MERZOUGA, Morocco – Under a hot desert sun and with the desolation of the Sahara all around, about 1,000 competitors from 50 countries took part in this year’s Marathon des Sables, or Marathon of the Sands.
The 33rd edition of the annual race, considered to be one of the most demanding ultramarathons in the world, finished Saturday after six grueling days and about 250 kilometers (150 miles).
Defending champion Rachid El Morabity of Morocco won his sixth title in what is known as “Toughest foot race on Earth,” while Magdalena Boulet of the United States won the women’s event.
The race takes runners and walkers through intense heat, steep climbs, sand dunes and rocky mountains.
After extensive training and suitable medical preparations, the competitors start under the watchful eyes of local officials. The rules require that everyone be self-sufficient. They carry everything they need to survive – except water – on their backs. During some stages, competitors walked all night as they tried to reach the next checkpoint on time.
For some, the marathon provided moments of solitary splendor in the stunning desert scenery. But for the less fortunate ones, the conditions were just a little too inhospitable – with some having to pull out despite receiving specialized and immediate medical attention.
In the end, 95 percent of the starters made it to the finishing line, with emotions getting the best of them.