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La Marathon des Sables, MDS o Marathon del Sahara, es una ultra maratón de 6 días de duración recorriendo 251 km (156 millas) que equivale a 6 maratones regulares. Esta carrera se lleva a cabo en el sur de Marruecos en el desierto del Sahara desde 1986. Es considerada la carrera más fuerte y difícil del mundo.

La carrera exige a los participantes un nivel alto de autosuficiencia, para llevar en su equipaje todo lo necesario para sobrevivir. Bajo el abrasador sol de Marruecos, los competidores experimentan la aventura de sus vidas, corriendo por ciudades en ruinas, montañas en el desierto, interminables planicies y hasta una tormenta de arena. En la MDS participan corredores de élite y amateurs de todas partes del mundo. El evento tiene un impacto en las comunidades locales, las cuales, a través de la MdS foundation Solidarite ayudan a famiias a mejorar su calidad de vida. En la 28ava edición de la MDS participaron 1198 personas en las modalidades de correr y caminata, 400 personal de apoyo, 120,000 litros de agua mineral y 270 tiendas de campaña.


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he legendary hit “Highway to Hell” by ACDC rang out across the Ihrs djebel this morning, somewhere in the South Moroccan Sahara. The traditional start signal for the SULTAN MARATHON DES SABLES, it represented a sense of liberation for the record 1,024 participants in this 28th edition. Whilst the favourites quickly disappeared over the horizon from the opening kilometres, behind them a long string of runners snaked their way across some truly sumptuous landscapes.

En la ruta

de tus sueños


After traversing a small valley emerging in the Rhéris wadi, one of the largest wadis in the region, the caravan of runners came out at the first zone of small dunes. It’s always a magical moment for these runners from all over the world, their minds filled with the images that make Le Marathon des Sables the legend it is. For the old hands, this first leg is a chance to get their bearings again. For the novices, it’s an abrupt immersion in the adventure, in the MDS spirit where the difficulty of the course is largely rewarded by the delight of tracing a wake through this unique décor. A last, very rocky col to break through into the Tijekht wadi and the finish line, a symbol of deliverance and rest, is in prospect. Longer than usual, this first leg is sure to have been a wake-up call for certain minds. The bodies too will be under pressure with temperatures already in excess of 35°. There will be little respite in this SULTAN MARATHON DES SABLES however. This coming Monday, the runners will tackle the second longest leg spanning some 30.7km and marked by several very spectacular djebel climbs.


Escalando

la cima de una pared de arena

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two-kilometre climb, with an average of a 25% climb, symbolises the final stage and the highlight of a 30.7km leg, during which the runners will have already scaled the Hered Asfer djebel and are able to appreciate its crests and its special forms, which are at times reminiscent of a fortified castle. All these runners are then swallowed up by a long valley before returning to the foot of this wall of sand. On the rock face, which stretches some 250 metres upwards, the sand has accumulated over previous seasons, pushed along by the desert winds. The sand also makes

every step more difficult, with the sensation that you’re going backwards at times. It’s a terrible feeling when under the blazing sunshine, you battle for hours to make headway, just make headway no matter at what pace, to make it back to the bivouac set up at the foot of the djebel on the other side. The effort is brutal and intense, notably for the Transavia team, which transports three children each day in a sedan, as well as for Moroccan Mohamed Lahna, a disabled athlete equipped with a prosthetic left leg. However, the rewards are there at the top, with a 360° view of the entire region and an immense and incredibly flat expanse, where the bivouac awaits them.


Los colores

del desierto

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he white of the dried-up lakes, the orange and pink of the sand, the black of the rocks and the blue of the sky, the 3rd leg of the 28th SULTAN MARATHON DES SABLES has treated the 1,001 runners to a fantastic palette of colours over the 38km which span the Djebel El Otfal and the Djebel Mouchanne. The trackers had warned us: “it’s one of the most beautiful stages of the SULTAN MARATHON DES SABLES”. And it’s certainly lived up to expectations with some impressive images of this long snaking line of runners appearing out of the haze, with the route ahead disappearing over the horizon. Sometimes, in the distance, you even believe that you can make out some mirages. Whether they are physical phenomena or hallucinations due to the fatigue, it’s hard to know. Another great moment is the passage through EL March with its oasis, its palm trees and also its sand, which makes each step all the more trying. However, you do have to make headway towards the Ras Kemouna djebel, head along the Zireg mountains covered in sand and finally, in sunshine whose thin morning veil lifts to scorch the ground, tackle the final home straight spanning nearly ten kilometres across a dried-up lake and then through the small dunes. At the end, you have the bivouac and the prospect of getting in some rest before tackling the long leg on Wednesday.


Eterno T

hroughout the night, the silence of the desert is interrupted by cries. Cries of joy, relief, liberation even, as the finish line is crossed for the 4th leg of the 28th SULTAN MARATHON DES SABLES; the long leg, the one most feared by the competitors. A little over 75km between Taourirt Mouchanne and the El Mraïer djebel, is an entry ticket to the timeless dimension that is the MDS. Over the hours, they’ve gone from CP to CP, from wadi to wadi and from dune to dune, guided through the night by the light of their headtorch and a large green laser positioner at CP 5. They’re also guided by their internal flame too of course. Those who will be lucky enough to traverse the large field of dunes situated between the 45th and the 53rd kilometre at

sunset, will never forget the spectacle they were treated to. The unique colours of the sand and rock, a grandiose setting for one of the most beautiful 360° panoramas you can imagine. Some understandably prefer to get a few hours sleep at a checkpoint before completing their journey across dried-up lakes and long plateaux dotted with prickly acacias. As the hours pass, the bivouac begins to fill from late evening through into Thursday. The backrunners won’t cross the finish until late afternoon, over 30 hours after setting off on this long leg. These hours are something they’ll remember their whole lives. Indeed these hours may well change the course of their lives for some.


VIVIENDO EL SUEñO T

hey’ve lived the dream and have managed to take it through to the very end. After a 42.2km run in the final timed leg of the 28th SULTAN MARATHON DES SABLES, on the hottest day so far in this event, the 980 runners at the start of the fifth leg were really able to enjoy themselves. Forgotten was the fatigue, forgotten was the pain and the blisters. Forgotten were the doubts. They are now part of the select group of SULTAN MARATHON DES SABLES finishers after five legs, which is sure to mark their life as a runner, but also their life as a man or woman. No matter what their performance though, the moment they cross the finish line, a number of them will be aware of having pushed back what they thought were their limits. A lot of them have had to dig very deep to a place where they have discovered strengths and resources they didn’t even suspect they had.

To hunt down the medal in this marathon leg, the runners initially had to traverse the Ziz wadi, before linking onto a long rocky plateau. After the Moha Fighnas wadis, near the village of Taouz, they entered another set of dunes, which served as a starter to the large dunes of the Znaïgui erg. On exiting the Debpuhaa djebel, they traversed the ancient village of M’Fis, which is in ruins today, but some fifty or so years ago growled with the sounds of the men working on the nearby lead mine. On the horizon, they could finally make out the long awaited finish line, positioned surreally on a terrain of black rocks, at the foot of the beautiful yellow and pink dunes of Merzouga, the highest in Morocco.


Caravana de solidaridad

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or three hours, the long blue caravan stretched across the Merzouga dunes, the highest in Morocco. A blue caravan reminiscent of the garb worn by the Tuaregs. A blue synonymous above all with UNICEF, partner to this final leg of the 28th SULTAN MARATHON DES SABLES. A compulsory leg for the 970 of yesterday’s finishers, but not a timed leg. Partners, families and friends could also join up with this long procession, organised for ‘charity’, a value which goes hand and hand with the culture of those competing in the MDS, particularly that of the Anglo-Saxons. This Saturday, the symbol of this 7km walk is all that’s important. The symbol was this association with UNICEF. “We’re lucky to be able to eat to satisfy our hunger, to treat ourselves to the pleasure of running in such beautiful places, admits race organiser Patrick Bauer. It shouldn’t be forgotten that there are people around us who need help. And we can take action to change that. This charity leg has been a caravan of solidarity and sensitivity.” It’s also an opportunity to digest all the past week’s emotions, to further extend the magic of the MDS by leaving a final trace in the desert. A much more lasting trace than that left in the sand, which the wind will end up erasing. Indeed the financing of this participation by families, friends and partners enables funds to be collected for the Solidarité Marathon des Sables association and the centre in Ouarzazate, because happiness is a lot more powerful when it’s shared.


Fotografías: CIMBALY. Textos:www.darbaroud.com Diseño: mauricioponce.com


MDS