Marathon Des Sables 2016 – The Last Day

Last updated: 02-Jun-17

By Alice Morrison

Another magnificent Marathon des Sables over. The 31st edition and very worthy champions have emerged. Rachid El Morabity in first place for the men, the reigning champion retakes his crown. For the women, the Russian Natalia Sedykh ran a truly brilliant race and surged ahead from the start. The team competition was almost a foregone conclusion for first place with so many of the top male runners being members of TGCC but a big shout out must go to Team I Run 4 Hope, running to raise awareness of ADHD*,  who came in second.

Watching the final stage live, the pre-eminence of the Moroccans was emphasized as the three team mates came racing through the line together. A fantastic one/two/three for El Morabity, El Mouaziz and El Akad from team TGCC. It also meant an end to the Spaniard Jose Manuel Martinez’s hopes of third place. He had made a spirited attempt at the title and ran a great series of stages lying third after the long stage. That was where he hoped to take Rachid but it was not to be. At the end he said, “The day has been hot. I tried to keep the pace with Rachid but in spite of my training, that little extra something was missing.” He ended in fourth place.

The men’s race was dominated from the start by the indomitable Rachid. Working closely with his countrymen he ran a brilliant race both in terms of physical endeavour but also in terms of tactics. Coming in as champion is both an advantage and a disadvantage as you are up there as the man to beat, but he never wavered.

The long stage was a great example, not afraid to drop back a little, he let others take a slight lead, but when it came to the final 10km he accelerated away and left the competition behind, just as he had done the year before. That fifth gear seems to come from nowhere and as you watch him through the sand, he makes it look completely effortless. He ran the last 10km at a 16km per hour pace – fire in his legs.

Plaudits are due also to Abdelkader El Mouaziz who finished in second place. A fantastic run again for him. He has been snapping at Rachid’s heels the whole way. Compatriots and competitors, running in synch for much of the 250+ route. And of course to El Akad who ran a fantastic final stage to take third place.

The women’s race provided huge excitement and entertainment throughout. Natalia Sedykh put in some stunning performances. At one point she was lying 10th overall and in fact finished as 11th overall as well as women’s champion. Her first three stages were super-strong enabling her to build up a convincing lead. The long stage was a long game of cat and mouse between her and Nathalie Mauclair of France. Nathalie opened up and came in for a very well-deserved stage finish and win.

It wasn’t enough to catch Natalia though who finishes as women’s champion. And of course we must make mention of the lovely Elisabet Barnes who was such a worthy winner last year. This year she came in fourth and ran another superb race. Hoping she will be back for 2017. Allez les filles!

Finally, on to the teams. A wide diversity of teams, as always, from the pure competitors like TGCC which included Rachid and Abdelkader to those running for charity like I Run 4 Hope which comprised some of the greats in ultra running: Marco Olmo, Carlos Sa, Jason Schlarb, Harvey Lewis and Ricardo Hernández. They turned in fine performances each day and held it together for a second place on the podium and top thirty finishes for four of the team as well as a great 8th place for Carlos Sa. They were running to raise awareness of ADHD*.

Marathon des Sables is not all about the elites, in fact it is arguably about the hundreds who take on the race from all over the world to challenge themselves and pit themselves against some of the hardest conditions on the planet.

This year, the nightmare for some started from the first stage. Very high winds combined with the long stretch of dunes at the beginning made it a hugely difficult start. The conditions cannot be underestimated. The sun is burning hot, many fall prey to stomach bugs and the terrain is not smooth and flat, it is rocky, sandy, treacherous and with a lot more climbing than you would imagine.

The heat kept up throughout the competition and of course, the long stage was bound to take its toll as the runners ran through the morning into the evening and then into the night. The desert is truly spectacular and has a tremendous wild beauty but it is cruel too, as this year’s runners discovered.

This is what they had to say:

Lucja Leonard on stage 3: “Tough mentally draining day. Most of it spent on a long flat hot salt plain and back into the dunes for more leg sapping pain. Went on for what felt like miles and miles with no breeze and it literally felt like I was cooking on the inside.”

Sarah Thornber on stage 1: “The next stage was a salt plain and much easier underfoot but the sandstorms got so bad we just had to sit down and huddle together till they passed.”

Paul Allum: “Every aspect of the race is tough; the unrelenting heat, the wind, sand/dust in everything, the course itself, disrupted sleep, no real toilets, limited water, only the food you carry to eat, cold at night, cramped shelters which collapse in the wind during the night, unable to wash.”

So, a massive congratulations from all of us at RunUltra to all of you who have finished this year’s Marathon des Sables, you join the ranks of the few. You are all Champions!

And to those who tried but didn’t quite make it this time, congratulations as well. It is the toughest footrace on earth and you had the balls to go for it. Be proud.

*ADHD, = Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder 

"The desert is truly spectacular and has a tremendous wild beauty but it is cruel too, as this year’s runners discovered"

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