The Long Stage of the Marathon des Sables is the big test of the race and often the one where it is won or lost. 86.2km across the sands, taking in some of the best scenery that the desert has to offer: jebels, dunes, salt flats and rolling sands.
This is also the day where the elites (the top 50) start three hours after the rest of the pack, and run through so that all the competitors will have a chance to see these great athletes taking on the race and cheer them on.
When the leaders pass, it is always a great moment that lifts the heart and puts courage into the legs.
David, bib 57, from Australia, summed it up for many: “I’ve been really looking forward to this day, I think it is going to be something that challenges all of us.”
The first day of Stage Four, unsurprisingly was long and hot. A wind sprang up, just to give some extra desert grit for the runners to overcome.
The cut off for this stage is 35 hours which gives rise to a number of different strategies: some run/walk it straight through; some take a break during the night and rest up at one of the checkpoints. The benefits of going straight through, of course, is longer rest time at camp, but that has to be balanced against exhaustion and pulpy feet.
The Live Tracker was playing up again, leading to angst from friends and supporters at home, who are watching their runners and willing them on from afar.
The Live Webcam at the end is always addictive, from the first form glimmering through the darkness and running through, to those brave souls who trickle in during the night, to waking up the next day to watch runners coming in to bright Sahara sunlight, it is definitely worth a watch.
Magdalena Boulet put in a fantastic performance to win the long stage nearly an hour ahead of Bouchra Erkisen who was the second-placed. A really bravo run and kudos to her.
Natalia Sedykh, who has led until this point, had a harder day and dropped down with a time of 10:29:58. A great day for Brit, Gemma Game too, who came in third.
For the men – no surprises for the top two: Rachid and Mohammed. Robert Merile of France covered himself in glory with a push that gave him third place with 8:43:45.
Top men and women stage
- Rachid El Morabity 08:12:05
- Mohamed El Morabity 08:33:52
- Robert Merile 8:43:35
- Magdalena Boulet 10:29:58
- Bouchra Eriksen 11:22:36
- Gemma Game 11:29:00
That gives us our top three men and women overall at this stage. There is still the marathon stage to go on Friday.
And, of course, at time of publishing, some runners are still out there battling their way through this long and magnificent double marathon stage. Good luck to all of them and well done to all those who have succeeded this far!