Morocco’s Challenging Sand Marathon

For most tourists the lure of Morocco centers around its mystical beauty, an oasis in the middle of the desert, breathtaking views of the Sahara Desert and the experience of meeting ancient tribes. But for a handful of enthusiastic runners, Morocco’s lure comes in the form of one of the world’s most gruelling, exhausting and most challenging tests of endurance, the Sand Marathon, or Marathon des Sables. For everyday people, running through the Sahara Desert would sound like a suicide mission, but for these courageous runners it is a life changing experience.

Frenchman Patrick Bauer founded the Sand Marathon in 1986 and the first race only had twenty three entries. It grew into such a popular event, that entry numbers have soared to approximately six hundred and sixty entries each year, of which most runners complete the marathon. In its twenty one years of existence the race has only had two fatalities and with it gearing up for its twenty second marathon in 2008, Morocco expects to see many more runners flocking to Ouarzazate to compete.

The Marathon des Sables is definitely not for the weak and faint at heart. The temperature during the March to April period in Morocco, which is when the race is usually held, is known to rise to between 38 and 40 degrees Celsius. The terrain is quite diverse, ranging from soft desert sands, to rocky stretches, amongst the dunes of the Sahara. The race covers a distance of two hundred and forty kilometres and is run over a seven day period. Considering that most marathons range between 25 to 50 kilometres in distance, there really isn’t a fitting word to describe the Marathon des Sables.

Participants run throughout the day and sleep in tents at the various check points. Runners are also required to carry their own emergency equipment, clothing and other essentials in a backpack, while they run. Nine litres of water is supplied to each runner everyday and organisers take care of the sleeping arrangements. Each race usually has about a hundred vehicles following the runners, with forty medical staff members on hand and enough desert tents to house the exhausted participants at night.

Between fighting the pain that seeps through their bodies, distinguishing between reality and hallucinations and remaining focussed on the job ahead, the runners will be able to enjoy the true magnificence of the desert. Those who have the time to enjoy the scenery will view the changing colours of the sand and the glistening of the dunes, as the sun bounces off the endless stretches of desert. But most runners buy a postcard on the way out, as none really get the opportunity to actually enjoy their surroundings. For those with an iron will, unwavering determination and who are extremely fit, the Sand Marathon in Morocco is the ideal challenge, a battle of strength between humans and nature.