say they don’t have their uses: I have a couple of things I mutter to myself when the going gets tough although they’re unsuitable for publication unfortunately. I don’t believe the no one-size-fits-all mantras work because every runner is unique and has their own motivations. This variety is reflected in the sheer breadth of organised events available to runners right now. Which is why we’ve curated a list of 100 race (page 57) from both the UK and abroad, that we feel represents the scope of running for the remainder of 2017. From 10Ks to ultras, from road to trail, there’s something here for the beginner, veteran or just anyone who wants to simply try something new. Speaking of races The Marathon des Sables has been given the sobriquet of ‘toughest race on the planet’ so we felt duty bound to find out for ourselves if this claim is true. Our runner’s report (page 34) tells us that while ability is obviously essential, being able to get along with and support your fellow runners is the most important attribute required. Of course not every run has to be a race and there’s still satisfaction to be found in creating your own running adventures (page 21) or building goals from the reams of data floating around out there (page 42). Again it’s down to what individual runners want from their sport. All running together but with different destinations.
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