Marathon Des Sables

My race report for the Marathon des Sables consists of emails that I sent to friends and family from the communications tent at the Bivouac each night after racing. I have also included some information on the race and interesting facts regarding race logistics.

The route for 2008 is 245.3 Km long, making it the longest ever in the history of the MARATHON DES SABLES.

Marathon-des-SablesThe race will be challenging from day one - and continue that way - offering all the variety of the Sahara. The course will take runners over ergs (dune zones), seriously steep jebels (up to 25% slope factor) and rocky plateaus. They'll have to cross hard as iron salt-flats and the driest of wadis. The backdrop to all of this is the most beautiful of landscapes with vistas accessible only to those on foot.

The desert has its secret gardens and competitors on MDS will be lucky enough
In its 22-year history since it was set up in 1986, the Marathon des Sables has brought together near-on 10,000 competitors in the south Moroccan Sahara.
Whether running individually or in teams, competitors are self-sufficient in food and must carry all their own equipment (food and compulsory kit) during the entire race.

Marathon runners and trail runners worldwide consider the race to be the "Grail" of footraces. It's one of the most difficult in the world: around 230km, freestyle, run in 6 stages varying from 20 to 70km, taking in all the different terrain in this particularly beautiful part of Morocco.

With average speeds going from a minimum of 3 Km/h to maximum 14 Km/h, the Marathon des Sables is an extraordinary course, characterised by its spirit of conviviality and solidarity.

For this 23rd edition, organised by AOI under the aegis of the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism, around 850 competitors will be setting off to conquer the Moroccan sands on March 30th. 30% are French, the other 70% made up of more than 32 nationalities, with a strong Anglo-Saxon presence

Sportsmanship, solidarity, conviviality and respect for the environment: these are the organisation's key words.

  • 1986, the 1st MARATHON DES SABLES welcomes 23 competitors
  • 2008, 850 competitors are expected

My Account of the race

Day One

Hi all.

It has been a long three days. We had an 8hr bus trip from the hotel to a place called Merzougha. We arrived in the dark and then had to stand in line for about 90mins for dinner.

Saturday was registration which took around 30 mins for our group. I am in a tent with 5 Canadians, 1 South African, an American and myself. A good crew of guys and girls.

This morning we were shunted out of our tents at 6am for the Berbers to strike camp. We stood in the open desert next to our bags for 3hrs waiting for the race start. About 2hrs was in a sand storm. Absolutely black and just sand howling around the place.

Today's stage was 31.6km. The first 15km was straight across the Merzougha dunes, the next 12km was across an open rocky plain, with the remainder across some more dunes. I finished in 3hr45min - about 45 min behind the race leader.
The results are not up yet so I do not know my position. Tomorrow is a
38km stage, the next day 41km, the next 75km? then a rest day, then 42.2 then 17.

Day Two

Today was a tough day. Recovery yesterday was lying in a black tent in the sun with sand blowing all over the place. I placed 44th overall.

The stage today was 38km. Long and flat through about 24km of salt flats and river beds. The finish was after a 400m climb over a sand dune between 2 cliffs. I placed 37th and now sit 39th on the overall table. It reached 44 degrees at 12 o'clock, but was absolutely freezing last night.

Thank you to those who sent messages. They were delivered last night and we read them by torch light at about 6:30 before going to bed. I queued for around 50min to send this email, almost harder than running.

Tomorrow is 41km warm up consisting of more dunes, in preparation for the 75km stage. If I maintain my position or below 50th place, I start at 12pm......

Until tomorrow


Day Three and Four

Hi all, sorry that I didn't send an update yesterday.

Day 3 was a bad day. A 40.5km stage with 20km of dunes.

The temp was 46 degrees at midday. I ran out of water between CP 1 and CP 2, and got stopped at CP2 and taken off the course due to dehydration. I had to lie in the tent for 40 min until they said I was ok to go.

I got a 1hr time penalty for taking two extra bottles of water - although I needed it, as I drank 6 litres in the last 14km of the stage. I was too sick to stand in line for an email. Hence a 6hr race, with an hour extra for penalties saw me drop overall to 75th position.

Not a great recovery but I felt ok for the 75.5km. It was better because I could start at 9am instead 12pm. I went hard for the first 60km and then lost momentum in the dunes for the last 16km.

I have just finished in a time of 9hr 45min - just before dark. I finished in the top 20 of the second group and hopefully my standing will drop by the end of tomorrow;

Thanx so much for the emails they are awesome



Day Five

Hi all.

Firstly thank you for all your emails. It is a real treat to receive so many positive messages. I read them all about 3 times before lights out; I seem to have recovered ok from the big day yesterday.

4 Nurofen Plus and 3 sleeping tabs will generally make sure you get a few hours sleep.

Last night was really cold but at least the wind didn't blow and the tent stayed up for a change. Most of our tent came in this morning with 2 walking wounded in at lunch time.

Another 44 deg day today. Lots of lying around eating and drinking; I placed 54th overall for the stage yesterday but am sitting 86th overall.

The hour time penalty has really knocked my ranking around. A small price to pay for survival.

Tomorrow is set for a 42.2km leg. Hopefully I can manage through ok - the racing is out the window, just need to focus on finishing. Then it is a 17km fun run. Hope the web pics are doing the race justice. It is as hot as it looks.



Day Six

I had a good rest day yesterday. They even gave us a can of Pepsi in the afternoon. Last night was a cold night again but at least it was still and therefore managed to get some good sleep in.

Today was 42.2km. It was really fast and I managed to finish 44th overall in a time of 4hrs 21 min. Not sure how that will affect my overall standing.

Tomorrow is basically a fun run of 17km back into town before getting onto a bus and driving 5hrs to Ouarzazate. It was 46 degrees again at check point 3 but I only 10kms to finish, so am back in my tent lying in a good breeze.
This will be my last email and I will only be able to receive messages tonite.
Thanks again for your support and interest and I will see most of you next week.



Some data about the logistic side of things

The Marathon des Sables is not merely a race, it is also a most impressive organisation manned by over 300 people, enabling the 800 competitors to tread 245 km in the best possible conditions in terms of safety, logistics, and care for the environment. In total, 108 000 litres of Sidi Ali water bottles, 1400 litres of petrol, 5000 litre of kerosene and 30 000 litres of fuel were consumed. Two helicopters followed the race from beginning to end, and so did 16 military trucks and the incinerator truck.

Some data about medical care during the race

To get a sense of how much bodies - feet in particular - suffered, all you need to know is that the Doc Trotters medical team handed out 4,2 km of elastoplasts, 13 000 compresses and 97 litres of disinfectant. Add to that 1750 medicines against diarrhoea, 1970 ones to stop sickness, 3700 painkillers, 87 litres of perfusion, and 2400 litres of physiologic serum for a total of 4680 interventions.

Personal Email Memories

Hey Mike

Not bad for the first day - I see that the two lads who flew to Alice Springs for 5 days desert running finished a long way behind you. The management of Gladiators rang me and asked about a skinny desert running maniac for their show - I advised that we have the man.

The track is looking good.

Keep strong and don't eat too much

Gerry Thomas

Hey Famous Person!

Loved you on the Channel Nine News!

We got it up on the big screen at work for everyone to see, you sounded really professional and the shots of you running through the Botanical Gardens were funny :)

Congrats on your placing thus far, the photos posted on the website of the race are amazing!

Look forward to hearing more soon.

Take care, and don't worry, I will make some kiphler sandwiches in your absence so the office can still feel (or smell) your presence :)

Karen Houlihan


Hope you're recovering better when u read this. Thanks for keepin us updated despite the exhaustion u're goin thru. Just wanna wish u the best for the next leg n hope all turns out positive. Take care n good luck mate.

Kind regards,

Oliver Williams

Hiya Mike

Sound like a pretty tough part of the race mate, I hope you're still in one piece.
Congrats on all your efforts thus far and thanks for the updates.

You must be looking forward to the finish line and a well earned break very soon.
Keep safe buddy.

Sen Ekanayake

Mike - I think you said the fourth day was a rest day - not bad as even God had to have a rest day after a few days on the job. Make sure you enjoy yours - whenever it may be. In the meantime - keep at it - you're an inspiration to those of us who are having fish and chips tonight. Best of luck! Cheers,


Hi Mike

Many thanks for the updates mate, it all sounds very exhausting and exciting at the same time. I hope you have a little time to enjoy the surroundings and appreciate the culture. All the very best with the 75km run and I have my fingers crossed that you'll finish better than 45th place.

Have fun and ciao for now Mike.


Sen Ekanayake

Hey big fella, hope u pullin up alrite. Goodluck 4 the comin days mate.

Kind regards,

Oliver Williams

Wow Kipper King (got the spelling right today) you are a trooper!

Doing SO great with your placement! Go Mikey Go!

I was just reading your message in the cool air con of the office, sipping away at my Green Tea, imagining lying in searing temps with sand blowing all over the awful I thought, but I'm sure your secretly loving it!

And a 400m climb between two cliffs!!!??? sounds similar to a nightmare I had the other week.... Lol Anyway, enough of me hassling you.

Keep up the good work, your close to the home stretch!!! (and close to the Welcome Back Mike vegetable and fruit party we will be throwing you on your return to the office :)) Hear from you soon,

Kaz aka: the best Arup receptionist ever (even if I do say so myself)

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