One man. Twelve days in the desert. His vision. The MdS’s status as a legend among ultras didn’t just ‘happen’. It grew from one man’s dream of a race that would inspire others to fulfil their potential, yet leave no trace on its environment. That would benefit local people and the communities along its route.
That man was a 28-year-old French man called Patrick Bauer. And the story begins in 1984, when he set out on an epic walk with all he needed to be self-sufficient – covering 200 miles, in 12 days, across the Sahara desert.
Patrick returned with the desire to create a similar experience for others, and in 1986 the first ‘Marathon of the Sands’ was run with just 23 competitors*. Fast forward three decades and today MdS attracts an international field of 1,000 runners, 200 journalists and a support management team of 400-plus.
Race – and personal – records are set and broken, though not only by humans. In 2019, ‘Cactus’ the dog (real name, Diggedy) joined on the third stage and travelled 192 kms with the competitors. He was returned to his owner later – with his medal, of course.
Ethos and Ethics
But some things don’t change. Patrick Bauer remains passionate about the mix of nationality, culture and ability that makes the MdS so special, with no barriers to entry. He still personally sees each runner off at the start, and offers encouragement and advice at checkpoints.
Support provided for villages en route includes books, tools (for water purification and farming) and wells. The MdS’s own charitable foundation Solidarite Marathon des Sables supports the education of women and children and encourages sports development for disadvantaged communities.
No rubbish is ever left at camps or along the course. Those who discard even a bottle top will lose points if they do.