In 1984 Patrick Bauer - a French concert promoter - decided to set out for an epic walk. He chose one of the harshest environments on the planet - the Sahara desert and he chose to walk 200 miles with all he would need on his back.
Under the relentless Saharan sun, Patrick had a grand idea: to create a similar experience for others. It took him two years to organise and fund the event, but in 1986 the first ‘Marathon of the Sands’ was run with 186 competitors.
Twenty-eight years later, the race attracts over 1,000 runners, 200 members of the press and a support management team of 400+.
The King of Morocco His Highness Mohammed VI, welcomes the event and the most successful competitor in history is a local legend. Lahcen Ahansal is a Moroccan runner who has won 10 titles. His brother Mohammed Ahansal has also won three titles. The brothers usually complete the race in around 19-20 hours and are a joy to watch as they spring like gazelles through the course.
To give you an idea of how a non-Saharan might fare, the fastest Brit in 2008 was Ian Sharman who came 13th overall and completed the race in 25 hours and 13 minutes. A year later, James Cracknell achieved a staggering 12th place finish over a longer and some would argue, harder course and that was with a broken bone in his foot!
Race director Patrick Bauer is passionate about individuals fulfilling their dreams and developing their potential. He personally sees all runners off at the start and moves around the checkpoints offering encouragement and advice. He is equally passionate about the multinational, multicultural nature of the MdS – there are no human barriers to entering or completing the Marathon Des Sables.
The event carves a very positive swathe through the environment it covers.
No rubbish is ever left at overnight camps or along the race course. In fact other than tracks, it is impossible to see where the camps have been set up. Competitors are penalised on points if they discard so much as a bottle top.
Villages along the path of the race are helped and supported in many ways, with donations of books, wells, water purification and agricultural tools being regularly donated. The MdS and it’s founders Patrick and Marie Bauer have set up a foundation in Ouazarzate in the south of Morocco to support the education of women and children and to encourage sports development for the disadvantaged – take a look at the Solidarite website.