Marathon des Sables 2018 round up of bravery and blisters

Last updated: 08-Mar-19

By Alice Morrison

The Marathon des Sables 2018 was a great edition. First of all, many congratulations to all you champions who did it – GREAT JOB! The yearly trial by desert fire brought some exciting racing from the elites and the mid-field and some spectacular shows of true grit.

What was that guy thinking when he elected to run in flip flops? We’ve been watching many of you through the race and across social media and hope to share some of your amazing stories.

MDS is a 6-day stage race of 250km which takes place annually in the south of the Morocco in the Sahara Desert and is self-supported. This was the 33rd edition of the event which was started in 1986 by Patrick Bauer. Discovery Channel dubbed MDS the toughest footrace on earth and it is a title that the race blazons proudly. What makes this race so intense is the hardship of running in very high temperatures across endless sand.

In the men’s event, the Moroccans have long dominated the competition and this year was no exception, with the talented and universally popular Rachid El Morabity clinching his sixth title with little brother, Mohammed in second place. Frenchman, Robert Merile, came in third – a great effort by him.

For the women, Magdalena Boulet ran a fabulous long stage which brought her to the top of the leader board, where she stayed. Bouchra Eriksen ran strongly and consistently for second and Gemma Game, stormed up the rankings to finish third which she must be delighted with.

Top men and women: Final overall results

  1. Rachid El Morabity 19:35:49
  2. Mohamed El Morabity 20:01:28
  3. Robert Merile 20:41:00
  1. Magdalena Boulet 25:11:19
  2. Bouchra Eriksen 26:36:00
  3. Gemma Game 27:00:23


Photo credit: MDS 2018.

But MDS is definitely not just about the elites, it really is the challenge of a lifetime for many.

Kevin Webber, who is suffering from terminal prostate cancer but determined to keep doing what he loves, sent this from the start. “I can’t tell you just how good it is to be back in the Sahara again. This race means so much to me, it was the only thing on my bucket list and now I have started it thrice.

As ever my tent is an eclectic mix representing England, Wales, South Africa, Holland and Germany. Just to get us ready, the Sahara threw a sand storm at us last night with tents blown down and everything covered in sand. today however has been beautiful, a relatively easy day with a short-ish 30k day 1, that said it was still hot, sandy and a bit hilly however all my tent mates finished which is the important thing.

Have already witnessed a few people not coping so I wonder how many will actually make the start line tomorrow. The organisers said that more dropped out before the start than usual so there was just under 1,000 starters. I found it harder than last year although the course is all the same (I am 53 now!) so am under no illusion that finishing is not a given but will try.” 

For BBC Newscaster, Sophie Raworth, it was a bit of a secret.


Sophie Raworth. Photo credit: MDS 2018.

“6 marathons in 5 days – 150 miles across the Sahara Desert carrying all my food and kit for the week. Was so terrified I didn’t tell anyone I was doing @marathonDsables! But I just finished it”

For our lovely RunUltra Ambassador, Susie Chan, it was a chance to revisit the place she got engaged… and it is worth mentioning that she and Sophie came in 25th and 26th women. Bravo!


Susie Chan. Photo credit: Susie Chan.

The finish line! Sore feet, sandstorms & hunger all forgotten. Really REALLY enjoyed my 4th MDS. These three made it extra special. @Raworthontherun @SpontaneousPlan & Tim D.

Rena Mutagachi from Japan had this to say: “Sahara Marathon, enjoy your heart! A reunion with a family member, a new encounter, and a few days spent in the desert, a very intense time.

The atmosphere of the Japanese tent was even more beautiful than usual, and it felt that each day became stronger. Thank you so much for your support! Really enjoyed my 6th MDS. Thanks to all and see you next year!!

Duncan Nealon sums up the amazing sense of achievement that everyone who crossed that final finish line feels: “Yessssss!! Thank you all so much for your support. That was, by some distance, the hardest thing I’ve done.

I’ll write it up properly at some point, but at this stage, suffice to say there were incredible highs and very, very dark lows. Tears, blood and I dread to think how many litres of sweat! I’ve got bruises on my shoulders and blisters under my toe nails, but I’m chuffed to bits.

Thank you to everyone who sent me messages; you’ll never know the impact they had. And most importantly of all, we’ve raised a load of money for ECFRS. Thank you to everyone who has donated. “

And some are just gluttons for punishment, like Tony Howarth:

“Marathon des Sables completed and feeling happy in my heart but very sore on my feet. Many thanks to all who have supported me and the Samaritans through your donations and messages. You are truly awesome and I love you. 

It’s not all over yet though just one left next Sunday. The greatest marathon on earth, it’s London!”

Good luck, Tony!

Marathon des Sables is a great event for the spectators too. Conditions make it well nigh impossible to go and cheer on your friends and loved ones in the desert but the live tracking (until it freezes!) and live webcam have people all over the world hooked. Messages get sent to the runners nightly and you can feel the pride as friends and family back home celebrate the runners’ success: 

Lorna Bell: “Well done to all of you, whether it was smashing through your personal bests, completing the full trail or being brave enough to sign up and take part. Such a feel good event with people across the globe…its what life is all about! So delighted to say that my wee brother was a part of this and will be coming home to Scotland as an MDS finisher  “

But who better to leave the last word to than… a cake! Lisa Vercelli came home to this!


Congratulations to her and again to all those MDS runners. If you fancy giving it a go… read through our complete guide.

"What makes this race so intense is the hardship of running in very high temperatures across endless sand"

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