The 29th Marathon des Sables (MdS) began the morning of Sunday, April 6 in the Moroccan Sahara. More than 1,000 runners began the race. For those unfamiliar, the MdS is 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 share with seven other competitors.
As in past years, we share results and commentary–including updates from the field–for each stage. Click on the links below to jump to our coverage of a particular stage.
Here are some additional resources to help you follow/catch up on all the action from the race:
- Our 2014 Marathon des Sables preview;
- The Marathon des Sables website, competitor list, temporary results (which gets updated after every stage), and live tracking for each stage as it is in progress;
- Our pre-race interviews with Mohamad Ahansal, Salameh Al Aqra, Danny Kendall, Laurence Klein, Nikki Kimball, and Julie Bryan
- Our post-race interviews with champions Rachid El Morabity and Nikki Kimball
- Women’s champ Nikki Kimball’s race report
- Our post-race photo gallery
Stage 5: Rich Merzoug to Igadoun Tarhbalt—42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles)
Stage 5 was the last competitive stage in the 2014 Marathon des Sables. A non-competitive but required charity stage takes place tomorrow, but it’s not timed and doesn’t affect the general classification. Thus the winners of the 2014 Marathon des Sables men’s and women’s races emerge after this stage. With their runnings of Stage 5, Morocco’s Rachid El Morabity and Nikki Kimball, of the U.S., secured their victories of the 2014 Marathon des Sables.
Finally, finally, a day with very little sand to run on! Stage 5 was almost entirely good running ground except a short stretch of dunes right before the finish. The stage moved in a westerly direction almost exclusively today, and featured running past the homes and crops of people living pretty remotely there in the Moroccan Sahara.
Men — Stage 5
It seems perhaps fitting that Olympic marathoner and Moroccan Abdelkader El Mouaziz (3:11:22) would win Stage 5, which was measured to a perfect marathon. Though El Mouaziz ran to the first checkpoint today with Morocco’s Rachid El Morabity and Jordan’s Salameh Al Aqra, after that he used that 2:06 marathoning speed to take off, winning the stage handily. With a strong recovery after his difficult Stage 4, El Mouaziz bounces back one spot in the general classification, finishing in seventh place.
The U.K.’s Danny Kendall (+11:04) and Portugal’s Carlos Sá (+11:50) really put on a good show out there, climbing up into the second and third positions and staying there after the halfway point with Kendall setting the pace. Kendall, who was fifth in the general classification ahead of Stage 5 at just six minutes behind Carlos Sá, seemed to be trying to shake up those final rankings with a blowout Stage 5. While Sá couldn’t match Kendall’s pace through the finish he didn’t need to, either. He only needed to finish within about six minutes, which he easily did. This retains Sá and Kendall in the fourth and fifth positions in the overall classification.
Frenchman Michaël Gras (+11:57) was the real surprise of this race. Finishing fourth today, Gras sat in the 10th position overall ahead of Stage 5. He, too, raced today like he was doing the business of moving up in the rankings. He did so successfully with this fourth-place finish in Stage 5, finishing in eighth position overall, a phenomenal performance for an MdS newcomer.
From there it was a full 10 minutes before the finish line saw any more runners. Within just a few seconds came El Morabity (+22:19) and Al Aqra (+22:27) in Stage 5’s fifth and sixth positions. In doing so, El Morabity secured his win of the 2014 Marathon des Sables, his second victory at the race. Al Aqra, too, finished in second overall, his fifth second place at the MdS.
Moroccan Mohamad Ahansal (+25:19) finished seventh on the day and a comfortable third in the overall classification. This was Ahansal’s 20th finish of the MdS.
Eighth, ninth, and 10th today respectively go to France’s Christophe Le Saux (+33:35), Jean-Sébastien Braun (+34:11), and Florian Vieux (+35:22). Braun and Le Saux finish ninth and 10th in the overall classification while Vieux finishes not far outside the top 10.
Italy’s Antonio Filippo Salaris finished 11th today, but retains his sixth position in the overall rankings.
- Abdelkader El Mouaziz – 3:11:22
- Danny Kendall – 3:22:26
- Carlos Sá – 3:23:12
- Michaël Gras – 3:23:19
- Rachid El Morabity – 3:33:41
- Salameh Al Aqra – 3:33:49
- Mohamad Ahansal – 3:36:41
- Christophe Le Saux – 3:44:57
- Jean-Sébastien Braun – 3:45:33
- Florian Vieux – 3:46:44
- Rachid El Morabity (Morocco) – 20:27:37
- Salameh Al Aqra (Jordan) – 20:37:09
- Mohamad Ahansal (Morocco) – 20:50:58
- Carlos Sá (Portugal) – 21:24:58
- Danny Kendall (U.K.) – 21:30:16
- Antonio Filippo Salaris (Italy) – 21:56:04
- Abdelkader El Mouaziz (Morocco) – 22:07:49
- Michaël Gras (France) – 22:29:42
- Jean-Sébastien Braun (France) – 22:35:59
- Christophe Le Saux (France) – 22:49:26
Women — Stage 5
Stage 5 was won today by Ireland’s Claire Morrissey (4:35:23). She started today outside of the women’s general classification top five, and finishes as seventh woman.
Women’s general classification leader Nikki Kimball of the U.S. had more than an hour’s lead ahead of this final, competitive stage. With nothing on the line, she was able to leisurely make her way to the finish line, which she did with the nearby company of France’s Amandine Roux and France’s Laurence Klein. In the end, it was Roux in second at 4:52:47, Kimball in third at 4:53:41, and Klein in fourth at 4:54:19 for Stage 5. Kimball, Klein, and Roux maintained their first, second, and third places in the women’s general classification.
The U.K.’s Sarah Leakey finished fifth in Stage 5 in 5:00:56, and as the sixth woman in the women’s general classification.
France’s Aline Pierron and the U.K.’s Julia Donovan finished sixth and 10th today respectively, and fourth and fifth women in the general classification.
- Claire Morrissey – 4:35:23
- Amandine Roux – 4:52:47
- Nikki Kimball – 4:53:41
- Laurence Klein – 4:54:19
- Sarah Leakey – 5:00:56
- Nikki Kimball (USA) – 29:04:49 (29th in the overall classification)
- Laurence Klein (France) – 30:05:19 (48th in overall classification)
- Amandine Roux (France) – 31:30:55 (62nd in overall classification)
- Aline Pierron (France) — 32:29:47 (80th in overall classification)
- Julie Donovan (U.K.) — 33:37:17 (110th in overall classification)
Report from Field Correspondent Kirsten Kortebein
While some competitors had enough of a lead that they were able to take it a bit easier during yesterday’s marathon stage, others took hold of the opportunity to push for higher overall rankings.
In the men’s race, it was not surprising that Abdelkader El Mouaziz who took first, using his Olympic marathon experience and expertise to secure a win in Stage 5. Danny Kendall also ran a very strong race yesterday, finishing less than a minute before Carlos Sá and coming in second place for the stage. However, this wasn’t enough to bump him up to fourth place overall, which went to Carlos Sá. (Sá finished in third place for the marathon stage.) It was surprising to see Michaël Gras flying through Checkpoint 2 before runners like Rachid El Morabity and Mohamad Ahansal; the Frenchman pulled through in fourth place for the stage, bumping him up to eighth place overall.
Taking the win in the women’s race yesterday was Claire Morrissey, coming in 17 minutes before second place Amandine Roux for the stage win. While this wasn’t enough to push Claire into the top five women, she did finish in seventh place overall. Knowing that she had an hour’s lead on Laurence Klein, Nikki Kimball took it easy during yesterday’s marathon stage, coming in one minute before Laurence. Nikki and Laurence took third and fourth places respectively.
The situation at the finish line yesterday was semi-chaotic, as the race began with a staggered start (top 200 racers departing at 8:30 a.m., everyone else at 7:00 a.m.). Because of this, there was quite a line for competitors to wait in before receiving their medals from race founder Patrick Bauer, which did frustrate some. Once the traffic cleared, though, there was a prizing ceremony congratulating those on the men and women’s podiums and a performance by the Paris Opera.
After last night’s stage, the runners were required to continue with self-sufficiency; this was different than last year’s race, where runners were allowed to partake in dinner at the MdS canteen post-marathon stage. After finishing today’s final UNICEF stage (7.7k) in the village of Aït Ichchou, competitors are now arriving back in Ouarzazate where they will stay the night before returning to their home countries.
Additional Information — Stage 5
- The Roadbook for Stage 5 (course map and directions)
- Official photos from Stage 5
- Official videos from the race
Stage 4: Bah Hallou to Rich Merzoug—81.5 kilometers (50.6 miles)
Today’s long Stage 4 took runners first over the famous El Otfal Jebel, which has a steep sand dune on one side and a rocky, dry gully on the other. While the Marathon des Sables course varies each year, the El Otfal Jebel is one constant that’s always a part of the course, and it’s tackled during one of the stages from one side or the other, depending on the year. This year, the course ascended the sandy side and then dropped down the rocky gully on the jebel’s other side.
Once exiting the jebel’s gully, runners were greeted with a small dune field and then a long, flat expanse. At about 40k in, runners encountered another smaller, shorter jebel. After that, the second half of the course was much smoother sailing terrain-wise, save for the 10-kilometer section in the bed of an oued, or dry, sandy wash. Oueds can be tricky to run on because of loose sand.
Though the course meandered north and south today to tackle various obstacles, the overall trending direction of the course was west, which is the most remote part of the region through which the MdS travels.
Men — Stage 4
Jordan’s Salameh Al Aqra (7:14:00) ran hard from the get go, obviously setting the pace almost from the start. At Checkpoint 1, he shared the lead with Mohamad Ahansal, but by Checkpoint 2, Al Aqra was all alone with the rest of the field more than 90 seconds back. As each checkpoint progressed, Al Aqra’s lead increased. He was running with such aggressiveness that we couldn’t help but think of his Stage 3 performance, where he dropped back minutes in the stage’s last quarter and later said his Achilles tendon was bothering him. But our worries were unnecessary, as Al Aqra stayed strong through the finish, only increasing his lead to more than 23 minutes. This performance bolsters Al Aqra into a second-place position in the overall classification.
Overall race leader Moroccan Rachid El Morabity (+23:18) took a totally different tactic today en route to his second-place Stage 4 finish. He ran conservatively from the line, and was 3 to 5 minutes behind Al Aqra at the first checkpoint and in eighth position. He seemed to hold his pace steady all day, picking off those in front of him one by one until just over the halfway point where he assumed his second position about 18 minutes behind Al Aqra. He would lose only another five minutes to Al Aqra between there and the finish, demonstrating how solid the second half of his run was. His run was also strong enough to retain the overall race lead by just under 9 minutes over now second place Al Aqra.
I’m just going to call it how it was, Portugal’s Carlos Sá (+26:19) ran one hell of a Stage 4, finishing in third position and just 27 minutes off Al Aqra’s lead, which is darn incredible for a European dude in the desert against a flock of sand-country-dwelling runners racing in familiar terrain. Just steady all the way was Sá’s seeming style today. Because of this stellar long-stage performance, he moves up in the overall classification from seventh to fourth.
Moroccan Mohamad Ahansal (+31:17) looked like he was really trying to get after it today. He’s usually quite strong on the long stage and it seems he was trying to use that strength early on, running within a few seconds of lead until before Checkpoint 3 where he’d lapsed back. He spent some of the second half of the race running with the fastest Euros before ending the race with at least 20 kilometers of running solo. He held it together enough to remain in the third position in the overall classification.
France’s Jean-Sébastien Braun fills out the top five of Stage 4 with some wicked-smart strategy of taking it easy early and finishing strong. He was still in ninth place entering Checkpoint 4 after the race’s halfway point, but between there and the finish he picked off several strong runners. He is now seventh in the overall classification.
Danny Kendall of the U.K. finished sixth today, but far enough ahead of his main top-10 rival, Italy’s Antonio Filippo Salaris, to boost him back into fifth place in the overall classification, which he holds by just 1 minute, 7 seconds. It will come down to Friday’s Stage 5, the last competitive stage, to decide these two’s fate. Filippo Salaris finished eighth in Stage 4.
France’s Christophe Le Saux placed seventh, France’s Michaël Gras was ninth, and the U.K.’s Stephen Hodges rounded out the top 10 in yet another stage.
Moroccan Abdelkader El Mouaziz, who held the second position in the overall classification ahead of Stage 4, finished in 15th place and 2 hours, 15 minutes back from the lead. He ran with the leaders until about halfway and then lapsed in the stage’s second half. This performance drops him to eighth position in the overall classification.
- Salameh Al Aqra — 7:14:00
- Rachid El Morabity — 7:37:18
- Carlos Sá — 7:40:19
- Mohamad Ahansal — 7:45:17
- Jean-Sébastien Braun — 8:02:31
- Danny Kendall — 8:04:00
- Christophe Le Saux — 8:06:08
- Antonio Filippo Salaris — 8:11:46
- Michaël Gras — 8:19:27
- Stephen Hodges — 8:36:10
- Rachid El Morabity (Morocco) — 16:53:55
- Salameh Al Aqra (Jordan) +9:24
- Mohamad Ahansal (Morocco) +20:22
- Carlos Sá (Portugal) +1:07:51
- Danny Kendall (U.K.) +1:13:54
- Antonio Filippo Salaris (Italy) +1:15:01
- Jean-Sébastien Braun (France) +1:56:31
- Abdelkader El Mouaziz (Morocco) +2:02:32
- Christophe La Saux (France) +2:10:33
- Michaël Gras (France) +2:12:28
Women — Stage 4
There are a number of interesting stories in the women’s race. First and perhaps foremost was the lead shift in the women’s general classification from Laurence Klein of France to the U.S.’s Nikki Kimball. And second was the appearance of some new faces to the women’s leaders of Stage 4.
First, let’s give a little background. It’s MdS tradition that the women who are ranked in the top-five women’s general classification start midday for the long Stage 4 along with the 50 top men, while the women ranked lower in the women’s general classification start with everyone else in the race, in a mass start at 9 a.m. So, today, Laurence Klein, Nikki Kimball, France’s Amandine Roux, France’s Aline Pierron, and the U.K.’s Julia Donovan all started in the ‘elite’ midday start.
The Kimball and Klein race began with them basically running together through the first checkpoint, that is, over the ominous El Otfal Jebel. But at every subsequent checkpoint, Kimball arrived first, building a lead that would only grow all the way to the finish line. She finished the day in 10:48:38 and more that 47 minutes faster than any other women.
Laurence Klein, simply said, slowed her pace way, way down today. She finished Stage 4 in fifth place and 1 hour, 18 minutes back from Kimball. Klein is now in second place in the women’s general classification, just under an hour behind Kimball and more than 1 hour, 20 minutes ahead of Amandine Roux.
Ireland’s Claire Morrissey, who was sitting outside the women’s top five and, thus, who began in the mass start had the second-fastest time for Stage 4, finishing 47-and-a-half minutes behind Kimball. Despite her very strong Stage 4, Morrissey is still in eighth place in the women’s general classification.
Third place in Stage 4 was Aline Pierron, who seemingly ran a conservative race early so that she could stay strong later. It wasn’t until the final 10 kilometers or so that Pierron moved up into her finishing position. Pierron is stable in her fourth spot in the women’s general classification.
Amandine Roux finished fourth in the stage. She overtook Laurence Klein just after Checkpoint 4 in the ‘elite’ wave, assuming the presumed second position. However she was passed by Pierron in the last 10 kilometers and Morrissey from the mass start ran faster than her, so she slipped into fourth position for Stage 4 but remains in third position in the women’s general classification.
Julia Donovan, who is still fifth place in the general classification, finished Stage 4 in seventh place.
- Nikki Kimball — 10:48:38
- Claire Morrisey — 11:36:10
- Aline Pierron — 11:44:36
- Amandine Roux — 11:51:17
- Laurence Klein — 12:06:48
- Nikki Kimball (US) — 24:11:08 (27th in the overall classification)
- Laurence Klein (France) — 25:11:00 (40th in overall classification)
- Amandine Roux (France) — 26:38:08 (62nd in overall classification)
- Aline Pierron (France) — 27:19:48 (79th in overall classification)
- Julia Donovan (U.K.) — 28:16:19 (101st in overall classification)
Long Stage Report from Field Correspondent Kirsten Kortebein
Today’s Stage 4 was a particularly game changing one for the top competition.
In the men’s race–despite his worries yesterday about his Achilles–Salameh Al Aqra finished today’s stage in first place, coming in at dusk after seven hours and 14 minutes for an emotional finish. Al Aqra cloaked himself in the Jordanian flag as he crossed the finish line, crumpling to the ground, and wiping away tears. He returned earlier than projected; many of the race personnel were still out on the course when he arrived, so the group gathered at the finish line was largely comprised of the Moroccan race staff who set up the bivouac during the day. It was powerful to see how proud the Moroccans were of Al Aqra; they went nuts when he arrived, grinning and cheering “Allahu akbar” and shouting for him to “Schrubb! Schrubb!” (“Drink! Drink!”) his tea at the finish line.
Finishing second was Rachid El Morabity, and coming in third was Mohamad Ahansal. Ahansal told me yesterday that he knew today was his last chance to stay in the top three, recognizing that if he wanted to accomplish this that his morale must remain strong. “It’s the day that you run and run until you don’t have a head anymore,” he said of today’s long stage.
This knocks Abdelkader El Mouaziz out of the top five places in overall standings, leaving overall placing for fourth and fifth to Carlos Sá and Danny Kendall. Although it is still unclear as to what happened in El Mouaziz’s race today, French journalist Emilie Kremer says that when she saw him at Checkpoint 4, he was “very, very bad,” looking exhausted and fatigued in the face.
Women’s Race (in progress)
Today has made for some exciting racing. Nikki Kimball has thrived during this long stage, pulling ahead of Laurence Klein between Checkpoint 2 and Checkpoint 3.
It has been very tough racing today, and Nikki–while continuing to smile–did look quite tired coming through the sand ahead of Laurence Klein at Checkpoint 4. Today has also been rough for Laurence; the word through the grapevine is that she recognized early in today’s race that she was struggling, and decided to put on the brakes to avoid a repeat of last year’s retirement during the long stage. Amandine Roux was staying strong throughout the day, but when coming through Checkpoint 4 at the same time as Klein, asked medical personnel for medication for a urinary tract infection; they did not have it on hand, and she was worried that her performance would suffer.
I’ll follow up with some of the unanswered questions after I have a chance to talk with the competitors tomorrow. In terms of today’s weather: at 3:00 p.m. GMT the temperature was 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity of 9.3%.
The final competitive stage, Stage 5, takes place on Friday, April 11. It will be an honest marathon at 42.2 kilometers/26.2 miles.
Rest Day Report from Field Correspondent Kirsten Kortebein
Rachid El Morabity is feeling and looking confident today as he rests before tomorrow’s final stage. His “morale is top, alhamdulillah (Praise Allah)” and he has been feeling and eating well. He seemed very relaxed today, confident in his preparations and satisfied with his performance thus far. Salameh Al Aqra, whose overall ranking jumped to second after yesterday’s race, recognizes that he will likely finish second overall. While he does still “feel badly” that he fell 18 minutes behind El Morabity on the first day, he is very proud to have won yesterday’s long stage; he wanted to make a statement since it’s “always the stage that he wins,” and for him, crossing the finish line felt as though he had “won the Marathon.” Likely to finish the MdS in third place overall is Mohamad Ahansal, who does still “have a push” to put pressure on the rest of the competition, but feels satisfied to likely find himself on the podium again.
With Nikki Kimball holding about an hour’s lead over Laurence Klein, her plan for tomorrow is to “run conservatively and enjoy [the stage].” Despite having raced a strong stage and pulling ahead of Laurence, Nikki did struggle mentally yesterday. She was “happy at the beginning and the end,” but like Amandine Roux, Nikki dealt with a urinary tract infection throughout the stage. “Between Checkpoint 5 and Checkpoint 6, I couldn’t concentrate on running… it made me mentally miserable,” she said. For the last stretch of the race, she used her iPod to zone out: “the worse the symptoms, the louder the music” was her strategy.
Nikki pulled through strong until the end, relishing the race’s elevated terrain and catching Laurence just before Checkpoint 2. Laurence was indeed taking it a bit easier yesterday to avoid a relapse of last year’s sunstroke symptoms, but seems to be recuperating well mentally after yesterday’s stage.
Additional Information – Stage 4
- The Roadbook for Stage 4 (course map and directions)
- Official photos from Stage 4, part one and part two
- Official videos from the race
Stage 3: Oued Moungarf to Bah Hallou—37.5 kilometers (23.3 miles)
Ah, after delivering two very hard first and second stages terrain-wise, the race administration finally gave competitors a break with some fairly runnable terrain. Today’s stage was almost all flat with only a few rolling, rocky hills. The course did sport a lot of sand again via multiple fields of dunettes and otherwise sandy terrain, but the sand was fairly compact which makes for fast running.
The race course made a horseshoe shape today, traveling south before hooking west and then turning northwest to run on the eastern margin of the famous Oued Rheris, one of the largest drainage systems in this region of Morocco. The oued is dry except for during rain, when it can fill with massive quantities of water in flash floods. Today there was no rain, however, just a cloudless blue sky and slightly below-average high temperatures.
Tomorrow brings the long Stage 4, which will be an honest 50 miler.
Men — Stage 3
It was Jordan’s Salameh Al Aqra who ran hot off the starting line, making a huge, immediate gap over everyone in the field. By the first checkpoint, however, Morocco’s Mohamad Ahansal, and Morocco’s Abdelkader El Mouaziz joined Al Aqra for the lead. At Checkpoint 1, race leader Rachid El Morabity of Morocco was a distant four minutes back, which caused a brief concern about if he was well or not. By Checkpoint 2, however, Ahansal, Al Aqra, and El Mouaziz were still leading but El Morabity had moved up to just a minute behind. And by the third checkpoint, Al Aqra had lost contact and was five minutes behind with Ahansal pushing the pole position and El Morabity and El Mouaziz both within 30 seconds. In the couple kilometers from Checkpoint 3 to the finish, El Morabity surged to win by 50 seconds. El Mouaziz finished second with Ahansal third at two minutes behind El Morabity.
Today’s performances left El Morabity, El Mouaziz, and Ahansal pretty solid in their one, two, three positions in the general classification. El Morabity has a gap of just over 10 minutes over El Mouaziz and about 12 minutes, 20 seconds to Ahansal. The long stage will be a fascinating one for this trio, given Ahansal’s almost two decades worth of experience in the MdS long stage and El Morabity’s raw speed and some previous long-stage experience. As for El Mouaziz, I can’t say for certain, but I can’t find a record of him racing an ultramarathon before, so I’m guessing this will be his first 50-mile run.
After his early hard work, Al Aqra finished fourth today. He’s in fourth position and 32 minutes behind in the general classification.
Italy’s Antonio Filippo Salaris, who was in sixth place in the general classification leading into Stage 3, had a solid day, finishing the stage so strongly in fifth that he moved up to the fifth spot in the general classification. It appears that the U.K.’s Danny Kendall had a tough day, finishing Stage 3 in ninth position but 22 minutes off the lead and 10 minutes behind his lead rival in the race so far, Filippo Salaris. Perhaps this was Kendall taking things very easy ahead of tomorrow’s long stage, a stage in which he typically runs better than all the others. As a result of his run today, Kendall now sits in sixth position in the general classification.
France’s Michaël Gras had a surprising day, finishing the stage in seventh place. This combined with his 10th place in Stage 1 has launched him onto the men’s general classification leaderboard in 10th place. Moroccan Ahmed Tahiri continues to move up in both his stage performances and the general classification. Tahiri finished Stage 1 in 16th, Stage 2 in eighth, and Stage 3 in seventh. This places him eighth in the general classification going into tomorrow’s long stage.
Portugal’s Carlos Sá finished eighth today, and held onto his seventh position in the general classification. In 10th today was France’s Jean-Sébastien Braun, but he didn’t make it on the general classification leaderboard again. The U.K.’s Stephen Hodges finished 11th in Stage 3, which holds him steady in his ninth position in the general classification.
1. Rachid El Morabity – 9:16:36
2. Abdelkader El Mouaziz – 9:26:58
3. Mohamad Ahansal – 9:28:59
4. Salameh Al Aqra — 9:49:19
5. Antonio Filippo Salaris – 9:57:09
6. Danny Kendall – 10:03:49
7. Carlos Sá – 10:21:26
8. Ahmed Tahiri – 10:41:05
9. Stephen Hodges – 10:44:48
10. Michaël Gras – 10:46:45
Women — Stage 3
Wow, now this was an interesting stage at the head of the women’s race. The U.S.’s Nikki Kimball took the win in the stage over France’s Laurence Klein by about 3.5 minutes. Stage 3 started as per this pair’s MO until now, with Klein building a short lead by the first checkpoint and a lead of a little over 4 minutes by Checkpoint 2. But at Checkpoint 3, Kimball arrived in the lead with Klein in the arrears by 3 minutes, 20 seconds. At the finish line just 35 minutes later, Kimball finished a bit more than 3 minutes, 30 seconds ahead of Klein. Klein retains the lead in the women’s general classification by 18 minutes, 18 seconds going into tomorrow’s long stage. It was fascinating to see this shake-up in the women’s order of things and it indicates that any number of outcomes are possible.
With Klein’s slower pace today, she drops to 29th in the overall general classification from her 24th spot after Stage 2, while Nikki Kimball holds basically steady in 34th position, dropping just one spot from 33rd yesterday. It should be noted that Klein is running well off her pace in previous years. For instance, 2013’s Stage 3 was almost the same length and look the lead men the same amount of time as this year. In 2013, Klein finished 47 minutes behind the lead men whereas this year she finished a full 90 minutes back from the lead men. It leaves me wondering if the training she missed due to her Achilles injury is starting to take its toll.
France’s Amandine Roux is making a great show out of third place. After finishing about an hour back from the lead on the first stage, she seems to have her feet under her, finishing just 33 minutes back in Stage 2 and now 15 minutes back from Kimball in Stage 3. This puts her 1 hour, 42 minutes back from Klein and 1 hour, 24 minutes back from Kimball in the women’s general classification going into tomorrow’s long stage. While that is a long gap separating her from a possible win, what’s perhaps more interesting is the gap she’s creating between herself and the rest of the women’s field behind her. If she runs future stages as strong as she did today, she legitimately in it for a stage win at some point. Her running in Stage 3 boosted her from 77th in the overall general classification after Stage 2 to 56th after today’s stage.
Ireland’s Claire Morrissey made an appearance in the women’s top five for the first time, finishing Stage 3 in fourth and just 22 minutes behind winner Kimball. But Morrissey ran the first couple stages so much slower that she still sits out of the top-10 women in the women’s general classification and some 4 hours, 48 minutes distant to the lead. Nathalie Young from the U.K. also debuted in the women’s top five within a stage, as she finished Stage 3 in fifth and 25 minutes behind Kimball. Young now sits in sixth within the women’s general classification but 3 hours, 9 minutes off the lead.
France’s Aline Pierron and the U.K.’s Julia Donovan sit in the fourth and fifth spots in the women’s general classification, about 2 hours, 30 minutes behind the lead but only a couple minutes apart from each other. Before Stage 3 today, it was Donovan who held the fourth spot in the general classification. In Stage 3, Pierron finished sixth and Donovan finished seventh and about nine minutes later, causing Pierron and Donovan’s flip flop in the women’s general classification.
American Julie Bryan has dropped from the race following her rough and long day out in Stage 2 due to sickness.
29. Laurence Klein – 13:04:11
34. Nikki Kimball – 13:22:29
56. Amandine Roux –14.46:50
96. Aline Pierron – 15:35:12
99. Julia Donovan – 15:37:59
Report from Field Correspondent Kirsten Kortebein
Temperatures continued to climb during Stage 3 of the MdS; the press computer reports that it was 99 degrees Fahrenheit at noon today, but the thermometers of many competitors read between 109 and 113 degrees. After yesterday’s Stage 2, an additional 24 competitors retired from the race; this brings the total number of abandons to 51 for the first two stages alone. Morale in camp this morning was not as high as usual, especially with many competitors dreading tomorrow’s 81.5-kilometer long stage, which will leave many runners out on the course well into the night and the next day.
One of the biggest shifts in today’s men’s race was the movement of Michaël Gras into the top-10 men’s places; his twin brother Damien dropped yesterday due to injury, and Michaël’s placing today brought him into 10th-place overall–two spots ahead of favored Frenchman Christophe Le Saux. This is Gras’s first MdS, and it will be interesting to see how he holds up during tomorrow’s 81.5k stage.
The pressure continues to mount in competition for the top five spots, with Rachid El Morabity again taking the win in this stage over Abdelkader Elmouaziz by just 50 seconds. Mohamad Ahansal came in third place just over a minute after Elmouaziz, saying that he was “satisfied” with his performance today, finding his rhythm throughout the stage and simply falling behind speed-wise during the last two kilometers, which were flat-terrained and his least favorite. Ahansal says that his morale was definitely low yesterday after the draining first stage, perhaps accounting for his slower performance in the second half of Stage 2.
Salameh Al Aqra finished in fourth today, feeling for the first time the effects of his Achilles injury. “It started acting up today after Checkpoint 3,” he said. “Today, for the first time, I thought about my injury more than I thought about winning.” He says that he plans to be careful during tomorrow’s long stage; since running is his career, he will be “careful not to get to a point where it’s harmful.”
Nikki Kimball finished today’s stage ahead of Laurence Klein, catching Klein six kilometers from the finish. It’s so interesting to watch these two women compete–especially to see them interact and hear how they speak about each other after each stage is over. They have nothing but positive things to say about each other, and respect each other immensely as competitors. “Laurence was very gracious [after I passed her],” said Nikki. “I have so much respect for Laurence and her knowledge of this race.” We will see how tomorrow’s race shakes out; the long stage is notoriously a deal maker or breaker in terms of standings, and Nikki says that the last 45 kilometers of tomorrow’s race will be “survival” for her. Finishing around 17 minutes behind Nikki today was again Amandine Roux in third place, with Claire Morrissey (Ireland) and Nathalie Young (U.K.) coming in fourth and fifth.
Additional Information – Stage 3
- The Roadbook for Stage 3 (course map and directions)
- Official photos from Stage 3
- Official videos from the race
Stage 2: Erg Znaigui to Oued Moungarf — 41 kilometers (25.5 miles)
While yesterday’s stage traveled roughly southeast and over Morocco’s tallest sand dunes, today’s course progressed in a southwesterly direction. Traveling south into the Moroccan Sahara means going more remote and into hotter temperatures; runners are starting to get into the thick of what this part of the world has to offer environmentally.
Today’s course was characterized by lots of sand, but a different kind of sand than yesterday’s massive dunes. Today featured oueds, or dry riverbeds which are almost always very sandy, and dunettes, or tiny sand dunes usually arranged in large fields than can cover many square kilometers, and otherwise sandy terrain. Also, in the last seven kilometers, the course crossed Jebel El Abeth, which is steep, rocky, and sandy.
Men — Stage 2
Already things are getting interesting in the up-front men’s battle, with some shake-ups from Stage 1’s results. Moroccan Stage 1 winner Rachid El Morabity (the 2011 champion) held his own again today, after beginning conservatively a bit behind the lead and moving up in the field by Checkpoint 3, where he arrived tied for the lead with Stage 2’s second place and fellow countryman, Abdelkader El Mouaziz (a former 2:06 marathoner). By the finish line, El Morabity built a bit over one-minute lead on El Mouaziz, thereby extending his lead in the general classification to just under 10 minutes.
Salameh Al Aqra of Jordan (the 2012 champion) finished third and about 7.5 minutes behind the lead. After a stronger Stage 2 than Stage 1, Al Aqra moved up from sixth to fourth in the general classification. Morroccan Mohamad Ahansal (a five-time champ) moved down one ranking to third in the general classification after Stage 2, which he finished in third but 10.5 minutes behind El Morabity after sharing the lead until after Checkpoint 1.
In fifth place today and fifth in the general classification is the U.K.’s Danny Kendall (10th place last year) who is already shining at less than 90 seconds behind the closest runner hailing from a sandy, desert country. In sixth place today and sixth in the general classification was Italy’s Antonio Filippo Salaris who is just under four minutes behind Kendall. This pair is shaping up a good race between them, it appears. Portugal’s Carlos Sá finished seventh today, and Morocco’s Ahmed Tahiri. Tahiri finished 17th in Stage 1, so he hasn’t made it into the top 10 in the general classification yet.
Surprise, surprise, there’s another Brit in the top 10! That’s Stephen Hodges who finished ninth today and sits in ninth in the general classification, too. Tenth place was Spaniard and last year’s third place Miguel Capó Soler. Capó Soler has slowed a bit from his seventh-place finish in Stage 1.
- Rachid El Morabity — 6:17:48
- Abdelkader El Mouaziz — 6:27:21
- Mohamad Ahansal — 6:28:13
- Salameh Al Aqra –6:41:58
- Danny Kendall – 6:43:17
- Antonio Filippo Salaris – 6:47:01
- Carlos Sá – 7:02:04
- Miguel Capó Soler – 7:12:51
- Stephen Hodges – 7:17:36
- Jean-Sébastien Braun – 7:21:04
Women — Stage 2
France’s Laurence Klein (three-time winner) dominated Stage 2, just as she has in most stages of years past. By Checkpoint 1 today, she had a 90-second lead over eventual second place Nikki Kimball from the U.S. From there, Klein steadily built her lead, increasing it to just over 4 minutes at Checkpoint 2, 7 minutes at Checkpoint 3, and just under 11 minutes by the finish line. Klein pulled out a 27th place overall and Kimball 35th. This means that, in two days, Klein has built an almost 21-minute cumulative lead over Kimball. While previous years have proven that anything can happen in a week of racing, and while Klein is running noticeably scared in that she was asking about Kimball today, she’s already got a nice padding to her lead.
The U.S.’s Julie Bryan, who finished solidly in third yesterday but who slowed significantly in Stage 1’s second half struggled today. It took her more than eight hours to finish Stage 2 which means that she will no longer be competitive in the race’s general classification. [Update 4/7: Julie was sick during Stage 2.] On the other hand, France’s Amandine Roux had a strong day, finishing third in the stage and 33 minutes from the lead. The U.K.’s Julia Donovan, who finished Stage 1 in sixth place, also had a strong showing in Stage 2, finishing fourth at 45 minutes back from Klein. France’s Aline Pierron rounded out the top-five women at +52 minutes.
It’s clear that, after just two stages, the race for the win has been narrowed to two women, Klein and Kimball, with the rest of the women’s field a distant 90 minutes back from the lead or more. The third through fifth-place women, however, are all within about 30 minutes of each other, which means there’s a lot of racing to be done for the the third spot on the women’s podium.
24. Laurence Klein (France0 — 8:35:45
33. Nikki Kimball (USA) — 8:57:35
77. Amandine Roux (France) –10:05:03
99. Julia Donovan (UK) — 10:29:08
106. Aline Pierron (France) — 10:35:42
Report from Field Correspondent Kirsten Kortebein
The placing in the men’s race shifted around today; Abdelkader El Mouaziz led the race through Checkpoint 1 and 2, but Morocco’s Rachid El Morabity managed again to take first place, finishing just one minute and twelve seconds behind El Mouaziz. “I was very tired today,” said El Morabity, “but the three [competitors] behind me put on a lot of pressure.” Despite his strong finish, El Mouaziz credited the stage’s dunes and river crossing as exhaustion-inducing elements of today’s race; he is developing blisters on his left foot, and plans to play it safe throughout tomorrow’s stage in preparation for Stage 4. Third-, fourth-, and fifth-place finishers–Salameh Al Aqra, Mohamad Ahansal, and Danny Kendall, respectively–all finished within less than three minutes of each other.
The biggest change in today’s women’s race was Julie Bryan’s drop from her third-place spot after yesterday’s stage; as I type, she has just finished Stage 2 with a time of 8:08:30–over three and a half hours longer than the stage winner’s time. As a result, she has dropped completely from her spot in the top-10 women overall, bringing Amandine Roux (France), Julia Donovan (U.K.), and Aline Pierron (France) into the top five. Finishing in first place–and maintaining her overall first-place spot–was again France’s Laurence Klein, followed 11 minutes later by Nikki Kimball (U.S.). While she did remain in first place, Klein did not seem confident throughout today’s race; she appeared to be stressed at Checkpoint 3, asking repeatedly–in French and English–where Kimball was. In contrast, both Kimball and Amandine Roux were in high spirits throughout today’s stage, Kimball sailing through checkpoints with a grin and Roux joking with race staff while refilling her water bottles.
At the Stage 2 finish, Kimball told the media, “I think it’s possible to win. I have to be honest though, Laurence is stronger than me in this event. It’s her race.” And Klein’s thoughts at the finish line? “It’s a bit complicated to handle as I’m running blind.”
After yesterday’s tough stage, a total of 27 competitors abandoned the race; this is quite an anomaly, as the average number of total retirements for all six stages of the MdS is typically around 50. The race organizers also chose to extend the maximum authorized time of yesterday’s stage (10 hours) by one hour–if they had not done this, the number of abandons would have been around 60 competitors for that first stage alone.
Today temperatures reached 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit at 1:00 p.m., and the heat index was 13.9%. The sun has been very strong throughout the day, and many competitors have continued to struggle with the climate… conditions are very tough even though the thermometer doesn’t reflect it. Rachid El Morabity is predicting a high number of retirements after tomorrow’s stage as well, since the course will again include dune fields and, “where there are dunes or mountains, it is very, very hot.”
Additional Information – Stage 2
- The Roadbook for Stage 2 (course map and directions)
- Official photos from Stage 2
- Official videos from the race
Stage 1: Ouest Erg Chebbi/Erg Znaigui — 34 kilometers (21.1 miles)
Stage 1 was undoubtedly a tough one and one that favored those with Marathon des Sables experience. Why? Just three kilometers into the stage, the runners entered the legendary Erg Chebbi dune field and they remained there for a full 12k. What’s more, competitors carried full packs as they set off for this week-long self-sufficient race (save for water and communal tents). It’s this sort of challenge that defines MdS.
Men — Stage 1
One might expect newcomers to be too aggressive in the early stages of MdS. However, the top eight men at the end of the first stage are those that you’d expect (and all are mentioned in our MdS preview): 1. Rachid El Morabity (2011 champ), 2. Mohamad Ahansal (five-time champ), 3. Abdelkader El Mouaziz, 4. Antonio Filippo Salaris, 5. Danny Kendall, 6. Salameh Al Aqra (2012 champ), 7. Miguel Capó Soler, 8. Carlos Sá. While the first stage seems insignificant in the final rankings, experienced racers and past winners El Morabity and Ahansal finished only a minute apart, but they put 8 and 7 minutes, respectively, on third place El Mouaziz. Such gaps are now present through out the top 10. For example, Capó Soler in seventh place is already 20 minutes in arrears.
As for surprises in Stage 1, I’m not sure whether I’m more surprised by the fact that MdS rookie El Mouaziz finished a strong third or that the former 2:06 marathoner was so far behind the two leaders. The U.K.’s Danny Kendall certainly isn’t pulling any punches in the early going. In his previous five MdS finishes he’s worked his way up from 85th and 92nd to 10th last year… running ahead of past champion Salameh Al Aqra, Carlos Sá, and other big names is certainly a bold move.
Women — Stage 1
The women’s field went off as scripted in Stage 1. Three-time champ Laurence Klein won the stage 11 minutes ahead of newcomer Nikki Kimball. These two represent the clear favorites and should finish the race in first and second unless someone succumbs to the desert. Still, it will be interesting to see which of these women takes the title.
After that, two more favorites found themselves in the top five after Stage 1. Julie Bryan, a former U.S. Mountain Running Team member, was in third 44 minutes behind Klein, while France’s Aline Pierron (+68′) was in fifth. France’s Amandine Roux (+56′) wasn’t on our radar ahead of the race, but she now sits in fourth. At only 28 years old, Roux already has a strong ultrarunning resume in France.
Report from Field Correspondent Kirsten Kortebein
Many competitors expressed concern in advance about the difficulty of this year’s first stage; rightfully so, as 15 of the stage’s 34 kilometers consisted of large dune fields. Just three kilometers into the race, runners entered the dunes of Erg Chebbi, the biggest in Morocco. The men’s race ended with three Moroccans sweeping the top-three spots: Rachid El Morabity finished first with Mohamad Ahansal just one minute behind. Coming in third for the men was Abdelkader El Mouaziz. Rachid was very focused today, definitively wanting to finish apart from Ahansal, whom he ran faster than after Checkpoint 2.
While Ahansal does look forward to dune fields in general, encountering the terrain just three kilometers from the start line was a challenge for him–not because of the landscape, but because of the large number of competitors relying on his lead in navigation. “Orientation is very important in the dunes, it was not easy,” he said. “Everyone followed me, this took a lot of energy.” Fourth and fifth places went, respectively, to Antonio Filippo Salaris (Italy) and Danny Kendall (U.K.). Jordan’s Salameh Al Aqra said before today’s race that he has “always had a hard time with the first stage,” and finished today in sixth place.
While the heavy presence of dunes on the first day was a large concern for some, the terrain afforded others the opportunity to shine. Nikki Kimball felt very strong during today’s race, coming in second overall for the women behind France’s three-time MdS winner Laurence Klein. “I had a blast,” said Kimball regarding the difficult terrain. “That’s the time that I’m stronger than the other women around me.” While Laurence Klein did admit to having a difficult time with today’s traditionally Saharan terrain, Nikki recognizes that Laurence is “much faster” than her on the flats. We’ll see how this shakes out throughout the rest of the race; Laurence is concerned about the reappearance of dune fields during the third stage.
Finishing in third for the women–and running a good race–was Julie Bryan, who ran ahead of Kimball until just before Checkpoint 1. French runners Amandine Roux and Aline Pierron came in fourth and fifth places, respectively.
Tomorrow’s 41-kilometer stage will be less sand-filled on the ground, but the weather forecast is predicted to include Chergui winds; these strong, hot winds typically bring sandstorms to the region, and were the cause of last week’s sand and smog throughout Europe.
Additional Information – Stage 1