The 28th Marathon des Sables kicked off Sunday morning in the Moroccan Sahara. As in past years, we’ll offer results and commentary – including updates from the field – for each stage. Over a thousand competitors left the start line to take part in the 2013 MdS. For those unfamiliar with the race, it’s a seven-day, six-stage race (only the first five stages count toward the rankings this year) in which competitors carry all their own supplies except for a daily water ration and a shade tent to sleep under … which they with seven other competitors. For more about the race in general and this year’s race in particular, check out our 2013 Marathon des Sables preview, which includes links to video interviews with four of the top men’s competitors.
Below is our stage-by-stage coverage of the race. Click on the links below to jump to our coverage of a particular stage.
If you’re generally interested in learning about the Marathon des Sables, we’ve previously collected Marathon des Sables tips, training advice, and a personal account of the 2009 MdS.
You can also look to Facebook and Twitter to find supplementary iRunFar information not found on iRunFar.com. With that in mind you may want to consider liking of iRunFar on Facebook as well as following iRunFar on Twitter.
Stage 5: Jebel el Mraïer/Merdani: 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles)
Well, we have the 2013 Marathon des Sables champions. Neither Mohamad Ahansal nor Meghan Hicks won today’s stage. However, neither needed to and their conservative final stage runs wrapped up their overall wins at the 28th MdS.
Women – Stage 5
While she had little chance of making up her overall deficit of more than an hour, the UK’s Joanna Meek (4:14:34) decided to win the final substantive stage of this year’s Marathon des Sables and that she did. Meek won the stage by more than 12 minutes. American Meghan Hicks (+12 mins) was the next woman to cross the line. When she did, she became the women’s champion of the 28th Marathon des Sables with nearly an hour cumulative victory. The Brits continued their strong showing on this year’s MdS as Amelia Watts (+26 mins) and Zoe Salt (+27 mins) took third and fourth on the day. Edith Doyen (+30 mins) of France rounded out the women’s top five.
At the moment, it’s clear that Hicks, Meek, Salt – in that order – make up this year’s women’s MdS podium. Sada Crawford, who went into the final stage in fourth hasn’t yet crossed the finish today. However, we suspect that New Zealand’s Sophie Grant (sixth today) and Amelia Watts will end up in fourth and fifth overall.
Men – Stage 5
After a rough go at the long stage, Aziz El Akad bounced back to win the marathon stage by eight minutes over last year’s champ, Salameh Al Aqra. Mohamad Ahansal took third, 11 minutes behind Al Akad, and just 43 seconds ahead of Miguel Capo Soler of Spain. In a race for fifth, Antonio Filippo Salaris edged out the UK’s Danny Kendall and Samir Akhdar by less than a minute.
Both Ahansal and Al Aqra maintained the first and second overall positions they held going into the long stage, but there was movement in the rankings behind them. With his strong run on the day, Spain’s Capo Soler overtook Italy’s Salaris to take the final podium spot, while the Italian finished fourth overall. Catapulted by his win of the final stage, El Akad passed Lhoucine Akhdar to finish fifth for the combined race.
Mark Gillett’s Report From the Field
This years MdS was as unique as any. I suppose the only constant is the toughness. There were new faces, returning faces, young faces, and old faces. There were race winners and life winners and those who did not make the end. But without doubt everyone will go home with an experience of a lifetime.
Covering the MdS has always been a real pleasure for me. Not because of the race but more for what the desert throws up at us. It strips us back to the raw. Show us who we really are. It then asks us to live it in a way no other environment I have visited has ever achieved. This bit I still cannot explain but if you ever have the privilege to spend time with bedouin, you will find no truer human beings.
I have traveled to deserts for 30 years now. Made private expeditions, taken children across the Sinai, many people to the Middle East, and run the MDS as well as returned for the last seven years to photograph it. It never disappoints.
This years emotional highs and lows for the runners were many. Day three was one of the toughest I have seen. The long day was brutally hot. The changes of the final stage messed with many in their heads. And the witnessing of a blind man, Didier Benguigui, refuse the abandon orders of the organisation and carry on walking to the finish put everything into perspective.
I have to also mention the win for Meghan Hicks of iRunFar who I saw on a daily basis. She never looked out of control, never seemed in doubt of her abilities and raced like a true champion.
But the MdS is not about the race for everyone. There are many who just wish to finish and for them it is just as important. The challenge is just as huge no matter the reason and in seven years I have never seen any consistency in reasons to run the MDS… So if you are just after a buzz, having a midlife crisis, lost someone close to you, reached all your challenges in life so far, or just because… All are great reasons to go and see what the desert can give you. And there is no better place than the MdS.
Additional Information – Stage 5
- The “Roadbook” for Stage 5 (course map and directions)
- Official Stage 5 Update
- Stage 5 Photos
- Meghan Hicks’ How I Won the Marathon des Sables – Runner’s World
Stage 4: Taourirt Mouchanne/Jebel el Mraïer: 75.7 kilometers (47 miles)
Women – Stage 4
Well, early indications appear to be correct as the night progresses in Morocco (and the States). In a stunning turn of events, two-time reigning women’s champ, Laurence Klein, appears to have halted her progress at the fourth of six intermediate checkpoints today. Update: Klein has officially withdrawn from the race. We hope she is in good health.
On the other hand, Meghan Hicks took a mere 8 hours and 45 minutes to cover the stage’s 47 miles today. Only two other women, British runners Joanna Meek and Zoe Salt, managed to break 10 hours on the day, and both did by fewer than ten minutes. American Sada Crawford finished fourth on the long stage an hour and a half behind Hicks. New Zealand’s Sophie Grant rounded out the day’s top five almost exactly two hours behind Hicks.
Heading into Friday’s final ranking stage, a true marathon-distance run, Hicks has an hour and 11 minute combined lead over Meek. While today’s stage shows that anything can happen at MdS, it appears that Hicks’ lead gives her the option of running a conservative final stage or marking Meek’s effort to wrap up the win. On the other hand, Meek has a 50 minute buffer on third-place woman Salt, so she has a bit of wiggle room if she decides to be aggressive in the final stage. The only real race among the women’s overall top five is for fourth, where Crawford has a seven and a half minute lead over Grant. There might be some racing left after all.
Women’s Overall Rankings through Stage 4 (all women with 5 hours of lead):
- Meghan Hicks (USA) 20:15:07
- Joanna Meek (Great Britain) +1 hour and 11 minutes
- Zoe Salt (Great Britain) +2 hours and 6 minutes
- Sada Crawford (USA) 3 hours and 39 minutes
- Sophie Grant (New Zealand) +3 hours and 47 minutes
- Amelia Watts (Great Britain) + 4 hours and 26 minutes
- Janet Ng (China) +4 hours and 51 minutes
Men – Stage 4
What can we say other than Mohamad Ahansal (6:54:47) knows what he’s doing out there at MdS. After settling for third in Stage 3, Ahansal won the long stage by almost 20 minutes; thereby, almost assuredly securing his fifth MdS overall title. On the other hand, it appears that Aziz El Akad’s (+1:34:47) win in Stage 3 was either too much or too little for the Moroccan. After starting the day in second overall, El Akad took tenth on the day, finishing an hour and a half behind Ahansal, dropping him to seventh overall.
Last year’s champ, Salameh Al Aqra (+19:08) of Jordan, ran a strong second on the day 19 minutes back of Ahansal. Like Ahansal, Al Aqra’s overall position – second – is a near lock at this point. Antonio Filippo Salaris (+34:58) was the top European in the long stage with a third place finish. Salaris jumps up from fifth to third in the overall rankings on the strength of his long effort. Miguel Capo Soler (+51:02) and Christophe Le Saux (+55:56) were the only other runners to finish the long stage within an hour of the winner.
Men’s Overall Rankings through Stage 4:
- Mohamad Ahansal (Morocco) – 15:29:54
- Salameh Al Aqra (Jordan) +44:47
- Antonio Filippo Salaris (Italy) +1:06:58
- Miguel Capo Soler (Spain) +1:19:13
- Lhoucine Akhdar (Morocco) +1:37:05
- Aziz El Akad (Morocco) +1:48:32
- Carlos Sa (Portugal) +1:56:27
- Samir Akhdar (Morocco) +2:11:28
- Christophe La Saux (France) +2:12:56
- Danny Kendall (UK) +2:29:49
[Editor’s Notes: (1) At the time of this update, the general rankings have Canada’s Marc Duplain in sixth overall after Stage 4. We believe this to be incorrect and to reflect only Duplain’s cumulative time in his first three stages. (2) It’s worth noting that there’s more than an hour’s gap in cumulative time between tenth and eleventh overall for the men.]
Meghan Hicks’s Stage 4 Update
It’s 4 pm on the second day of the 75.2k long stage. The 34-hour cutoff approaches, and the last competitors are struggling for the finish. It’s hot and it was hot yesterday. A race administration thermometer registered 53 Celsius in the afternoon yesterday. I don’t know what that converts to in Fahrenheit [Editor’s Note: It’s 127.4F.], but I know in real life this means effing baking. Yesterday’s course was all about sand; probably 60k of the route was some sort of sandy surface. My calves are tired today. ;) The competitive side of the race finished up last evening and those competitors have had a day of rest in camp.
It looks like Mohamad Ahansal is just one marathon away from securing his fifth win at the MdS. He dominated the long stage, finishing in 6:54 and some 17 minutes ahead of last year’s champion Salameh Al Aqra. This gives him a 44-ish minute overall lead over Salameh. I asked Mohamad if he’s excited about his impending victory and his response was tempered and cautious, “One more stage, no mistakes, no risks.” He’s always a student of the race. The rest of the men’s top 5 were Euros Salaris, Capo-Soler, and Christophe Le Saux.
And in the women’s race, things took a turn for the interesting and unexpected. And one that makes my reporting of it a little awkward. ;) Overall women’s leader Laurence Klein took the long stage out hard. So hard that she was more than 20 minutes ahead of Joanna Meek and I, who were running roughly together, about 18k into the race. She spiraled into a dangerous overheating situation at about 22k and was forced to walk to the next water/safety checkpoint. Joanna and I overtook her at this point, made sure she was safe, and summoned medical assistance for her at Checkpoint 2 before continuing on. Laurence reportedly revived herself some time later and continued on until she lapsed again and was forced to drop from the race. She is a fantastic person and athlete and I wish her speedy recovery.
Joanna and I ran roughly together until approximately 35k where I gapped her in some sand dunes and never saw her again. I ran with caution until the heat of the day abated and then pushed my pace to the finish, finishing in 8:45-ish. Joanna finished roughly an hour and seven minutes after me, giving me a 1:11 cushion over overall second place in the race. Zoe Salt, Sada Crawford, and Sophie Grant rounded out the women’s top 5 in stage 4.
Now, just one more stage, an honest marathon, separate competitors from the competitive finish of the 2013 MdS and overall leaders Mohamad Ahansal and I from a successful race. I’ll next report from the finish, technology allowing! Hurrah!
Friend in the Field Update – Stage 4
A friend in the field reports:
The toughest stage has proven to be Meghan Hicks best with an incredibly strong performance. Meghan took first place form Lawrence Klein who, after reaching CP4, abandoned the race.
Stage 4 has so far been the hottest stage of the race with temperatures now reaching the legendary fifties. A recorded 52 degrees Celsius [126F] was noted and on the second day it seems it is at least that for the runners who have taken two days to complete… by 10 am it has reach the high forties.
This years race really is a good one to be a part of. The men’s has been equally interesting with Mohamad Ahansal gaining a big lead over Aziz El Akad in the final 30 km’s. El Akad basically blew out and lost his lead from CP4 and then dropped 10 places on the stage.
Additional Information – Stage 4
Stage 3: Jebel El Otfal/Jebel Mouchanne: 38 Km (23.6 miles)
More than a thousand runners took off from the start of Stage 3 on a 38k jebel-to-jebel (think of a jebel as a rocky hill or, perhaps, a crag) run across the Moroccan Sahara. The day’s stage is, of course, a challenge in its own right, but it must have been all the more daunting knowing that Stage 4 and its 75.7 kilometers (47 miles) looms ahead of them tomorrow. Midday temperatures crept up a bit from yesterday, hitting 36C/97F by midday.
Men – Stage 3
After looking invincible through the first two stages, Mohamad Anhansal (+5:04) was relegated to third place in Stage 3. Of course, Ahansal is a wily veteran and could simply have been going through the motions today knowing he still has a lead and merely needs to mark any moves over the final two ranking stages. On the other hand, Aziz El Akad (3:00:17) knew he would have to attach Ahansal to move up in the field. In Stage 3, he did just that, taking the win by three and a half minutes over last year’s champ Salameh Al Aqra (+3:28), who continues to improve after his injurious first stage. Samir Akhdar (+7:30) improved upon his sixth place finish in each of the first two stages by taking fourth today. For the second straight stage, Spain’s Miguel Capo Soler (+9:06) slipped on spot to take fifth as the final person to finish the stage within ten minutes of stage-winner El Akad.
Men’s Overall Rankings through Stage 3:
- Mohamad Ahansal (Morocco) – 8:35:06
- Aziz El Akad (Morocco) +13:45
- Salameh Al Aqra (Jordan) +25:39
- Miguel Capo Soler (Spain) +28:11
- Antonio Filippo Salaris (Italy) +32:00
- Lhoucine Akhdar (Morocco) +35:13
- Samir Akhdar (Morocco) +36:42
- Carlos Sa (Portugal) +50:28
- Vincent Delebarre (France) +1:00:52
- Danny Kendall (Great Britain) +1:07:21
Women – Stage 3
Laurence Klein continues her domination of the MdS women’s field as she has done in past years. In Stage 3, she was top woman by seven minutes with no pressure to run faster. Meghan Hicks, the second overall female, must have felt some pressure as third place overall woman Joanna Meek finished only 25 seconds behind her on the stage. This sets up a fantastic battle between Hicks and Meek during tomorrow’s long stage as Hicks has just a four minute overall lead on Meek!
Zoe Salt continued her string of fourth place finishes, today finishing 26 minutes off the lead. Sada Crawford again took fifth for the stage, three and a half minutes behind Salt.
Women’s Overall Rankings through Stage 3 (all women with 2.5 hours of lead):
- Laurence Klein (France)
- Meghan Hicks (USA) – +24 minutes
- Joanna Meek (Great Britain) – +28 minutes
- Zoe Salt (Great Britain) – +1 hour and 21 minutes
- Amelia Watts (Great Britain) – + 2 hours and 4 minutes
- Shiaw Hwa Janet Ng (China) – +2 hours and 11 minutes
- Sophie Grant (New Zealand) – +2 hours and 11 minutes
Meghan Hicks’ Update – Stage 3
Oh boy, oh girl! What a day! It’s still 100F as I type in the late afternoon. I just checked the thermometer,and I wonder what today’s high was? My guess, 107, 110 possibly? The humidity was a little higher, too, which made things feel hotter.
Today’s stage was significantly more runnable than yesterday’s. Dried lake beds, flat and hard-packed sand, and rocky flats made up the bulk of the day. Those flats were punctuated by two stiff ascents and descents of jebels along with a three-mile ridgeline run that was my favorite part of the course so far.
This message will be brief as I am working on my recovery in anticipation of tomorrow’s 48-mile long stage. The mood here in camp is tempered in part by growing fatigue and caloric deprivation and tomorrow’s very long run.
In the women’s race, Laurence Klein led from line to line. I finished second and Joanna Meek third and roughly six minutes behind Laurence. Joanna and I had something of a race, in that I caught her about six kilometers from the finish and she didn’t want to be passed. With a modest kick in the last half mile (after she declined my offer of a tie finish), I finished about twenty seconds ahead of her. No worries, though, I was running with care today so that I would be ready for tomorrow’s long stage. :) Zoe Hart and Sada Crawford rounded out the top five.
Morocco’s Aziz El Akad won the men’s race. He finished looking haggard, though, according to witnesses. Salameh Al Aqra finished second and three minutes back. He told me that his right hamstring still bothers him today. In third was Mohamad Ahansal another two minutes back. He smiled but told me he was tired today. Samir Akhdar and Capo-Soler finished fourth and fifth both reportedly looking like they’d had a jog in a park.
And now we turn our attention to the long stage, where often finishing places are solidified and races are either made or broken. Me? I’m giving tomorrow my damnedest. Send all of us Sahara runners your most positive vibes. My next report will be on Thursday, the second day of the long stage. Tomorrow night I will be running into the night.
Friend In The Field Update – Stage 3
A friend in the field reports:
Meghan started today looking strong and the course was a bit of a relief after the three big climbs on Stage 2, yesterday. The course was a flat start with Meghan starting well.
The rest of the competitors outside those who are competing hard for the top places were also relieved but as usual the MdS throws up a “wonga” every now and then. There was another steep climb to a ridge that provided great views of the course, but also was extremely punishing. A very long and sandy incline meant for a string of very tired competitors.
Pushing through to [Checkpoint] 2 after the ridge they were face with a long salt flat to [Checkpoint] 3 where the heat suddenly turned up to its hottest yet reaching well over 38 degrees [C/100F].
Additional Information – Stage 3
Stage 2: Oued Tijekht/Jebel El Otfal: 30.7 Km (19.1 miles)
With runners continuing to face only moderate heat (93F/34C at noon), the course itself is there biggest challenge. In Stage 2, that meant facing a steep jebel (25%) in the stage’s final kilometers. Making the climb more difficult is the wall of sand blown against the jebel by the desert wind. Today, races also faced two short dunes sections of one kilometer each and long stretches across trackless rocky terrain.
Women – Stage 2
Laurence Klein continued her dominant MdS running, again finishing first on the day. She only finished four minutes ahead of Hicks, but is likely running with relaxed confidence. On the other hand, Meghan Hicks is aiming to move up in the field. She finished second woman on the day (26th overall, only three places behind Klein) more than ten minutes ahead of the UK’s Joanna Meek. That’s enough of a gap to move Hicks into second overall by three and a half minutes ahead of Meek. As in Stage 1, Zoe Salt of New Zealand finished fourth, so she keeps her spot in the overall rankings. Salt finished only a few seconds ahead of the US’s Sada Crawford, who was 18th woman in the first stage.
Men – Stage 2
As with Laurence, Mohamad Ahansal repeated his stage victory in Stage 2. After that… things are far less settled. To start, last year’s champ, Salameh Al Aqra recovered from his first stage leg injury to place second on the stage. Aziz El Akad improved upon his fifth place in Stage 1 to third in Stage 2 just less than a minute behind Al Aqra and only five behind Ahansal. Miguel Capo Soler slipped one spot in Stage 2 in taking fourth, 15 minutes off the stage win. Antonio Filippo Salaris went from third on Day 1 to fifth on Day 2, after perhaps giving too much in the first stage. Samir Akhdar earned another sixth place finish in this year’s race, while his brother Lhoucine slipped from fourth to seventh from Stage 1 to the next.
With the topsy-turvy men’s race, Ahansal has already built an almost 19 minute lead on his nearest competitive for the overall title. With 18 finishes and four wins, his experience makes his lead all the more valuable. He is clearly in the driver’s seat. After that, six runners are within 15 and a half minutes of one another, meaning anything can happen!
Meghan Hicks’ Update – Stage 2
Another day, another run in the Sahara!
If yesterday was the day of sand dunes, then today was the day of mountains. Today’s 30.2k stage contained three mountain crossings with climbs of 1,000 to 1,500 vertical feet each, one containing a knife-edge ridge walk and another with a 1,000-foot sand dune to ascend. That may not sound like much, but when you’re carrying a 15-or-more-pound pack and you’re contending with temperatures over 100F and a relative humidity of less than 10%, then such climbing hurts. I can assure you this.
But when you rise above the rest of the desert, you rise into stunning views. I wish all of you were with me to see this place. Beauty here is found in the starkness, the absence of things to clutter the view and your mind. In our cluttered and busy-fied world, I welcome the void.
I guess you’re here to hear about the race, right? It was a Mohamad Ahansal day. He took the stage win in a blazing 2:44. He told me after his finish, “I am very happy. I feel good. But I must remain focused.” That’s because he was being chased by last year’s champion Salameh Al Aqra. Salameh struggled on Day 1 with pain from an old hamstring injury, but he said today that it didn’t bother him, and he ran to a second place stage finish in 2:49. Aziz El Akad, in turn, was chasing Salameh, and he finished less than one more minute back. A 13-minute gap then followed to Spain’s Capo-Soler and Italy’s Salaris, who together rounded out the top five men across today’s finish line.
For any Akhdar brothers fans out there, they crossed the finish together and smiling in sixth and seventh place. Lhoucine tells me they took it a little bit easy to make certain Lhoucine’s sore hamstring was fine. It is, and they are content.
For the women, Laurence Klein still has fire in her pants, and she again took the women’s stage win. At the finish, she was calm but jubilant. I took second! I couldn’t believe it! I am elated and humbled to have finished four minutes after Laurence. Such an honor. I saw almost no women all day, and I didn’t know my position until the last checkpoint. To be honest, I thought I was a couple more places back so this was a beautiful surprise. Britain’s Joanna Meek finished third 11 minutes after me. She told me at the finish that today was a hard day for her. She was still smiling, though, so I’m confident she has more fast miles in her legs. The UK’s Zoe Salt and USA’s Sada Crawford finished almost together as the day’s fourth and fifth women in 4:17. Sada is stoked on her finish. She had a rough first day out while sorting out her hydration and electrolyte needs for the Sahara. I say watch for her and some smart racing out of her in the rest of the week.
It’s about 4:30 pm as I wrap up my note to all of you. The 1,000-plus competitors are still streaming across the finish line. I can watch them from where I type under black shade tent. They come in all conditions. Some whoop and holler and wave for the webcam. Some stumble, finding hindrance by growing blisters. They come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. They come from four dozen countries. The MdS journey is not for the faint of body or mind, but it is a journey for all hearts. I wish each of us a continued safe, strong Sahara passage.
Additional Information – Stage 2
Stage 1: Jebel Irhs/Oued Tijekht: 37.2 Km (23.1 miles)
Men – Stage 1
Before the race, Mohamad Ahansal said that the first stage of this year’s race would be very important and he made it count. The four-time MdS champion ran from the front, putting four and a half minutes on Italian Antonio Filippo Salaris by the finish. Spaniard Miguel Capo Soler rounded out the first day’s podium another five minutes behind Salaris. Moroccans Lhoucine Akhdar and Aziz El Akad were the only other runners to arrive at the finish within fifteen minutes of Ahansal with Lhoucine’s brother Samir Akhdar crossing the line 15:06 after the winner.
Danny Kendall of Great Britain and Carlos Sa of Portugal took seventh and eighth, but the biggest news on the day was last year’s winner Salameh Al Aqra of Jordan finishing ninth more than 22 minutes behind Ahansal after suffering an upper leg injury during the stage. He intends on continuing the race. Frenchman Vincent Delebarre rounds out the top ten after the first stage, resulting in an even mix of Europeans and desert dwellers in the top ten after one day.
Women – Stage 1
No one should have batted an eyelash when Frenchwoman Laurence Klein, the two-time defending women’s champ, crossed the line well ahead of her female competition today. She placed 25th overall on the stage and was six and a half minutes minutes ahead of her nearest female competitor, Joanna Meek of Great Britain. iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks was third woman on the day another seven minutes behind Meek. Taking fourth in Stage 1 was Zoe Salt of Great Britain a full 22 minutes behind Klein. Both Guiliana Arrigoni and Sophie Grant of Italy and New Zealand, respectively, were approximately 35 minutes off the lead after the first day of racing.
Friend In The Field Update – Stage 1
A friend in the field reports:
The day started quite cool with runners cold before the start. But the heat soon turned on and Meghan Hicks ran a tough race this morning. She eventually came in 3rd place. She was beaten by Laurence Klein who came first and Joanna Meek in second.
The race has only just begun and placing right now have little relevance to these top runners. The long day is the real test and two more days to build up to it. There should be a good fight.
Again the weather is looking good but hot. The afternoons especially, so those getting back sooner definitely have it better…
Additional Information – Stage 1