The 30th Marathon des Sables (MdS) began the morning of Sunday, April 5 in the Moroccan Sahara with more than 1,300 participants toeing the line at this special anniversary event. 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 will share results and commentary–including updates from the field–after each stage. We’ll often update stage results multiple times per day, as additional information, updates, and resources are available. Click on the links below to jump to our coverage of a particular stage.
Here are some additional resources to help you follow on all the action from the race:
- Our 2015 Marathon des Sables preview;
- The Marathon des Sables website, competitor list, temporary results (which gets updated after every stage), and live timing and live tracking for each stage as it is in progress;
- Our pre-race interviews with Mohamad Ahansal, Samir Akhdar Salameh Al Aqra, Eli Sanchez Brito, Liza Howard, Danny Kendall, Laurence Klein, and Jolanda Linschooten.
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 6: Charity UNICEF (11.5 km)
Stage 5: Jdaid to Kourci Dial Zaid (42.2 km)
- Added April 12, 9 p.m. PDT: Kirsten Kortebein’s Field Report, Photos, Facebook Album
- Added April 10, 1 p.m. PDT: Meghan Hicks’s Field Report
Women – Stage 5
Despite having the overall win handily wrapped up, Sweden’s Elisabet Barnes set out on her own today to win the marathon-length stage by nearly a quarter of an hour. Natalia Sedykh (+14:24) once again went out aggressively, no doubt trying make up the 15-minute cumulative gap Anna-Marie Watson (+14:30) held on her at the start of the stage. That didn’t work as Sedykh eventually fell to five minutes behind Watson at 38km before kicking to finish just seconds behind the Brit.
Rebecca Ferry (+26:23) had a seventh- and a tenth-place finish in earlier stages this year, but she trumped that by taking fourth today. She held that position all stage ahead of Liza Howard (+28:29), who ran in fifth all stage after a rough go at the previous stage.
Melissa Venables (+31:40) worked her way up from 11th place early in the stage to place sixth after passing Jolanda Linschooten (+35:50), who held six most of the day, late in the stage.
Gemma Game (+38:09) ran another steady stage, sitting in eighth all day. The performance was enough to move her up a spot in the cumulative rankings. Switzerland’s Claire McCahill (+45:47) ran her first top-ten performance of the race in taking ninth today. Ireland’s Claire Morrissey (+46:36) has been all over the women’s rankings during this year’s MdS, finishing stages anywhere from fourth to 11th. Today, she finished 10th.
Former champs Meghan Hicks (+59:50) and Laurence Klein (+1:49:17) simply finished off their races today.
Women’s Stage 5 Results
- Elisabet Barnes (Sweden) — 4:11:51
- Anna-Marie Watson (UK) — +14:24
- Natalia Sedykh (Russia) — +14:30
- Rebecca Ferry (UK) — +26:23
- Liza Howard (US) — +28:29
- Melissa Venables (UK) — +31:40
- Jolanda Linschooten (Netherlands) — +35:50
- Gemma Game (UK) — +38:09
- Claire McCahill (Switzerland) — +45:47
- Claire Morrissey (Ireland) — +46:36
- 14th. Meghan Hicks (US) — +59:50
- 29th. Laurence Klein (France) — +1:49:17
Women’s Overall Results Through Stage 5
With large time gaps through much of the women’s field after Stage 4, there weren’t many changes to the overall ranking at the front of the field after Stage 5. The UK’s Gemma Game leapfrogged Meghan Hicks to take the fourth overall spot. After a disappointing long stage, Laurence Klein moved back in the top ten, knocking out Holly Symons of the UK.
- Elisabet Barnes (Sweden) — 26:42:13
- Anna-Marie Watson (UK) — +2:58:06
- Natalia Sedykh (Russia) — +3:12:26
- Gemma Game (UK) — +4:30:57
- Meghan Hicks (US) — +4:47:46
- Claire Morrissey (Ireland) — +5:04:51
- Melissa Venables (UK) — +5:14:38
- Jolanda Linschooten (Netherlands) — +5:23:13
- Emily Foy (UK) — +6:55:14
- Laurence Klein (France) — +7:34:51
Men – Stage 5
With the overall race largely decided during the previous long stage, it looks like no one pushed the pace early as the top six men were together through 13km and the top four through at least 37km. Abdelkader El Mouaziz hung with Rachid El Morabity the longest, but, in the end, El Morabity won his fifth of five competitive stages in this year’s event by eight seconds over his countryman.
Aziz El Akad (+1:13) had another strong stage to take third today, while Samir Akhdar (+2:01) hung on to the heels of his podium-placing countrymen to take fourth in the stage. Akhdar’s seven-plus minute gap on fifth place Salameh Al Aqra (+9:42) was enough catapult him ahead of Al Aqra into fourth in the overall standings. Spain’s Chema Martínez (+10:00) finished only a few seconds behind Al Aqra to place sixth.
The UK’s Danny Kendall (+18:46) bested France’s Christophe Le Saux (+19:44) by all of a minute to place seventh on the day, but it wasn’t enough to reverse their eighth- and seventh-place overall standings heading into the day.
Larbi Zeroual (+19:47) of France and Timon Abegglen (+20:06) of Switzerland must have saved something for the final competitive stage, as they both made their first top-ten appearances of this race.
Men’s Stage 5 Results
- Rachid El Morabity (Morocco) — 3:22:59
- Abdelkader El Mouaziz (Morocco) — +8 seconds
- Aziz El Akad (Morocco) — +1:13
- Samir Akhdar (Morocco) — +2:01
- Salameh Al Aqra (Jordan) — +9:42
- Chema Martínez (Spain) — +10:00
- Danny Kendall (UK) — +18:46
- Christophe Le Saux (France) — +19:44
- Larbi Zeroual (France) — +19:47
- Timon Abegglen (Switzerland) — +20:06
- Marco De Martin (Switzerland) — +20:58
- Mohamad Ahansal (Morocco) — +22:19
- Antoine Guillon (France) — +23:29
- Dave Mackey (US) — +39:45
- Marco Olmo (Italy) — +40:11
Men’s Overall Results Through Stage 5
As with the women, the overall men’s field was more or less set after yesterday’s long stage. The one change in the men’s top 12 was Samir Akhdar passing Jordanian Salameh Al Aqra to take fourth overall. The move meant that Moroccans take the top four spots this year.
- Rachid El Morabity (Morocco) — 20:21:39
- Abdelkader El Mouaziz (Morocco) — +13:44
- Aziz El Akad (Morocco) — +45:18
- Samir Akhdar (Morocco) — +1:19:34
- Salameh Al Aqra (Jordan) — +1:24:47
- Chema Martínez (Spain) — +1:33:02
- Christophe Le Saux (France) — +2:20:22
- Danny Kendall (UK) — +2:31:32
- Antoine Guillon (France) — +2:37:17
- Marco De Martin (Switzerland) — +2:39:44
- Mohamad Ahansal (Morocco) — +3:04:02
- Dave Mackey (US) — +3:49:30
Field Report – From Meghan Hicks
Stage 5 – My Personal Race
I came to the 2015 MdS with between 95 and 97% of the training I had before my win here in 2013. My pack was sorted. I did ample heat training both in a sauna and in Morocco before the race. Unfortunately, something didn’t cure right, and it didn’t all come together. I knew it from kilometer 1 on day 1, that this was going to be challenging year. I fought dueling emotions of the loss of my goal and pure elation at being here and being a part of the journey that is this race until the morning of Stage 3. That morning I woke up with sense of peace: no matter how much you try to control and impact your experience, you can’t keep hold of it all. I still don’t know why my race paces and feelings didn’t match my training, maybe I never will. But I saw a week’s worth of Saharan sunrises and sunsets, saw all seven of my tentmates reach the finish, and I reached my own personal Mds goal: five finishes. And for this moment, this last night in the desert, that is all I need.
Field Report – From Kirstern Kortebein
Today’s 42.2-kilometer route was a scenic one, including dunes, camel herds, oueds, and plateaus. The temperatures were not as high as they have been for most of the week, but many competitors were struggling with stomach issues starting today’s final stage.
The race organization opted once again for a staggered start–first group departing at 7:00 am BMT, second group departing at 8:30 am–and decided to reorganize the finish line setup to avoid the queue chaos of last year’s finish line. Medals were handed out not only by Patrick, but by other MdS personnel as well. This really did help avoid the backup that had happened at the finish line last year, and runners were able to receive their medals and water rations fairly immediately after finishing.
Swede Elisabet Barnes finished first in today’s marathon stage, wrapping up her sweep of first-place finishes in all five stages of this year’s MdS. She says that she didn’t feel well waking up this morning, though; she was struggling with a sore throat and stomach issues before the race start. “I was forced to start out sensibly,” she said. “Natalia [Sedykh] shot off as expected, but I passed her after about 4 kilometers.” Elisabet says that she really enjoyed the course, but that the end–the final hills, and seeing dunes in the distance–was rough for her.
Natalia’s initial kick wasn’t enough to bring her into second place overall, though. She ultimately finished today’s stage in third place, and was very emotional as she finished just behind Britain’s Anna-Marie Watson. Natalia and Anna-Marie now sit in second and third places, respectively. USA’s Elizabeth Howard was feeling much better during today’s marathon stage, and set off strong in the early start (7:00 am BMT.) She was the fifth woman to cross the finish line today, coming in two minutes after Britain’s Rebecca Ferry. USA’s Meghan Hicks and France’s Laurence Klein finished today’s race in 14th and 29th places respectively, and Meghan finished in fifth place overall. Laurence was tired but calm as she crossed the finish line, and seemed content in having accepted the fact that she would not be finishing top five in this year’s MdS.
Morocco’s Rachid El Morabity, Abdelkader El Mouaziz, and Aziz El Akad took first, second, and third in today’s stage, finishing respectively in said places overall. The front of the pack stuck together for the majority of the race, with Rachid and El Mouaziz running together until the last 200 meters. “We are running for the same team,” said Rachid regarding himself and El Mouaziz. “Since we’re running together, it didn’t matter which one of us won [today’s stage.]” Aziz El Akad is very happy with his success in this year’s Marathon des Sables, and is particularly proud of his performance during the long stage. “[The long stage] was the only solution for me to place on the podium,” he said. Morocco’s Samir Akhdar finished today’s stage in fourth place, securing an overall ranking of fourth place. Samir credits his success in this year’s MdS to having focused on running his own race and following his own rhythm instead of getting caught up in trying to stick with the front-runners in the way he has in the past. “You are the chief of your own body,” he said with a smile. Jordan’s Salameh El Aqra is still struggling with a torn muscle in his lower left leg, but still managed to finish fifth in today’s marathon stage. This puts him in fifth place overall. “I finished 91 kilometers with this leg injury [during the long stage]” he said. “What’s 42 more?”
- Stage 5 Roadbook (course map and description)
- Official Stage 5 Photos
- iRunFar’s Facebook Photo Album
- Race Portrait (written): Elisabet Barnes
Stage 4: Jebel Zireg to Jdaid (91.7 km)
- Added April 8, 8:15 p.m. PDT: Kirsten Kortebein’s Photos, a link to iRunFar’s Facebook Photo Album, and a link to the official press release on the Head of the Race
- Added April 8, 12:15 p.m. PDT: Kirsten Kortebein’s Field Report
- Added April 8, 9:30 a.m. PDT: Meghan Hicks’s Field Report and links to Official Stage 4-Day 2
Men – Stage 4
Defending champ Rachid El Morabity ran up front all from “go.” (Well, up front all except for the 1,200 runners who started three hours before him.) Salameh Al Aqra (+1:02:53) and Abdelkader El Mouaziz (+7:53) went with Rachid through checkpoint 2 (26km)… that’s when the tractor-pull sled started creeping up Al Aqra’s back… dropping him to eighth by the end of the day. On the other hand, El Mouaziz hung with El Morabity past the final checkpoint at 85.7km. Yeah… and then El Morabity put 8 minutes on El Mouaziz in 6 kilometers. Boom! Segment. Stage. Race. El Morabity.
Aziz El Akad did prove himself to be the master today. He was in 12th 12km, ninth at 26km, and seventh at 38km… he was in third for good before the final checkpoint at 86km. Chapeau, El Akad.
Having met Samir Akhdar (+43:50) as a “kid” back in 2009 and having known his gracious smile since then, personally, it’s great to see Samir take fourth in today’s long stage. In the past, he’s been overshadowed by his Moroccan friends and teammates. Well, the sun rose on Samir Akhdar today! Chema Martínez was the top European today, only four minutes behind Akhdar. Chema went out in fourth past 26km before dropping all the way back to ninth. He then proceeded to climb all the way back to fifth for the day. Both El Mouaziz and Martínez went into the race with other favorites doubting each’s ability to perform in the long stage… well, both ran strong with El Mouaziz nailing it. (There’s no shame in losing to the defending champ.)
In an otherwise typically dynamic stage, it looks like France’s Christophe Le Saux (+51:39) ran in sixth all day. That’s a nice improvement from his already solid eighth-place finish in last year’s long stage. Le Saux’s teammate and countryman Antoine Guillon (+1:01:12) finished ten minutes further back in seventh. A steady Eddie, he gradually worked himself up from tenth position at 12km.
Behind Al Aqra in ninth was the Swiss Marco De Martin (+1:11:43), who (figuratively) appears to have been towed by Guillon by a bungee cord. He slowly lost time to the Frenchman through the stage, but that was still a fast enough pace to move from 13th to ninth by stage’s end. Danny Kendall’s (+1:29:17) meticulously moved his way up the MdS overall rankings through the years with great patience and sound strategy. Well, it appears as though he gambled in going for it today… without coming up aces. He was in fifth only 6.5 minutes off the lead at 38km. He finished in 10th, 90 minutes off the lead.
Men’s Stage 4 Results
- Rachid El Morabity (Morocco) — 8:39:49
- Abdelkader El Mouaziz (Morocco) — +7:53
- Aziz El Akad (Morocco) — +10:46
- Samir Akhdar (Morocco) — +43:50
- Chema Martínez (Spain) — +47:31
- Christophe Le Saux (France) — +51:39
- Antoine Guillon (France) — +1:01:12
- Salameh Al Aqra (Jordan) — +1:02:53
- Marco De Martin (Switzerland) — +1:11:43
- Danny Kendall (UK) — +1:29:17
- Mohamad Ahansal (Morocco) — +1:49:31
- Dave Mackey (US) — +2:06:14
- Marco Olmo (Italy) — + 2:21:50 (He’s 67 years old!!)
Overall Results through Stage 4
While it’s not over until the Frenchman gives kisses, it looks like we can chalk up the 2015 Marathon des Sables to Morocco’s Rachid El Morabity. He’s won his fourth-straight stage and, now, only has to mark countryman Abdelkader El Mouaziz’s moves to guarantee his overal win. Likewise, El Mouaziz has second-place overall wrapped up with more than half an hour in-hand over Aziz El Akad.
Salameh Al Aqra, Samir Akhdar, and Chema Martínez should have an interesting battle for fourth through sixth positions in the final competitive stage on Friday. It would take a very strong final stage for someone to unseat Christophe Le Saux from his seventh place ranking, but Danny Kendall, Antoine Guillon, and Macro De Martin are all within 6 minutes in positions eight through ten.
- Rachid El Morabity (Morocco) — 16:58:40
- Abdelkader El Mouaziz (Morocco) — +13:35
- Aziz El Akad (Morocco) — +44:03
- Salameh Al Aqra (Jordan) — +1:15:03
- Samir Akhdar (Morocco) — +1:17:31
- Chema Martínez (Spain) — +1:23:01
- Christophe Le Saux (France) — +2:00:37
- Danny Kendall (UK) — +2:12:45
- Antoine Guillon (France) — +2:13:47
- Marco De Martin (Switzerland) — +2:18:45
- Mohamad Ahansal (Morocco) — +2:41:42
- Dave Mackey (US) — +3:09:44
- Marco Olmo (Italy) — +4:56:47 (67 years old!)
Women – Stage 4
Well, what a stage THAT was! Elisabet Barnes won the stage by nearly an hour. She actually ran in third past 26km after which she passed Liza Howard and caught Laurence Klein, after Liza and Laurence pushed the pace early with Liza holding a solo lead at 12km. Well, by the later portions of the stage, Elisabet powered on with Liza and Laurence deployed parachutes and quickly slowed to a crawl. Laurence finished 22nd in the stage, more than five hours behind Elisabet. GPS suggests that Liza is still out on the course between checkpoints.
Anna-Marie Watson (+49:55) wins a gold star today. She was one of five women to start 3 hours after the main field along with the top 50 men. She was the fourth woman from her group through 26km, already 15 minutes slower than then leader Liza Howard. She appears to have run her own steady race, passing Laurence and Liza when they faulted. She couldn’t have known at the time, but she was trading fourth- and fifth-place splits and later second- and third-place with Natalia Sedykh (+51:25), who started three hours early after a 1-hour penalty the previous day knocked her out of the top five where she previously sat.
[Author’s Note: I’ll take this moment to perhaps suggest that the Marathon des Sables revise its Top 50 men and Top 5 women long-stage start. A podium position or even a top-five spot is a significant honor at the Marathon des Sables and with Stage 4 often being a dramatic shakeup of the race, either the Top-10 overall women or all women within three hours of the lead through Stage 3 start with the later group. As it stands, two women were de facto racing for second in the stage and in the overall rankings, while being separated by three hours. They could not know their relative positions.
The Top 5 cutoff may have made since in times when there was not as much depth in the women’s field, but even after two podium position women blew up in today’s stage, 11 women finished within 3 hours of the women’s winner… and, more importantly, within 25 minutes of the final non-blown up woman–Gemma Game–from the late start. All of those women were also within 25 minutes of Gemma at 35km, at which point I’d guess these women would have started catching the back of the pack from the early starters… had they been in the late start. My point with this paragraph is that having five to 10 additional women start in the “late start” would not significantly burden the races infrastructure by forcing checkpoints to be open significantly longer.]
Back to today’s stage… Claire Morrissey (+1:31:24), Meghan Hicks (+1:40:24), and Jolanda Linschooten (+2:10:42) all bounced around within a few minutes of another through the first 40km or so before they shook out into their finishing order of 4-5-6 on the day. Jolanda faded a good bit more than the other two at the end of the stage.
Melissa Venables (+2:12:36) was super conservative through the stage. She was nearly seven minutes out of the women’s top ten… at 12km! She moved up all stage, even sneaking past Jolanda briefly to move into sixth, before finishing in seventh. Poor Gemma Game (+2:33:46) was in the unenviable position of running as the fifth of five women in the late start. She was 4 minutes behind everyone 12 kilometers into her stage. Still, if you look at her splits versus all the women together, she went out “hard” and faded quiet strongly. I’d imagine she’s have felt some pressure or desire not to be running along off the back and that may have forced her hand.
Sussanah Chan (+2:58:31) and Emily Foy (+2:58:31) went out harder than their previous stage finishes would have placed them, while Holly Symons (+2:58:31) went out conservatively. By 38km, Chan and Foy had paired up and apparently worked together the rest of the stage. Symons caught the pair by 75km and the trio finished together in a tie for ninth on the day.
[Initial women’s report] Former Top Fiver Natalia Sedykh was the first woman to cross the line today, but she started in the main field after receiving a one-hour penalty yesterday. The Top Five women and Top 50 men start three hours after the main field at the MdS’s long stage, so it will be a while before we know where Natalia’s 12:20:29 puts her amongst those five later women’s starts today. The most recent reliable update we have on the women’s top five is that overall leader Elisabet Barnes and three-time MdS champ Laurence Klein were running together at 37.8km. At that point, Liza Howard for just over 3 minutes back. [Update a few hours later, 4:30 p.m. PST] Elisabet Barnes won the long stage of this year’s Marathon des Sables. Interestingly, there aren’t any updates on either Laurence Klein or Liza Howard after the three checkpoints after 38km that are otherwise reporting online. At the same time, updates from the other two women from the top five who started in the later wave–Anna-Marie Watson and Gemma Game–do have updates from later checkpoints. I don’t want to be alarmist… as I have no hard info AND communication problems are inherent in such remote locations (trust me, I know!), but it’s possible that either of these two women are having issues. Two years ago, Laurence Klein was leading the MdS women’s race when she abandoned Stage 4. [Update a few minutes later] The race is now reporting that Anna-Marie Watson, also from the late (Top Five) start, has finished… with no report on Laurence or Liza. It could be that they’re just missing from the results… or there could be an entirely new race for the women’s podium at this year’s Marathon des Sables.
Women’s Stage 4 Results
- Elisabet Barnes (Sweden) — 11:29:03
- Anna-Marie Watson (UK) — +49:55
- Natalia Sedykh (Russia) — +51:25
- Claire Morrissey (Ireland) — +1:31:24
- Meghan Hicks (US) — +1:40:24
- Jolanda Linschooten (Netherlands) — +2:10:42
- Melissa Venables (UK) — +2:12:36
- Gemma Game (UK) — +2:33:46
- T-9. Emily Foy (UK) — +2:58:31
- T-9. Sussanah Chan (UK) — +2:58:31
- T-9. Holly Symons (UK) — +2:58:31
Women’s Overall Results through Stage 4
Elisabet Barnes is the presumptive women’s champion of this year’s Marathon des Sables. She’s won each of the first four stages and can now slowly jog her way to overall victory.
In a topsy-turvy race, big blowups by Laurence Klein and Liza Howard during the long stage, a 1-hour penalty to Natalia Sedykh prior to Stage 4, AND, most importantly, a strong Stage 4 mean that Anna-Marie Watson jumped from sixth to second overall today. Natalia’s third-place finish on the day moved her up into third. (She had been in fourth prior to her penalty.) These two women should battle for second in Friday’s final marathon-length competitive stage. It’s worth noting that Natalia has run nearly hour faster than Anna-Marie has on the course. If both recover well tomorrow, this could be a great battle to the finish.
Behind Natalie, there’s an almost (certainly insurmountable) hour to Meghan Hicks, who jumps up into fourth overall with her steady running on the long stage, but Gemma Game is a mere five minutes behind Hicks in fifth.
Claire Morrisey look as if she should take sixth overall, while Melissa Venables and Jolanda Linschooten should battle one-another for seventh-place overall.
- Elisabet Barnes (Sweden)
- Anna-Marie Watson (UK) — +2:43:40
- Natalia Sedykh (Russia) — +2:57:55
- Meghan Hicks (US) — +3:47:54
- Gemma Game (UK) — +3:52:47
- Claire Morrissey (Ireland) — +4:18:14
- Melissa Venables (UK) — +4:42:56
- Jolanda Linschooten (Netherlands) — +4:47:22
- Emily Foy (UK)
- Holly Symons (UK)
Overall rankings through Stage 4.
Field Report — From Meghan Hicks
Stage 4 – In the Presence of Wind
Have you ever run into a headwind for 45 miles? And not just a headwind, but a stiff one, blowing at 30 miles per hour or more. That’s what MdS competitors faced in yesterday and today’s 58-mile long stage. The 2015 MdS will surely go down as the year of the wind. Such a hard wind that competitors worked together, drafting, all day, all night. Such a hard wind that we had to lean into it. Such a hard wind that our entire bodies were coated in a thick layer of dust and sand. An upside to a persistent headwind is its cooling effect. You still need just as much water to counter the Sahara, but you feel less hot as you run. Wind, oh, how you roll.
Field Report — From Kirsten Kortebein
The long stage of this year’s Marathon des Sables–91.7 km–succeeded in shaking up both the men’s and women’s rankings. Clouds/dust covered the sun for the general classement start at 8:00 am BMT, but by the time the elite runners’ race began at 11:00 am, the heat was back in full force. The weather has been consistently windy throughout this MDS, and sandstorms have been intermittent. There was a strong headwind throughout the majority of yesterday’s race. [See Kirsten’s Stage 4 photos.]
Swede Elisabet Barnes took first place yet again during yesterday’s long stage; she mentioned yesterday that she thinks it takes “a couple times around to figure out this race,” proving once again that she’s got a real handle on the MDS this time around. Her only concern at the moment is that her shoes–she’s running in Hokas, the Clifton model–are collapsing a bit, and hopes they hold up.
USA’s Liza Howard had a tough time yesterday, dropping out of her second-place overall ranking. She started to have stomach issues circa CP5, was running on an empty stomach, and decided to lay down for 3-4 hours. After leaving CP5, she felt well until CP6, where she was unable to even keep down water. She did finish the stage a little after 7:00 am BMT, and will finish tomorrow’s stage, as well. She says that her pack is a likely cause of the vomiting…not necessarily because it was too heavy, but that its size proportional to her own body weight may have exacerbated her stomach issues.
Laurence Klein would’ve been a likely candidate for third place during yesterday’s long stage, but she, too, fell far behind Elisabet Barnes. The MdS staff have reported that Laurence stopped along the way to help a runner who was having a medical issue, and waited for 45 minutes with him or her for the medical staff to arrive. She will not be receiving a “time credit” for the time spent helping the runners; regardless, this still doesn’t explain why she arrived around 4:00 am. The MDS staff and myself have been unsuccessful thus far in reaching Laurence for any further information.
Those who did come in second and third places were Britain’s Anna-Marie Watson and Russia’s Natalia Sedykh. Natalia was looking very well throughout the race, and finished looking equally strong. She started the race under a 1:00 hour penalty, though. This penalty was levied because one of the items required for runners to carry was missing from her pack during a control.
USA’s Meghan Hicks has moved into fourth place in the overall ranking after yesterday’s long stage. She reported having felt well until about 9.5 hours in, and then had stomach issues.
Rachid El Morabity was the first of the top men to cross the finish line last night after yesterday’s 91.7-kilometer stage. He came in looking strong, proud, and left us all wondering how far behind he’d left Morocco’s Abdelkader El Mouaziz. As far as anyone at the finish line knew, Rachid and El Mouaziz had been running together all day; the last I’d seen them, they were blazing through CP5 together, barely stopping to get their water ration cards punched. In chatting with Rachid this morning, he reported that they’d run together up until “two kilometers from the finish,” where he then pulled ahead. El Mouaziz stayed focused yesterday, saying that he did feel tired during the long stage, largely due to the terrain (mountains, soft sand.) He credits his success in yesterday’s stage to having trained specifically for this stage, saying that “without strategy, [yesterday’s stage] would not have been possible.”
Morocco’s Aziz El Akad had a fantastic day yesterday, coming in third place during the stage. All the Moroccan 4×4 drivers and tent personnel gathered at the finish line went nuts when they realized who was arriving, thrilled that three Moroccans had just swept first, second, and third place. He’s now sitting in third-place overall, and says that he’s only continued to feel stronger throughout each stage of this MdS. He made sure to stay vigilant during yesterday’s stage: not necessarily in terms of watching behind for other runners, but by calculating his food and water intake and listening to his body.
This might be a good place to talk about Jordan’s Salameh Al Aqra, who finished yesterday’s stage in eighth place, just over an hour after Rachid. It left everyone at the finish line a bit confused when he didn’t come in within 15 minutes of Rachid, and there was some serious confusion when 9:30 pm (MDS time) rolled around and there was still no sign of him. As it turns out, he tore a muscle in his left leg on the jebel decent directly after CP1. He says he was in pain, but that he “had to finish, I didn’t care,” and continued on for the remainder of the 91.7 kilometers. “I’m used to this…I’m ten years in, you’ll always face something,” he says. He seems to have emotionally accepted the injury; if anything, he says he is disappointed that he pushed himself so hard yesterday, knowing that it was too much. His legacy of success in the MdS long stage still played a big role in yesterday’s race–both Rachid and El Mouaziz said that the most exhausting part of their race yesterday was constantly asking themselves when Salameh would arrive. “Ninety-one kilometers is a long way to always be watching for someone to catch you,” says Rachid, and noted that this constant vigilance was very stressful throughout the race.
Samir Akhdar’s smiling face was a great one to see as he crossed the finish line last night in fourth place. He’s worked so hard in his MdS preparations this year, and has really made an effort to run his own race throughout the stages thus far. “I raced yesterday for me, for myself,” he said. “You get stressed if you don’t race alone in your mind.”
A bit further back, Dave Mackey of the US felt well beginning yesterday’s race, but says that he succumbed to a number of factors during the long stage. Running in the midday heat was difficult for him, as the elite runners are typically finished and in camp by noon or 1:00 pm each day. He also had stomach issues throughout the first 60 kilometers of the race, and mentioned that he thinks he may have consumed too much fiber. Up until the last 25% of the race, he’d run on an empty stomach. He was finally able to rebound with some peanut butter, and finished the last 20 kilometers feeling better and on-pace.
- Stage 4 Roadbook (course map and description)
- iRunFar’s Photo Gallery from Stage 4
- Stage 4 – First Official Photos Day 1 and Day 2
- Official New Releases: From start of Stage 4 and on the Head of the Race
Stage 3: Jebel El Otfal to Jebel Zireg (36.7 km)
On paper, Stage 3’s 23 miles look fairly benign. However, the terrain or the temps rarely leave an “easy” day as an option during the MdS. At the front of the pack, the speed of today’s stage seems on par with, if a hair faster than the preceding days. We look forward to reports from the field on how the Moroccan Sahara challenged the 1,300 runners today.
- Update April 8, 1:12 p.m. PDT: Note added re Natalia Sedykh’s Stage 3 penalty
- Added April 7, 6:30 p.m. MDT: Kirsten Kortebein’s Stage 2 Field Report and Photos
- Added April 7, 6:30 p.m. MDT: Links to Official Stage 3 Press Releases and Photos
- Delayed Update Added April 7, 6 p.m. MDT: Meghan Hicks’s Stage 1 Field Report
Women – Stage 3
At the front of the women’s race, Swede Elisabet Barnes continued her sweep of stage victories today. For the first time in this year’s race, Frenchwoman Laurence Klein (+7:18) bested the US’s Lisa Howard (+13:42) to take second on the day.
Natalia Sedykh (+19:33) and Gemma Game (+29:50) have quite the set routine at this point. Natalia goes out hard (she was in second, just ahead of Howard at 14km today) and Gemma runs consistently (she’s been fifth woman at every checkpoint in this year’s MdS except for checkpoint 1 in Stage 1… she was sixth). For the third straight day, the Russian and Brit finished fourth and fifth, respectively, for the stage. However, Natalie bested Gemma by 10 minutes today as opposed to a minute or so in the two previous stages. The UK’s Anna-Marie Watson (+36:10) ran sixth woman all day, just as she did yesterday, but remains distinctly behind Natalia and Gemma. [Update April 8, 1 p.m. PDT: It appears that Natalia Sedykh recieved a 1-hour penalty yesterday. I’m awaiting additional details. – Bryon]
Rebecca Ferry (+48:24) of the UK continues to move up the women’s field. She was seventh today after finishing 12th in Stage 1 and eighth in Stage 2. Jolanda Linschooten (+49:24) bounced back from a rough day yesterday to finish eighth woman on the day just a minute behind Ferry. The UK’s Melissa Venables (+50:40) bounced around the women’s field today, as she was 14th at 14km before moving into eighth by 26km. She finished ninth on the day. Not far behind her was American Meghan Hicks, who steadily stayed in tenth all day. Hicks reported before the race that the leg injury that kept her from running MdS last year might prevent her from “racing” this year’s event, but not from finishing as she could run pain-free at an easy pace. Her consistent placement within the women’s field during each stage suggests this may, in fact, be the case.
Ireland’s Claire Morrissey (+1:09:19) is slowly sagging in the ranks, having gone from ninth to tenth to 11th through each of the first three stages. We’ve not noted her previously, but the UK’s Emily Foy (+1:13:35) finished 11th in the first two stages before taking 13th today, when she was four minutes behind Morrissey.
Women’s Stage 3 Results
- Elisabet Barnes (Sweden) — 3:48:54
- Laurence Klein (France) — +7:18
- Liza Howard (US) — +13:42
- Natalia Sedykh (Russia) — +19:33
- Gemma Game (UK) — +29:50
- Anna-Marie Watson (UK) — +36:10
- Rebecca Ferry (UK) — +48:24
- Jolanda Linschooten (Netherlands) — +49:24
- Melissa Venables (UK) — +50:40
- Meghan Hicks (US) — +53:07
Women’s Overall Results Through Stage 3
- Elisabet Barnes (Sweden) — 11:01:18
- Liza Howard (US) — +22:56
- Laurence Klein (France)– +33:49
- Natalia Sedykh (Russia) — +1:06:30 [Believed to have been later changed to +2:06:30]
- Gemma Game (UK) — +1:19:01
- Anna-Marie Watson (UK) — +1:53:45
- Meghan Hicks (US) — +2:07:30
- Melissa Venables (UK) — +2:30:20
- Jolanda Linschooten (Netherlands) — +2:36:40
- Rebecca Ferry (UK) — +2:42:04
- Claire Morrissey (Ireland) — +2:46:50
- Emily Foy (UK) — +3:08:53
Men – Stage 3
Three stages and three 1-2-3 finishes for Rachid El Morabity, Abdelkader El Mouaziz (+2:31), and Salameh Al Aqra (+4:18). However, Rachid’s not pulling away early in the stages. Today, the other two ran with or ahead of Rachid through the first checkpoint (14km), while El Mouaziz and Al Aqra were right with El Morabity at Checkpoint 2 (26km). However, Rachid seems able to pull away at will at the end of each stage. Tomorrow should sort things out amongst the top three… but Rachid seems pretty untouchable at this point.
Oh, the ever patient Aziz El Akad (+4:57). He seems to be filling in Mohamad Ahansal’s elder statesman roll up front at this year’s MdS. He’s out there running by himself and getting it done that way. At 14km today, he was in fifth already two minutes off the lead. He then passed Chema Martínez (+8:53) and made up ground on Al Aqra before Checkpoint 2 before settling in and taking fourth for the second-straight day. Martínez, on the other hand, was once again aggressive, running with the leaders through the first checkpoint before being dropped quite hard. This is not promising for tomorrow’s upcoming long stage.
The UK’s Danny Kendall (+13:20) knows his place. It was seventh the first day and sixth the past two days. He went out in seventh today before passing Samir Akhdar (+14:21) late in today’s stage.
Behind Akhdar, there was a small gap to another five guys within eight minutes of one another. It appears that Dave Mackey (+20:03) and Christophe Le Saux (+20:36) were close to one another all day before Mackey put half a minute on Le Saux late in the stage to take eighth. Switzerland’s Marco De Martin (+24:40) ran in tenth all day today after finishing eighth in Stage 1 and 11th in Stage 2. Mohamad Ahansal’s (+26:17) leg has him far outside the top five, but he continues on, taking 11th today ahead of Antoine Guillon (+27:55). Those two and Carlos Sá (+33:31) all bounced around between 11th and 13th through the course of Stage 3. Sá ended up in 13th.
Men’s Stage 3 Results
- Rachid El Morabity (Morocco) — 2:53:37
- Abdelkader El Mouaziz (Morocco) — +2:31
- Salameh Al Aqra (Jordan) — +4:18
- Aziz El Akad (Morocco) — +4:57
- Chema Martínez (Spain) — +8:53
- Danny Kendall (UK) — +13:20
- Samir Akhdar (Morocco) — +14:21
- Dave Mackey (US) — +20:03
- Christophe Le Saux (France) — +20:36
- Marco de Martin (Switzerland) — +24:40
- Mohamad Ahansal (Morocco) — +26:17
- Antoine Guillon (France) — +27:55
- Carlos Sá (Portugal) — +33:31
Men’s Overall Results Through Stage 3
- Rachid El Morabity (Morocco) — 8:18:51
- Abdelkader El Mouaziz (Morocco) — +5:41
- Salameh Al Aqra (Jordan) — +12:09
- Aziz El Akad (Morocco) — +33:16
- Samir Akhdar (Morocco) — +33:41
- Chema Martínez (Spain) — +35:29
- Danny Kendall (UK) — +43:27
- Mohamad Ahansal (Morocco) — +52:10
- Dave Mackey (US) — +1:03:30
- Marco De Martin (Switzerland) — +1:07:02
- Christophe Le Saux (France) — +1:08:58
- Antoine Guillon (France) — +1:12:35
- Carlos Sá (Portugal) — +1:35:47
iRunFar Field Report – From Kirsten Kortebein
Nearly every day in the Sahara is hot, but today, it is hot. Due to the severe flooding in this area of the desert throughout the last couple of months, the ground and the air hold much more moisture this year than they typically do during the MdS. This has been noticeable throughout the race, but the air was especially heavy during today’s Stage Three. It hasn’t been markedly sunny today–in fact, it’s been fairly overcast and hazy–but everyone is feeling the effects of today’s atypical humidity.
Morocco’s Rachid El Morabity took first place again during today’s stage, followed once more by Morocco’s Abdelkader El Mouaziz. Rachid says he is feeling very “in form” and is not tired heading into tomorrow’s long stage, but he did mention that today’s heat was severe for him. He is content with his performance thus far, and hopes to continue his current rhythm during Stage Four. It will be interesting to see how tomorrow’s Stage Four shakes out for El Mouaziz; he is aware that he will need to be careful not to overdo it at the beginning of the stage, and plans to find his pace behind–not with–Rachid throughout tomorrow’s 91.7 kilometers.
Finishing today’s stage just one minute after El Mouaziz was Jordan’s Salameh Al Aqra, who is in good spirits and is looking forward to tomorrow’s long stage. “[The long stage] is my day,” he says, and notes that he has a chance of moving up in his ranking if he can play it smart tomorrow. Morocco’s Aziz El Akad finished today in fourth place, and is preparing for tomorrow’s long stage. “It will not be easy to run tomorrow,” he says, but plans to eat well tonight in preparation. Chema Martínez looked well coming through kilometer 8 with the front pack, but fell back as the race went on, and finished in fifth place. Danny Kendall and Samir Akhdar came in sixth and seventh today. Samir acknowledges that he should’ve found his own rhythm today instead of trying to stick with the top four men, and plans to run his own race during tomorrow’s long stage, for which he feels very prepared.
Sweden’s Elisabet Barnes took first place yet again during Stage Three, followed today by France’s Laurence Klein in second place. Barnes said that today was the toughest stage yet, and that she does feel tired after today. She mentioned that she’d started today’s race feeling almost feverish at the start line, and had been worried about her performance potential; but after a few kilometers, she regrounded and was able to take advantage of today’s flat spaces. Laurence had said that she’d had a more difficult time than normal acclimating to the desert temperatures this year, but each stage seems to be finding her footing more and more. USA’s Liza Howard came in third today, mentioning that today’s headwind and her heavy pack made today a bit more rough. She “plugged along just fine,” though, and is meticulously planning her food timing in preparation for the long stage. Russia’s Natalia Sedykh and Britain’s Gemma Game took fourth and fifth places today, holding the same places respectively overall. USA’s Meghan Hicks finished today in tenth place, which brings her to an overall placing of seventh.
- Stage 3 Roadbook (course map and description)
- iRunFar’s Stage 3 Facebook photo album
- Official Updates: General and Head of the Race
- Official Race Photos
Stage 2: Oued Tijekht to Jebel El Otfal (31.1 km)
Stage 2 was Jebel Day, with the relatively short course crossing two significant jebels (rough hills) at Joua Baba Ali Jebel and El Otfal Jebel. That means it was a day that favored those the strong and technical runner rather than the merely fast.
Men — Stage 2
While things are always far from settled until the dust has settled on the long stage, the top three men this year appear to be sorting themselves out at least for these early 20-25 miles stages. Rachid El Morabity won today’s 31.1km stage in 2:32. Unlike yesterday, he didn’t have anyone on his shoulder as he crossed the line as Abdelkader El Mouaziz (+2:54) finished nearly three minutes back in second. Salamed Al Aqra again took third, a bit further off El Morabity, but about equidistant from yesterday’s gap back from El Mouaziz. However, today Al Aqra did lead through the first checkpoint at 12km before fading.
In the biggest jump on the day among leaders, Morocco’s Aziz El Akad (+5:12) moved from 11th in Stage 1 to fourth in Stage 2. He was also only five minutes off the lead today. It appears he’ll make a play for his sixth top-five MdS finish at this year’s race.
Samir Akhdar (+11:48) and Danny Kendall (+13:04) went out harder today, both within two minutes of the lead in fourth and fifth respectively at 12km. Samir, who’s never finished in the top five overall at MdS, ended up fifth on the day and, now, sits in fourth overall, while Kendall finished about a minute behind him. Both gentleman are running a strong race and anything can happen, but both also appear to have a top end a level below today’s top four.
Mohamad Ahansal (+18:22) went out quite conservatively today. He was in 11th almost five minutes off the lead at 12km before working his way up to seventh by the finish. Still, being 18 minutes off the lead today seems more indicative off an inability to compete with the top dogs this year rather than sound strategy for this multiple-time champ.
The rest of the today’s top ten was rounded out by Americans and Europeans who all finished within a minute of one another. Dave Mackey (+20:32) and Chema Martínez (+20:56) both went out relatively hard in seventh and eighth through 12km. Chema then pulled ahead by a few minutes by the 25km checkpoint before Mackey reeled him back in to take eighth. Antoine Guillon (+20:47) also reeled Chema in after being three minutes back at 12km and 3.5 minutes back at 25km. I’d look for Antoine to continue moving up.
After taking eighth yesterday, Martin De Marco took 11th today. Carlos Sá was stronger today, taking 12th, but he’s still not his usual self. Christophe Le Saux dropped from ninth yesterday to 12th today.
Men’s Stage 2 Results
- Rachid El Morabity (Morocco) — 2:32:23
- Abdelkader El Mouaziz (Morocco) — +2:54
- Salameh Al Aqra (Jordan) — +4:41
- Aziz El Akad (Morocco) — +5:12
- Samir Akhdar (Morocco) — +11:48
- Danny Kendall (UK) — +13:04
- Mohamad Ahansal (Morocco) — +18:22
- Dave Mackey (US) — +20:32
- Antoine Guillon (France) — +20:47
- Chema Martínez (Spain) — +20:56
Men’s Overall Results Through Stage 2
- Rachid El Morabity (Morocco) — 5:25:14
- Abdelkader El Mouaziz (Morocco) — +3:10
- Salameh Al Aqra (Jordan) — +7:50
- Samir Akhdar (Morocco) — +19:19
- Mohamad Ahansal (Morocco) — +25:53
- Chema Martínez (Spain) — +26:35
- Aziz El Akad (Morocco) — +28:19
- Danny Kendall (UK) — +30:06
- Marco De Martin (Switzerland) — +42:22
- Dave Mackey (US) — +43:26
Women — Stage 2
Well, it appears Elisabet Barnes is more than a one-hit wonder in this year’s MdS. It looks like she led Stage 2 from wire to wire. However, she did give up most of her 90-second lead at 25km to edge out Liza Howard by a mere 16 seconds at the finish. We’re not sure whether that’s due to fatigue or the tough terrain, which included a difficult jebel as well as almost a mile of sand dunes in that final 6.5 kilometers.
While there was some yo-yoing time wise among the top women today… each of the top eight women already held her finishing position at both checkpoints at 12 and 25 kilometers. That’s pretty remarkable. The top five women also took the same positions they did in Stage 1. This may seem like a set up for a non-dynamic race… but just you wait until Wednesday’s long stage.
France’s Laurence Klein (+15:50) again immediately ceded time to Barnes before finishing nearly 16 minutes off the lead. Either Klein has an entirely different strategy from her aggressive racing in past years or she’s just not in the fitness to win again. We’ll see come the long stage in two days.
Natalie Sedykh (+23:40) and Gemma Game (+24:15) once again took fourth and fifth on the day, respectively. Heck, they pretty much ran the same exact stages as each did in Stage 1 with the same gaps off the lead, as well. Natalie was the more aggressive of the two. She was just four minutes off the lead and 40 seconds off third-place Laurence at 12km before fading. On the other hand, Gemma was Steady Edwina through the stage, making up much ground on Natalie late.
Anna-Marie Watson (+32:45) moved up a spot today to take sixth in an even effort. She swapped yesterday’s positions with Meghan Hicks (+38:01), who slowed some after the first checkpoint.
The UK’s Rebecca Ferry (+45:56) jumped into the top ten today after taking 12th yesterday. Melissa Venables (+47:50) and Claire Morrissey (+50:43) swapped positions from yesterday with Melissa taking ninth today as she moved up through the field during the stage.
At the moment, Jolanda Linschooten looks like a non-factor for the top five. After taking eighth yesterday, she was 12th today. She was over an hour off the lead today and is an hour and 45 minutes off the overall lead after two stages.
Women’s Stage 2 Results
- Elisabet Barnes (Sweden) — 3:27:06
- Liza Howard (US) — +16 seconds
- Laurence Klein (France) — +15:50
- Natalia Sedykh (Russia) — + 23:40
- Gemma Game (UK) — +24:15
- Anna-Marie Watson (UK) — +32:45
- Meghan Hicks (US) — +38:01
- Rebecca Ferry (UK) — +45:56
- Melissa Venables (UK) — +47:50
- Claire Morrissey (Ireland) — +50:43
Women’s Overall Results Through Stage 2
- Elisabet Barnes (Sweden) — 7:12:24
- Liza Howard (US) — +8:14
- Laurence Klein (France)– +26:30
- Natalia Sedykh (Russia) — +46:57
- Gemma Game (UK) — +49:10
- Meghan Hicks (US) — +1:14:21
- Anna-Marie Watson (UK) — +1:17:34
- Claire Morrissey (Ireland) — +1:37:30
- Melissa Venables (UK) — +1:39:39
- Jolanda Linschooten (Netherlands) — +1:47:15
iRunFar Field Report – From Kirsten Kortebein
Stage Two of the 2015 Marathon des Sables was–as can be expected–a hot one. Morale in bivouac seems high, but today’s strong sun and technical terrain seem to have tired out even some of the top competitors. Stage Two’s course contained multiple jebel climbs and descents on fairly loose rock, a flat oued, and small dune fields. As I write, a large sandstorm is looming–everyone here is crossing their fingers that it will pass by, but the runners are doing their best to secure their tents in preparation.
Elisabet Barnes took first place again today in the women’s race, staying strong throughout the day. Navigating the stage’s jebels seemed to have been a little more of a challenge for her, and she took a bit of a wrong turn while traversing the jebel between CP2 and the finish line. USA’s Elizabeth Howard, who had stuck with Elisabet for the majority of today’s stage, did pull ahead at this point–but once the two had descended and entered into the small dune field before the finish, Elisabet powered past Howard for a strong finish. Howard is cheerful post-race and had “lots of fun” during today’s stage, particularly enjoying running the ridgelines and technical downhills. France’s Laurence Klein came in third today and rests in third place overall. She’s staying very focused before the next stages. Russia’s Natalia Sedykh and Britain’s Gemma Game stuck and finished today’s stage close together–in fourth and fifth places, respectively–and Britain’s Anna-Marie Watson and USA’s Meghan Hicks finished in sixth and seventh.
Morocco’s Rachid El Morabity took the win yet again during today’s stage, setting and holding a solid pace throughout the course. He is cheerful in camp but very focused, which is especially evident when he crosses the finish line.
Morocco’s Abdelkader El Mouaziz came in second today; he did indeed seem to have a harder time with today’s stage than yesterday’s, seeming tired in comparison to Stage One. The top competitors consider him to be a real force to reckon with, but are predicting that the long stage may be quite difficult for him. On the other hand, Jordan’s Salameh Al Aqra is feeling very well–healthy, rested, and confident–and finished today’s race in third place. Finishing behind Salameh was Morocco’s Aziz El Akad. He put in some serious leg work today; he seems in good spirits, and is now sitting in seventh place overall. Samir Akhdar said that he struggled a bit with today’s heat and technical terrain, but found his rhythm once he stopped trying to keep pace with El Morabity. Finishing behind Samir was Britain’s Danny Kendall, who says he had more energy during today’s race than yesterday’s, during which he had felt sluggish. Mohamad Ahansal’s left knee was bothering him quite a bit during the steep descents in today’s stage… he joked that he’s running this MdS “with one leg.” He is staying relaxed, and will take the rest of the race as it comes.
- The Roadbook for Stage 2 (course map and description)
- Official Stage 2 Photos
- Official News Releases for Stage 2: General and Head of the Race
- Portrait: Chema Martínez
Stage 1: Jebel Irhs to Oued Tijekht (36.2 km)
Stage 1 looks like a rough way to start off the Marathon des Sables with a few jebel (rough hill) crossings and a few kilometers of sand dunes. No matter the exact terrain, the first stage of the MdS provides runners the added challenge of their packs weighing their maximum. Even when the terrain is tougher later in the race, lighter packs can ease a runner’s physical and mental burden.
On the upside, it was a mere 29C/85F with low humidity two hours into the first stage. While that’s hot for many Northern Hemisphere climes this time of year, that’s downright comfortable on the MdS course.
Women — Stage 1
Holy Moly! Native Swede and UK-resident Elisabet Barnes blazed the women’s field to kick off the 2015 Marathon des Sables. She finished the 36km stage nearly eight minutes ahead the next woman, the US’s Liza Howard. Barnes had a minute lead at the race’s first checkpoint at 13km, built that to four minutes by 25km, before adding another four minutes on the women’s field in the final 11km. Barnes has some strong ultra results in the UK, but from the (very) outside, it looks like this was a very aggressive first-stage performance when you compare Barnes’s marathon times in the 3 hours and teens over the past few years with the with pedigrees the likes of Liza Howard’s and Laurence Klein’s.
Liza Howard (+7:57) did take second on the day, but after running through the first two checkpoints at 13 and 25 kilometers roughly a minute behind multiple-time champion Laurence Klein (+10:40) of France. Either Howard kicked hard or Klein faded late, as Howard outran Klein by 4 minutes in the final 11 kilometers today.
Two more new names, Natalia Sedykh (+23:16) of Russia and Gemma Game (+24:54) of the UK, rounded out the women’s top five in stage one. Natalie hung with then third-place Howard through checkpoint 1 at 13 km and was still within 7 minutes of the women’s lead at 25km. She would finish 23 minutes back. Gemma ran much more evenly that Natalia, as she was 10 minutes off the lead at 13km, 18 minutes off at 25km, and 25 minutes at the finish. That promises to be a much better long term strategy.
Meghan Hicks (+36:19), the 2013 MdS champion ran evenly through the day. She finished sixth woman 36 minutes off the lead with the sort of even effort we’d expect out of Meghan. The UK’s Anna-Marie Watson (+44:49) moved up a great deal through the stage, from 14th at 13km to seventh at the finish.
Of other women we previewed before the race, Jolanda Linschooten (+45:43) of the Netherlands was eighth on the day after going out in 5th through 13km, while Ireland’s Claire Morrissey (+46:46′) finished in ninth, the position she held most of the stage. At this point Italy’s Luisa Balsamo and Spain’s Eli Sanchez Brito look to be non-competitive in this venture.
- Elisabet Barnes (Sweden) — 3:45:17
- Liza Howard (US) — +7:57
- Laurence Klein (France) — +10:40
- Natalia Sedykh (Russia) — +23:16
- Gemma Game (UK) — +24:54
- Meghan Hicks (US) — +36:19
- Anna-Marie Watson (UK) — +44:49
- Jolanda Linschooten (Netherlands) — +45:43
- Claire Morrissey (Ireland) — +46:46
- Melissa Venables (UK) — +51:48
Men — Stage 1
Yeah… the Moroccans. They, along with MdS regular Salameh Al Aqra of Jordan, crushed the first stage of the 2015 Marathon des Sables, with four Moroccans and Salameh taking five of the top six positions and leaving a slew of international-caliber ultrarunners from 20 to 35 minutes back… in a 35-kilometer stage. Wow!
Last year’s champ Rachid El Morabity edged out countryman Abdelkader El Mouaziz by 15 seconds after being within seconds of one another throughout the stage. Rachid obviously has the power to continue this effort, while Abdelkader (a former 2:06 marathoner) similarly saw success in the “shorter” MdS stages last year before losing over 2 hours to the leaders on the much longer stage four.
Having finished MdS nine times, won the MdS in 2012, and oft running in similar terrain in his Jordanian homeland, it’s no surprise to have Salameh Al Aqra (+3:08) finish third on the day. A three-minute deficit is an irrelevant rounding error at this point in MdS. Still, it could be telling that he was with the two leaders through at least 25km before falling back late in the stage. Chema Martínez (+5:39) of Spain was the top European on the day. A former track and road running star (2:08 marathon), we’ll have to see if Chema can sustain this sort of performance or if he’ll fall more in line with Adbelkader’s 2014 performance. Moroccan friends Samir Akhdar and Mohamad Ahansal (both +7:30) ran together all day to take fifth and sixth. With five MdS wins, Mohamad knows what he’s doing and Samir is smart to stick with him.
And then there was a 10 minute gap. The UK’s Danny Kendall (+17:01) led the mortals with his seventh place finish on the day with an even effort. Switzerland’s Marco De Martin (+20:01) moved up the field through the day to take eighth. De Martin traded places late in the race with Christophe Le Saux (+21:24) of France, who also ran a well-paced stage. Dave Mackey (+22:54) of the US stayed roughly in the same spot all day before finishing in tenth.
Stage one left some notable runners outside the top ten. Aziz El Akad (+23:07) of Morocco could only manage 11th, while having finished between second and fifth in all five of his MdS finishes. I was surprised to see Antoine Guillon (+23:52) of France back in 12th after Day 1, although his talents are much better suited for the long stage on Day 4. Perhaps the biggest surprise on the day is Portugal’s Carlos Sá (+35:18) finishing more than 35 minutes off the lead in 15th. Sá was fourth at last year’s MdS.
- Rachid El Morabity (Morocco) — 2:52:50
- Abdelkader El Mouaziz (Morocco) — +15 seconds
- Salameh Al Aqra (Jordan) — +3:08
- Chema Martínez (Spain) — +5:39
- Samir Akhdar (Morocco) — +7:30
- Mohamad Ahansal (Morocco) — +7:30
- Danny Kendall (UK) — +17:01
- Marco De Martin (Switzerland) — +20:01
- Christophe Le Saux (France) — +21:24
- Dave Mackey (US) — +22:54
iRunFar Field Report – From Kirsten Kortebein
After a prep day filled with dust and reoccurring sandstorms, the 30th Marathon des Sables is finally underway. The competitors left base camp this morning a little after 9:00 AM BMT (the MdS has, like last year, opted to create an “MdS time zone” instead of staying on local time.) Today’s stage was 36.2 km, and included a solid range of terrain: flat rocky areas, a dried up oued, jebels, and small dune fields.
Jordan’s Salameh Al Aqra led the pack through CP1, jostling for position with Morocco’s Abdelkader El Mouaziz and Spain’s José Manuel Martinez. Morocco’s Rachid El Morabity and Mohamad Ahansal followed quickly but calmly behind, with a smiling Samir Akhdar bringing up the rear. The front pack stayed relatively close together throughout the remainder of the stage; Rachid was ultimately the first to cross the finish line, looking calm and calculated despite Morocco’s El Mouaziz finishing just seconds behind him. Salameh came in third today, crossing the finish line with his trademark unfurling of the Jordanian flag. In fourth place, with a strong finish was Spain’s Martinez, who looked confident and happy throughout and at completion of this first stage. Finishing thereafter were Samir Akhdar and Mohamad Ahansal, Britain’s Danny Kendall, Switzerland’s Marco De Martin, France’s Christophe Le Saux, and USA’s Dave Mackey.
First across the finish line in the women’s race was Sweden’s Elisabet Barnes, who finished today’s 36.2 km in 3h:45m:17s. Barnes felt strong through CP1 and CP2, but had a harder time from CP2 until the finish, largely due to the heat. Eight minutes behind Elisabet was USA’s Elizabeth Howard, who crossed the finish line looking serious but strong. Coming in third today was France’s Laurence Klein, who finished minutes after Howard. Finishing fourth was Russia’s Natalia Sedykh, and fifth was the UK’s Gemma Game.
iRunFar Field Report – From Meghan Hicks [Added April 7, 6 p.m. MDT]
There is simply no other place I’d like to be, late afternoon in the middle of the MdS bivouac. The heat of the day has yielded to the long shadows and cooler breeze of evening, runners streaming across the line still, a cornucopia of languages being spoken in every direction. We ran 36 kilometers today and though the heat and sand and sun beset us and though we’re limited to only the food in our packs, we are still fresh and peppy in our meanderings through camp. This morning, we awoke to a nearfull moonset, and, tonight, we’ll be treated to a fullmoon rise as the sun goes down. The bivouac reaches a half mile or more through the mountain-filled valley in which we will tonight reside.
Life is simple in the MdS, we have little and yet we need even less. It is good, no it is great and noble, the MdS. Tomorrow brings another day and a promise of only more. We will run, we will seek, we will find.
Additional Information – Stage 1
- The Roadbook for Stage 1 (course map and description)
- iRunFar’s Facebook photo album
- Official photos
Call for Comments
- What do you think of the progress of this year’s Marathon des Sables?
- For whom are you cheering?
- Would you like to race the MdS?