While the ‘Marathon des Sables’ is not directly associated with Marrakech (it takes place beyond the Atlas in the Souss-Massa-Draa area close to Ouarzazate) it has become a major annual event in Morocco and visitors to Marrakech may well wish to catch at least part of it (4 to 14th April), perhaps as part of an excursion.
The Sand Marathon
Rated one of the most gruelling foot races on the planet, the ‘Marathon des Sables’ attracts around 350 participants from all over the world, elite runners as well as amateurs, entered both in teams and individually.
Covering 150 miles of the Sahara’s formidable terrain, the course is divided into multiple stages and participants are required to carry all their equipment on their backs – only water, medical assistance and a place to sleep (Berber tents) are supplied by race organisers.
Held in one of the most inhospitable but spectacular locations on earth, the event takes runners across endless desert landscapes, past abandoned villages, over enormous dunes, up to 200m high, and into arid mountains, all under the relentless heat of the Moroccan sun. To make matters even more difficult, runners also face the risk of sudden sand storms which affect breathing and dramatically reduce visibility.
First held in 1986, the marathon is now in its 29th consecutive year. The men’s event was won last year by Mohamad Ahansal (Morocco) and the women’s by Meghan Hicks (USA). Recent competitors have included a Swiss woman who completed the entire course on crutches and a competitor who walked the course backwards; the oldest competitor was 73 year old Willy Rios in 1990. In 1994 an Italian runner who lost his way was found 300 km away, ten days later!
For competitors, the French-organised ‘Marathon des Sables’ offers the experience of a lifetime. In addition to the sense of achievement at completing the gruelling course, runners have the satisfaction of knowing that their participation has, through the ‘Solidarité Foundation’, helped to improve the quality of life, not least through education, for hundreds of Moroccan families.