Marathon des Sables

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Marathon des Sables
Date18 September 2020
LocationOuarzazate, Morocco
Established1986; 34 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
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 United States
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 United States
29e MDS 2014 Rachid El Morabity Morocco Nikki Kimball United States
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 United States
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.


  • 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]