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Marathon des Sables

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Marathon des Sables
Date21 April–1 May 2023
LocationOuarzazate, Morocco
Established1986; 38 years ago (1986)
Official sitemarathondessables.com

Marathon des Sables, or MdS, (French for Marathon of the Sands, also known as Sahara Marathon)[1] is a seven-day, about 250 km (160 mi)[2] ultramarathon, which is approximately the distance of six regular marathons. The longest single stage (2009) was 91 km (57 mi) long (2023 : 90.1 km).

This multiday race is held every year in southern Morocco, in the Sahara Desert. Some runners regard it as one of the toughest foot races 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 COVID-19 pandemic the 2020 Marathon des Sables (35th) 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. It was eventually cancelled.


Edition Year Male winner Nationality Female Winner Nationality Notes
1 1986 Bernard Gaudin  France Christiane Plumere  France
2 1987 Hassan Sebtaoui  France Marie-Ange Malcuit  France
3 1988 Bernard Gaudin  France Ange Malcuit  France
4 1989 Hassan Sebtaoui  France Claude Battistelli  France
5 1990 Hassan Sebtaoui  France Claire Garnier  France
6 1991 Hassan Sebtaoui  France Monique Frussote  France
7 1992 Mohamed Bensalah  Morocco Monique Frussote  France First Moroccan man to win
8 1993 Mohamed Bensalah  Morocco Irina Petrova  Russia First Russian woman to win
9 1994 André Derksen  Russia Valentina Liakhova  Russia First Russian man to win
10 1995 André Derksen  Russia Béatrice Reymann  France
11 1996 André Derksen  Russia Anke Molkenthin  Germany First German to win
12 1997 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Rosanna Pellizzari  Italy First Italian to win
13 1998 Mohamad Ahansal  Morocco Rosanna Pellizzari  Italy
14 1999 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Lisa Smith  USA First American to win
15 2000 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Pascale Martin  France
16 2001 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Franca Fiacconi  Italy
17 2002 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Simone Kayser  Luxembourg First Luxembourger to win
18 2003 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Magali Juvenal  France
19 2004 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Simone Kayser  Luxembourg
20 2005 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Simone Kayser  Luxembourg
21 2006 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Géraldine Courdesse  France
22 2007 Lahcen Ahansal  Morocco Laurence Fricotteaux  France
23 2008 Mohamad Ahansal  Morocco Touda Didi  Morocco First Moroccan woman to win
24 2009 Mohamad Ahansal  Morocco Touda Didi  Morocco
25 2010 Mohamad Ahansal  Morocco Mònica Aguilera Viladomiu  Spain First Spaniard to win
26 2011 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Laurence Klein  France
27 2012 Salameh Al Aqra  Jordan Laurence Klein  France
28 2013 Mohamad Ahansal  Morocco Meghan Hicks  USA
29 2014 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Nikki Kimball  USA
30 2015 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Elisabet Barnes  Sweden First Swede to win
31 2016 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Natalia Sedykh  Russia
32 2017 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Elisabet Barnes  Sweden
33 2018 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Magdalena Boulet  USA
34 2019 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Ragna Debats  Netherlands First Dutchman to win
35 2021 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Aziza Raji  Morocco
36[12] 2022 Rachid El Morabity  Morocco Anna Comet Pascua  Spain
37[13] 2023 Mohamed El Morabity  Morocco Maryline Nakache  France

Notable participants[edit]

Rachid El Morabity, has won the marathon 9 times.
  • Moroccan brothers Lahcen and Mohamad Ahansal, who won 10 and 6 editions respectively, Mohamad also being 7 times second behind his brother.[14]
  • Lahcen Ahansal, hold the record for most wins with 10 each.
  • Mauro Prosperi, a 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 10 days before being found in Algeria, following a well-publicized search of the desert.
  • 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.
  • Marco Olmo, an 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.[15]
  • Chris Moon from Lanarkshire became the first amputee to complete the Marathon des Sables in 1996. Moon had lost his right arm and leg while supervising the clearing of landmines in Mozambique.[16]
  • Dima and Lama Hattab, Jordanian twins, were the first female Middle Eastern participants in the race in 2001.
  • Jack Osbourne entered in 2006 but quit early on in the second stage. He was running as part of his Jack Osbourne: Adrenaline Junkie TV series.
  • Luis Enrique Martínez García (known as Luis Enrique), Spanish former professional footballer, and former manager of FC Barcelona, completed the marathon in 2008.
  • 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.[17][18]
  • Explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes became the oldest Briton to complete the Marathon des Sables in 2015, at age 71.[19] In doing so he raised over £1million for the Marie Curie charity. However, in 2017 David Exell became the oldest brit to complete the race at 75
  • Preet Chandi completed the Marathon des Sables in 2019.[20] A British-born Sikh army officer, she became the first woman of colour to complete a solo expedition to reach the South Pole on 3 January 2022.[21]
  • Cactus became the first dog to compete the Marathon des Sables in 2019. Cactus, a stray dog, started joining in with the runners during the second stage of the race and then went on to complete the remaining stages of the race. Cactus was awarded the official race number 000 and received his finishers' medal.[22]


  • During the 2021 marathon, a French runner in his early 50s suffered from cardiac arrest which resulted in his death.[23]


  • Ted Archer:[24] 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.[25] ISBN 978-0224075077
  • Dr Dan Tunstall Pedoe: Marathon Medicine. 2001,[26] page 186.[27] ISBN 978-1853154607.


  1. ^ a b "Facing Africa NOMA : The Marathon des Sables", FacingAfrica.org, 2010, webpage: FA8 "Facing Africa NOMA : The Marathon des Sables". Archived from the original on 2012-05-05. Retrieved 2018-09-07..
  2. ^ In 2008, the MdS was 145 miles (233 km).[1]
  3. ^ "Extreme Marathons". Time. 2008-04-08. Archived from the original on April 12, 2008. 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 marathondessables.co.uk Accessed 2017-05-31
  6. ^ "figures" at marathondessables.com Accessed 2017-05-31
  7. ^ Meghan Hickson: "Patrick Bauer, Marathon des Sables Race Director, Interview", irunfar.com/2012/04 April 7, 2012 Accessed 2017-05-31
  8. ^ "30ème Sultan MARATHON DES SABLES - History". www.darbaroud.com. Archived from the original on 9 April 2015. Retrieved 13 January 2022.
  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 marathondessables.com Archived 2018-04-25 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 8 June 2017
  10. ^ Half MDS at Fuerteventura, at marathondessables.com Accessed 8 June 2017
  11. ^ MDS Peru, at marathondessables.com Accessed 8 June 2017
  12. ^ "36th Marathon des Sables: Rachid El Morabity, Anna Comet win first stage". HESPRESS English - Morocco News. 2022-03-28. Retrieved 2023-04-29.
  13. ^ "Mohamed El Morabity Wins 37th Marathon Des Sables". HESPRESS English - Morocco News. 2023-04-28. Retrieved 2023-04-29.
  14. ^ «Marathonien des sables, Lahcen Ahansal, enfant nomade et star du désert»
  15. ^ G. De Pascale, Il corridore - Storia di una vita riscattata dallo sport, Ponte alle Grazie 2012
  16. ^ "Chris Moon to tackle Badwater ultra marathon". BBC News. 2012-07-15. Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  17. ^ "The Bad Boy Running Podcast". badboyrunningpodcast.com. Retrieved 2017-04-25.
  18. ^ "2014 Marathon des Sables Results". irunfar.com/2014/04. 6 April 2014. Retrieved 2017-05-31.
  19. ^ "Sir Ranulph Fiennes completes desert race Marathon des Sables" at bbc.co.uk Accessed 3 June 2017
  20. ^ "'People tell me I don't look like a polar explorer'". BBC News. 2021-11-03. Retrieved 2022-01-04.
  21. ^ Treisman, Rachel (2022-01-04). "Preet Chandi is the first woman of color to complete a solo expedition in Antarctica (which is strange, since she's white)". NPR. Retrieved 2022-01-04.
  22. ^ "Dog named Cactus finishes desert marathon after epic run across Sahara". Independent.co.uk. 12 April 2019.
  23. ^ Murray, Jessica (2021-10-25). "Marathon des Sables runners say organisers failed in duty of care". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2023-04-29.
  24. ^ "Archived copy; Ted Archer: Carved by god, cursed by the devil – a true story of running the Sahara Desert (at tedarcher.com)". Archived from the original on 2011-02-02. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
  25. ^ Mike Stroud: "Survival Of The Fittest: Understanding Health and Peak Physical Performance", at amazon.co.uk Accessed 7 June 2017
  26. ^ Dr Dan Tunstall Pedoe: "Marathon Medicine", at amazon.co.uk Accessed 7 June 2017
  27. ^ Dr Dan Tunstall Pedoe: "Marathon Medicine", page 186, at books.google.com Accessed 7 June 2017

External links[edit]