Marathon des Sables

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Marathon des Sables
Date18 September 2020
LocationOuarzazate, Morocco
Established1986; 35 years ago (1986)

Marathon des Sables, or MdS, (French for Marathon of the Sands, also known as Sahara Marathon)[1] is a six-day, 251 km (156 mi)[2] ultramarathon, which is approximately the distance of six regular marathons. The longest single stage (2009) is 91 km (57 mi) long.

This multiday race is held every year in southern Morocco, in the Sahara Desert. It has been regarded as the toughest foot race on Earth.[1][3] The first event of the Marathon started in 1986.

Racers winding their way up a large ridge.
A competitor at Marathon des Sables, Morocco
The camp in which competitors sleep at night.
Photo of the first British Runners to complete the Marathon des Sables (Dr Mike Stroud OBE, Rene Nevola, Richard Cooper and Prof Mike Lean).


The marathon was the brainchild of French concert promoter Patrick Bauer who in 1984 traversed the Sahara desert on foot and alone.[4][5][6][7] He covered 350 km (214 mi) in 12 days without encountering a single oasis or desert community along the way. Two years later in 1986 the first Marathon des Sables was run. Twenty-three runners participated in the race with Bernard Gaudin and Christiane Plumere, both of France, finishing as the winning man and woman.

By 2009 over 1,000 runners participated in the event and the Solidarité Marathon des Sables association was created. The aim is to develop projects to assist children and disadvantaged populations in the domains of health, education and sustainable development in Morocco.[8][9]

In 2017, two new Marathon des Sables events took place for the first time: the Half Marathon des Sables on Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands in September, and another full-length Marathon des Sables event in Peru in November.[10][11]

Due to the outbreak of coronavirus the 2020 Marathon des Sables (35ème) was postponed from 3–13 April to 18–28 September, following a warning officially issued by the Ministry of the Interior of the Kingdom of Morocco as stated in the marathon's official website.


Edition Year Male winner Nationality Female Winner Nationality Notes
1er MDS 1986 Bernard Gaudin  France Christiane Plumere  France
2e MDS 1987 Hassan Sebtaoui  France Marie-Ange Malcuit  France
3e MDS 1988 Bernard Gaudin  France Ange Malcuit  France
4e MDS 1989 Hassan Sebtaoui  France Claude Battistelli  France
5e MDS 1990 Hassan Sebtaoui  France Claire Garnier  France
6e MDS 1991 Hassan Sebtaoui  France Monique Frussote  France
7e MDS 1992 Mohamed Bensalah  Morocco Monique Frussote  France First Moroccan man to win
8e MDS 1993 Mohamed Bensalah  Morocco Irina Petrova  Russia
9e MDS 1994 André Derksen  Russia Valentina Liakhova  Russia
10e MDS 1995 André Derksen  Russia Béatrice Reymann  France
11e MDS 1996 André Derksen  Russia Anke Molkenthin  Germany First German to win
12e MDS 1997 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Rosanna Pellizzari  Italy
13e MDS 1998 Mohamad Ahansal  Morocco Rosanna Pellizzari  Italy
14e MDS 1999 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Lisa Smith  USA
15e MDS 2000 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Pascal Martin  France
16e MDS 2001 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Franca Fiacconi  Italy
17e MDS 2002 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Simone Kayser  Luxembourg
18e MDS 2003 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Magali Juvenal  France
19e MDS 2004 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Simone Kayser  Luxembourg
20e MDS 2005 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Simone Kayser  Luxembourg
21e MDS 2006 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Géraldine Courdesse  France
22e MDS 2007 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Laurence Fricotteaux  France
23e MDS 2008 Mohamad Ahansal  Morocco Touda Didi  Morocco First Moroccan woman to win
24e MDS 2009 Mohamad Ahansal  Morocco Touda Didi  Morocco
25e MDS 2010 Mohamad Ahansal  Morocco Mònica Aguilera Viladomiu  Spain First Spaniard to win
26e MDS 2011 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Laurence Klein  France
27e MDS 2012 Salameh Al Aqra  Jordan Laurence Klein  France
28e MDS 2013 Mohamad Ahansal  Morocco Meghan Hicks  USA
29e MDS 2014 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Nikki Kimball  USA
30e MDS 2015 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Elisabet Barnes  Sweden
31e MDS 2016 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Natalia Sedykh  Russia
32e MDS 2017 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Elisabet Barnes  Sweden
33e MDS 2018 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Magdalena Boulet  USA
34e MDS 2019 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Ragna Debats  Netherlands

Notable participants[edit]

  • Moroccan brothers Lahcen and Mohamad Ahansal, who won 10 and 6 editions respectively, Mohamad also being 7 times second behind his brother.[12]
  • Marco Olmo, Italian ultratrail specialist, ran all editions since 1996, with best placement 3rd (achieved three times). At the 2013 edition, Olmo was 64 years old, and he was 47 when he ran his first.[13]
  • Dima and Lama Hattab, Jordanian twins who were the first female Middle Eastern participants in the race.
  • James Cracknell, British rower and adventurer, competed in the 2010 race and became the highest placing Briton to ever compete in the race, finishing 12th until fellow Briton Danny Kendall placed 5th in 2014. In 2017 Tom Evans became the first Briton to finish in the first three, finishing third overall.[14][15]
  • In 1994 René Nevola, Mike Stroud, Mike Lean and Richard Cooper became the first British runners to complete the Marathon des Sables. René Nevola was the first Briton to complete the race and finished in 22nd place.
  • Mauro Prosperi, former Olympian from Sicily, entered the race in 1994 but was set 299 km off route by a harsh sand storm. He was lost for ~11 days before being found in Algeria, following a well-publicized search of the desert.
  • In 1999 Carlos Sposito was the first Brazilian to complete the Marathon des Sables.[16]
  • Sir Ranulph Fiennes became the oldest Briton to complete the Marathon des Sables in 2015.[17] In doing so he raised over £1million for Marie Curie.
  • James Matthews, married to Pippa Middleton, competed in the marathon in 2008.[18]
  • Luis Enrique Martínez García (Spanish pronunciation: [lwis enˈrike]; born 8 May 1970), known as Luis Enrique, is a Spanish former professional footballer, and the former manager of FC Barcelona, completed the marathon in 2008.
  • Gavin Sandford completed two Marathons des Sables in 2016, running the 2011 course alone and then immediately joining the start of the 2016 course, so completing 300 miles on foot in 12 days [19]
  • Duncan Slater was the first double amputee to finish the Marathon des Sables in 2017.[14]
  • Nikola Doeg and Frances Davies previously rowed the Atlantic Ocean as part of Team Yorkshire Rows, setting a record as the oldest all-female team to row any ocean, will take part in the 2018 Marathon des Sables to raise money for Maggies Cancer Care charity.
  • Chris Moon completed his first ultra-marathon in 1997. Chris was abducted by the Khmer rouge in 1993. In 1995, while supervising mine-clearance in Mozamique, Chris Moon was blown up in the supposedly clear area of the safety lane. He lost his right arm and leg as a result.


  • Ted Archer:[20] Carved by god, cursed by the devil – a true story of running the Sahara Desert. Redwood City CA, University of Dreams Foundation 2009. ISBN 978-0-9770735-3-5
  • Patrick Bauer ... [et al.]: Le Marathon des Sables. Paris, SPE (Société de production éditoriale) 2000. ISBN 978-2-912838-08-7 (English version by David Waldron).
  • John Bonallak: The desert run. Wellington, New Zealand, Learning Media Ltd. 1999. ISBN 978-0-478-22948-6.
  • Steve Cushing: 24th Marathon des Sables – a competitor's tale. Leicester UK, Matador 2010, ISBN 978-1-84876-286-2.
  • Guy Giaoui; Foued Berahou: Ultramarathon stage racing - from our experiences of the Marathon des Sables, the Trans Aq', and other races - a practical guide. St-Genest-Malifaux, Raidlight 2008. ISBN 978-2-9530683-1-3.
  • Mark Hines: The Marathon des Sables - seven days in the Sahara - enduring the toughest footrace on earth. London, Health Body Publishing 2007. ISBN 978-0-9553800-1-3 (hbk.). ISBN 978-0-9553800-5-1 (pbk. 2010).
  • Marcel Nickler: Running the Sahara - a diary from the desert and beyond, BoD, ISBN 978-3750423152
  • Monika Nicolle: Histoire d'un Marathon des Sables – 245 kilomètres dans le désert... Paris, Éditions de l'Onde 2010. ISBN 978-2-916929-30-9.
  • Eddy Poirier: Vaincre soi-même : Marathon des Sables! Toute une histoire. [S.l.], Glob 2009. ISBN 978-2-918257-03-5.
  • Pierre-Emmanuel Rastoin: Regard sur le Marathon des Sables : 2004/06. Biarritz, SAI 2007. ISBN 978-2-7588-0037-8.
  • Herbert Meneweger: Marathon des Sables - die Grenze ist, wo die Vorstellungskraft endet - der härteste Marathonlauf der Welt, 243 Kilometer durch die Sahara. Anthering AUT, Meneweger 2003. ISBN 978-3-200-00037-7.
  • Mike Stroud OBE. (re-issued 2004). Survival Of The Fittest: Understanding Health and Peak Physical Performance.[21] ISBN 978-0224075077
  • Dr Dan Tunstall Pedoe: Marathon Medicine. 2001,[22] page 186.[23] ISBN 978-1853154607.


  1. ^ a b "Facing Africa NOMA : The Marathon des Sables",, 2010, webpage: FA8 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-05-05. Retrieved 2018-09-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link).
  2. ^ In 2008, the MdS was 145 miles (233 km).[1]
  3. ^ "Extreme Marathons". Time. 2008-04-08. Retrieved 2010-05-12.
  4. ^ "Archived copy; Race History: The toughest footrace on earth (Running the Sahara Ltd.)". Archived from the original on 2015-04-22. Retrieved 2015-04-19.
  5. ^ "Race History" at Accessed 2017-05-31
  6. ^ "figures" at Accessed 2017-05-31
  7. ^ Meghan Hickson: "Patrick Bauer, Marathon des Sables Race Director, Interview", April 7, 2012 Accessed 2017-05-31
  8. ^[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ History- The High Point Of The MDS (2010/ 25th edition...) "...The Solidarité MARATHON DES SABLES association is created. The aim: to develop projects to assist children and disadvantaged populations in the domains of health, education and sustainable development in Morocco." at Archived 2018-04-25 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 8 June 2017
  10. ^ Half MDS at Fuerteventura, at Accessed 8 June 2017
  11. ^ MDS Peru, at Accessed 8 June 2017
  12. ^ «Marathonien des sables, Lahcen Ahansal, enfant nomade et star du désert»
  13. ^ G. De Pascale, Il corridore - Storia di una vita riscattata dallo sport, Ponte alle Grazie 2012
  14. ^ a b "The Bad Boy Running Podcast". Retrieved 2017-04-25.
  15. ^ "2014 Marathon des Sables Results". Retrieved 2017-05-31.
  16. ^ "Carlos Sposito: o homem do deserto", at Accessed 3 June 2017
  17. ^ "Sir Ranulph Fiennes completes desert race Marathon des Sables" at Accessed 3 June 2017
  18. ^ Money-Coutts, Sophia (July 19, 2016). "10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT PIPPA MIDDLETON'S FIANCÉ JAMES MATTHEWS". Tatler. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  19. ^ Page for Gavin Sandford, an ex Soldier working in Operating Theatres, and a Charity Ambassador, Athlete and Adventurer, at[permanent dead link] Accessed 3 June 2017
  20. ^ "Archived copy; Ted Archer: Carved by god, cursed by the devil – a true story of running the Sahara Desert (at". Archived from the original on 2011-02-02. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
  21. ^ Mike Stroud: "Survival Of The Fittest: Understanding Health and Peak Physical Performance", at Accessed 7 June 2017
  22. ^ Dr Dan Tunstall Pedoe: "Marathon Medicine", at Accessed 7 June 2017
  23. ^ Dr Dan Tunstall Pedoe: "Marathon Medicine", page 186, at Accessed 7 June 2017

External links[edit]