Sahara marathon

What do long distance runners do when they want a real challenge? Run 251km across the Sahara Desert, of course.

Sahara Marathon
Kaisove / CC BY-SA

I’ve run exactly one half-marathon, and that was a pretty good challenge for me. A full marathon – just over 42km – is tough on the body and the mind. For some people, though, it’s apparently not hard enough. There are a whole range of ultramarathons that push runners to their limits, and one of the toughest has to be the Marathon of the Sands, also known as the Sahara Marathon.

Here are the rules: it lasts for six days, and runners face the equivalent of a marathon or more each day. The longest leg is an eye-watering 91km long – in the 2009 route, anyway. Water is supplied, but each runner has to carry their own food, sleeping gear, and any other equipment that they need. (Nipple tape! So much nipple tape.) Oh yeah, and they are running in the Sahara Desert.

The Sahara Marathon has been held in southern Morocco for thirty-five years and has more than a thousand competitors each year. Apparently they go through 162,000 litres of water and 6.5km of sticking plasters (band-aids, in other words), which should give you an idea of how gruelling this ultramarathon is. The real heroes of this race are the three Moroccan runners Rachid El Morabity, Mohamad Ahansal, and Mohamad’s brother Lahcen Ahansal. Between them, these three have won all but one of the last twenty-two races.

You can see footage of the 2016 race below, or wait until September this year for the 2020 race (it has been postponed due to the coronavirus).

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