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Marathon Des Sables - MDS

01-Oct-2021 Merzouga, Morocco


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Desert Race Race Terrain
250KM / 155Miles
6 Days - 1200 Runners

DIFFICULTY Race Difficulty Brutal  

The Marathon des Sables is ranked by the Discovery Channel as the toughest footrace on earth.

Known simply as the MdS, the race is a gruelling multi-stage adventure through a formidable landscape in one of the world’s most inhospitable climates - the Sahara desert. The rules require you to be self-sufficient, to carry with you on your back everything except water that you need to survive. You are given a place in a tent to sleep at night but any other equipment and food must be carried.

Started in 1986 by Patrick Bauer, the race will be in its 30th consecutive year in 2015 and continues to grow in popularity every edition. Places are much sought after, but those who do make it to the start line are richly rewarded. Under the scorching Moroccan sun, life-long friendships are fostered through a shared experience of unforgettable days spent running across saltpans, up desert-mountains, through ruined towns and through the occasional sand storm.

The Marathon des Sables is open to individuals and teams of individuals, amateur and elite runners. With runners coming from all over the world, the MdS is a truly international event that has a positive impact on the local environment and in local communities. Through the MdS foundation Solidarite, runners have raised funds to help hundreds of families through education and improve their quality of life.

Imagine yourself in the Sahara desert

with nothing but rolling sand dunes for miles around. When you plough your feet through the sand, a fine dust kicks up. You can’t feel the sweat dripping down your face because it’s evaporating in the baking heat. Your lungs feel parched. Today’s temperature is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees centigrade). Part of your brain is screaming at you to stop, right now, to drop out of the race, but the other part of your brain is stronger. The other part of your brain knows that when you complete the final stage of the Marathon des Sables, you will have run the equivalent of five and a half marathons in five or six days, a total distance of some 251 km – 156 miles*. (*Subject to the race route). Allow a total of at least 10 days for travel, preparation and tests for this race from the start date shown.

No one can deny that finishing the MdS is an incredible accomplishment. But more importantly, you will walk away with a new slant on life - that you can achieve anything you set your mind to do.

Join us for the event that defined the word ULTRAMARATHON.

You can register your interest for the next race here.

Read Mandy Davin's 2015 MDS experience here.

Read Matt Buck's 2014 review here.

Read Ian Corless' MDS article Darkness to light here.

Read about Ian Corless' Hints and Tips for MDS here.

Start reading John Bell's 2014 review here.

Are you preparing for this race?

If so, we’ve selected a few related training articles shown on the right which we thought might be helpful.

You can listen to interviews with 2015 runners here:


Event Organiser
Steve Diederich



Elevation: Very little change < 500 metres. Benign running terrain, not technical.

Suitable for: First ultra runners completing a marathon or doing regular long distance running in the last six months.


Elevation: Increase of up to 1000 metres

Suitable for: Runners who have completed at least one ultra distance race (or similar event) or are doing long distance running (>26 miles) regularly, with elevation shown.


Elevation: Increase of up to 1500 metres

Suitable for: Runners who have completed several ultra distances or similar events, or are doing long distance running regularly, with elevation shown.


Elevation: Increase of up to 2000 metres with some challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity or heat) and or technical terrain

Suitable for: Experienced runners who have completed at least regular ultra distances in last 12 months, or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races may be subject to evidence of recent qualifying race participation and recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements.


Elevation: Increase of up to 2000 metres with very challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity, heat or at high altitude) and or technical terrain.

Suitable for: Very experienced long distance ultra runners (min 3 years’ experience) or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races is often subject to evidence of recent qualifying race participation and recent medical examination certificate. Purchase of specialist kit is often recommended for these races.

Endurance - Multi-activity

Type: An ultra distance race including at least two of the following activities such as running, swimming, cycling, kayaking, skiing and climbing. It may also include different climatic conditions (eg ice, snow, humidity, cold water, mud or heat).

Suitable for: Experienced multi-skilled athletes who have trained for the different activities included in this event. Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements and any specialist equipment required such as a wetsuit, skis or a mountain bike.

Global - Virtual

Type: A virtual race which can be run at any time shown on the dates shown, on any type of terrain in any country.

Suitable for: For runners from beginners to experienced as you choose your own course and challenge based on the guidelines and options set by the virtual race organiser.

Review Marathon Des Sables - MDS

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01:21 04-03-19

Marathon De Sables

I took another sip of the ice cold Casablanca beer. This along with the selection of nuts provided had been a welcome boost to my seriously depleted sugar levels. Later we would tuck into a generous buffet of savoury delights, but for now it was time to relax in the warm Moroccan sun by the pool. The blue water was appealing, but no swimming was permitted by any runners. A quick scan of everyone's mashed up and bloody feet explained why. Earlier when the coach had drawn up outside the hotel in Ouarzazate after a long and draining journey and when the doors opened, six days of running in the Sahara desert with tired legs was forgotten for the few seconds it took to sprint into the reception of the hotel and start the check in process. Thankfully, it was quick and efficient and before long we were standing in our hotel room. It was extraordinary how the sight of a soft bed and ordinary looking shower could be so appealing. It was only now that we noticed how rank our kit was and much of it stayed outside the room on the front porch. The bathroom had a big half-length mirror and the sight I encountered was a rather scrawny, dusty and drawn looking person, but different. The pain in my left shoulder was immense and the steady flow of Paracetamol I had been taking was doing little to help. I showered (for a long time) and the sand and dust disappeared down the plug hole to remove any evidence of the past week, but there was plenty of the stuff inside my lungs which would eventually take weeks to finally disappear.

The long stage (86 kms) - I reached checkpoint 5, the sleeping checkpoint. It was just getting dark. My sugar levels were alarming low and I was feeling light headed. I needed to eat something quick if I was to survive this day. Bizarrely and for the first time in 4 days at a checkpoint, a rather unhappy looking Berber stood offering a small cardboard cup of mint tea. Under normal circumstances this would have been a revelation, a god send in fact, but the amount of liquid contained in the tiny paper cup was so small it was almost a joke. Floating in the bottom were a few tea leaves and if I could read tea leaves, I am sure the signs would not be good! I sat down on the sandy floor and stared into space. Others around did the same. Decision time, do I carry on through the night and try and finish this? Just two more checkpoints or do I choose to climb into my sleeping bag and finish this tomorrow. The temptation was so strong to just stay put and hope I would soon feel stronger. I removed my freeze dried meal from my running pack borrowed from tomorrow's ration and stirred in some luke warm water. I had no running snacks left and apart from a cereal breakfast I had eaten 12 hours ago this meal was it to sustain me for the entire 55 mile long day. I managed to force most of the 500 calorie meal down. Behind me was one of the open Berber tents. A couple of runners had their sleeping bags out and were settling in for the night. I joined them collapsing into a small gap. The three of us lined up, our sleeping bags connected. Although we were complete strangers, after spending some many nights already sharing a tiny open tent space amongst seven other runners, you quickly become accustomed to doing such things very quickly. But, it was no good, after 5 minutes I was up. I needed to carry on. I know now this was the right decision for me. Just two more checkpoints to pass through and then back to camp. I stumbled on and caught sight of a small desert mouse with enormous eyes staring up at me and looking pretty bemused by the disshivered looking runner passing by. Finally I made it to the next check point and collapsed on the sandy mat laid out. The wind had picked up and I was shivering in the cold air. I lay there motionless and must have drifted off to sleep for a few minutes but awoke with a start when another runner nearly collapsed on top of me. Come on I told myself just one more checkpoint and then the home straight. I was not giving in now. On I went and finally after nearly 16 hours of running, walking and sometimes crawling I could see the lights from the final checkpoint and camp. A chance to finally get in my sleeping bag and rest. The lights appeared so close, but took forever to arrive. Eventually they did. I was greeted by one lonely French race official who had obviously drawn the short straw and had to sit through the night waiting for the many bug eyed runners to appear out of the desert. I collected my water ration and poo bags and found most of my camp mates in tent 107 already settled down and squeezed into to the tiny remaining gap for some much needed rest.

Day 1
I was finally on the start line of a race I had dreamt about for so long. The research alone had been draining, nearly as much as the physical training but here I was, in one piece and ready for the adventure of a lifetime. The temperature was already climbing at an alarming rate. My backpack felt heavy and awkward on my shoulders although I was pleased with my weigh in total of 7.5 kgs plus water. Flags from around the world fluttered in the little breeze that existed. Nearly 1,200 other runners stood by, here for so many reasons, some very personal and often as a result of sad circumstances and others, elite in their field, but today, we all stood together. I looked at the many faces and expressions and despite the very different abilities between us; I saw the same nervous looks on their faces. All of us coming to terms with the harsh reality of what lay ahead and now famously known as the "toughest foot race in the world"

The finish
After 6 days of running and stumbling through extreme heat, hot sands dunes and climbing high Jebels of the Sahara desert, I had finished. Now I look back, I had achieved and experienced something that I had never felt or done before. My entire outlook on life had at that very moment from this experience changed me from the person I was. In many ways, but most notably I was mentally stronger, capable of achieving things that I would have not attempted before. Yes, I had lost a lot of weight, I was unsteady on my feet for some time to come and had every ache and pain possible, but I felt very different. I had completed the Marathon De Sables along with many other runners from around the world who I am sure felt very similar and stronger. My tent mates helped me considerably and I thank them in completing this journey as did the excellent advice and training I received leading up to the race. But I ran it and I conquered it alone.

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11:03 28-05-17

I did the MdS in 2016 and it was without a doubt one of the best weeks of my life. I came back, battered , bruised and blistered vowing never to do it again. That lasted 48 hours and I'm doing it again in 2018. The whole organisation was fantastic, the camaraderie out of this World, there was never a them and us with the elites and us none elite runners. The scenery will never be forgotten, it was a brutal desolate place but at the same time stunningly beautiful. I will never forget being by myself in the middle of the Sahara through the night of the long stage, and you look up and take in the billions of stars of the Milky Way. It was a fantastic few hours that I think about almost every day. Few things in life can truly be described as life changing, the MdS 2016 was one of those moments for me. I'm sure there will be seasoned Ultra runners out there that will say "this event is tougher or that event is tougher" but for searing temperatures, sand by the kilometre day after day, the stunning but brutal Merzouga Dunes and the iconic Jebel El Otfal , for me the MdS will always be the "Toughest foot race in the World" It challenges not only your physical ability, it plays with your emotions and if you aren't well prepared it will chew you up. The organisation is outstanding both from the British end of things and once you are out in Morocco, All you have to do is turn up, run , eat , rest, sleep , repeat. And for get all about the modern world for 7 precious days.

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11:18 26-05-17

I completed the MDS in 2012 (after waiting for a number of years!) but I have to say I still toy with the idea of doing it again! I can only repeat what all the other reviews say and add that if you only EVER do one multi day/desert race then this is the one to do! I know it may not be the 'toughest footrace on earth' now (though I am convinced it was when it was first conceived), but it is certainly not easy, though the camaraderie from all nations, the scenery, and of course the incredible achievement when done is immeasurable. The one caveat I would add, and it may be obvious, but it is not just the running/tabbing/walking/crawling involved - you can train beforehand all you like, but everything matters in such a brutal and unforgiving race. My 'learning' experience relates to the long day, as there was a sand storm which meant no fires/burners to heat water for the dried food, so I simply followed what a mate did, and used cold water to rehydrate my food, with disastrous results about an hour or so later, when I vomited several times and had to rest for a few hours as I felt so rough/dehydrated (at the only checkpoint with tents!). I lost quite a few places as a result, and whilst I did finish, I know I could have done much better. That said, I look back at the MDS with great fondness and would love to do it again!

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10:42 20-05-16


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10:20 27-04-16

The whole thing was epic and amazing, I would go back like a shot and if anyone has any inkling they might like to do it - don't hesitate. It was fabulous. No, I didn't get blisters, well, just one or two tiny ones. Yes, you do crave salty foods and pepperami and dry roasted peanuts are my new favourite things. The dunes are unreal, but weirdly not as hard to run on as you might think. I had to walk big chunks of it as the heat was fairly oppressive - I think up to high 40s.The only trouble is I'm finally getting back to 'normality' now and feeling utterly lost without a pack on my back and my big sandy tent in the desert!

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10:08 13-01-16

Well, I took part in the MDS in 2014. The race everybody has heard about, whether a runner or not. The 'mid-life crisis' event. The race that so many people wanted to participate in, but due to life circumstances, had never dared. The race that was so much bigger than me and anything i had completed beforehand. After what had turned out to be a hard few years personally, the MDS was a goal and dream beyond my normal physical capabilities. For me, it was about finishing the event - about getting to the end and feeling I could achieve something beyond normal life. It is a very big deal, the MDS. I cried every day, thinking I would never get to the end of that stage. I watched my blisters bleed and took the tramadol to keep running on them. I lost my appetite on day three and struggled to cook, nevermind eat, another expedition food dehydrated meal. I didn't even want to go and collect my allocated can of coke, I was so tired. My tent mates, full of energy every day, would watch my wobble in a few hours after they had finished, and be relieved we still had a complete tent at the finish of each day. I giggled hysterically throughout the night of the long stage - ? Nerves or hypoglycaemic hysteria ?. My rucksack, I swear, got heavier throughout the week, instead of lighter. But....completing this event ....awesome. Its one of my proudest achievements in life. Everyone I know, they are still so proud too. So...unforgettable, monumental, ...for me, a turning point in life. Honestly, it meant that much.

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10:22 04-06-15

The scenery in the Sahara blew me away - I usually head for the mountains and wasn't expecting the desert terrain to be as varied and so stunning. Day Two in 2013 had 1000m of ascent and the views from the high ridges brought tears to my eyes .. and yes, some of those tears may have been due to the pain, but since the MDS is billed as the toughest footrace on earth we'd be disappointed if it didn't challenge us to our core .. and besides, pain is only excitable nerve endings :)

So .. the wild and beautiful landscape, the unforgettable camaraderie and the deep sense of personal achievement are what made this such a life affirming event for me .. so much so that I went back in 2014 & 2015 as a volunteer. Beware - the MDS is addictive!

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01:22 27-04-15

Fantastic Once-in-a-lifetime race. Get your feet ready, heat train, and bring a nice selection of food and you'll be good to go! :-)

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09:35 18-04-15

First time doing the MdS in 2015 so was unsure of what to expect. On arrival at camp it was dark so my intended tent plans went out the window but ended up with 7 superb guys by accident, their banter and support made a big difference to the whole experience. The pre race admin could be better organised to be honest, all it needs is a few small changes to the present systems and proper signage for queues.
The race itself was very demanding, brutal at times but somehow painfully fantastic, especially day 2 with those lovely mountains!! and day 4/5 which seemed never ending at times.

The support teams and doctors were superb in every way, thank you to all of you for your efforts.

Post race: At the end of the last timed stage the centralised feeding kitchen should be opened for competitors, there's no reason for this not to happen. A bit chaotic with the bags and hotels, unfortunately i got split from my tent mates and ended up in the Hanane Hotel which was substandard compared to the Berber Palace. The queue for the MdS T shirt was so unnecessary when it could have been given out at the same time as the UNICEF one, size issues with the shirts could also have been avoided by asking for samples before putting in the main order.

Over all, the MdS was a wonderful experience and would recommend this event. One things for sure, ......i'm the only one with one of those medals in my town :)

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06:03 18-04-15

First go at a multi-stage/self sufficient race. I'm not a camper by any means. But I loved it all! Perhaps not the queuing. But organisation of the race/checkpoints/moving the bivouac was tremendous. And the course was beautiful. I most enjoyed day 2 with the more technical sections. Lots I'd change in my own race and what was meant to be a once in a lifetime, tick it off the bucket list, is now a "when can I go back?!" Loved it. Tough. Brutal. Doable. Amazing.

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