2010 Marathon des Sables Preview

iRunFar previews the 2010 Marathon des Sables stage race.

By on April 2, 2010 | Comments

Marathon des Sables logoIf you are looking for ongoing coverage of the 2010 Marathon des Sables, please visit our 2010 Marathon des Sables News and Results article.

Today our hearts and minds drift toward the sands of the Moroccan Sahara. On Sunday, more than 1,000 participants will begin the 25th Marathon of the Sands. To those unfamiliar with the Marathon des Sables, it is a 6-stage, 7-day 150 mile (250 kilometer) self-sufficient stage race. For MdS, as the race is known to many racers, “self-sufficient” means carrying all of the gear and food a participant will need for the week with the exception of a limited ration of race-supplied water and a two-walled Berber tent to be shared with up to seven other participants. (There’s also required gear and a minimum pack weight of 6.5 kilos (14.33 pounds). See Article 24 of the Race Regulations for gear details). If that doesn’t sound like challenge enough, most of the race is run cross country over untracked desert, including substantial sand dunes, in heat that can top 120F! Even with all of its challenges, the race brings together world class runners.

We’ll take a look at the top returning US competitors, top returning non-US competitors – both men and women, and the team competition. We’ll also show you how to find results and follow the race as well as how to contact participants. On a personal note, having participated last year, I highly encourage you to send messages of support to the racers. Such notes provide many smiles around camp!

For those looking for additional information regarding the Marathon des Sables, take a look at our newly published MdS Tip, Training, and News resource.

Top American Competitors
Both of the US’s top runners from last year – Michael Wardian and Meghan Hicks – have returned to Ouarzazate.

Wardian’s 8th place finish in 2009 was the best ever finish by an American male. He want’s to improve on that finish. Here’s what he had to say earlier this week:

My goal for Marathon Des Sables(MDS) in 2010 is to win. I am going to challenge the dominance of the Moroccans. My finish 8th place overall in 2009 was the best finish ever by an American male, but that, while terrific, just didn’t satisfy me and I feel I can definitely improve in 2010.

For more information on his plan for this year’s MdS, take a look Wardian’s interview with his sponsor, The North Face. [broken link to March 2010 Never Stop Exploring blogpost “Michael Wardian to Run 151 Miles in Morocco” removed]

Michael Wardian 2009 Marathon des Sables

Michael Wardian’s secret to success at the 2009 Marathon des Sables? We think not. (Photographer unknown.)

In 2009, Meghan Hicks had the best MdS finish by an American in years when she placed second among the women. Meghan battled injury before and after (but not during) last year’s MdS. While she was able put in significant cross training through the winter, she got a late start on her long runs and pack training, that is running with a weighted pack in preparation for race conditions. However, she returns to the race with experience, heat acclimation, and a pack that is significantly lighter than her pack of a year ago. (If you’ve ever run a self-sufficient stage race, you’ll understand how significant it is to shave even a pound off pack weight.) Meghan has shared her thoughts on her preparation and the upcoming race on her own blog.

Meghan Hicks 2009 Marathon des Sables

Meghan Hicks at the bivouac after Stage 1 of the 2009 Marathon des Sables. (Photo by Bryon Powell)

Top Returning Non-US Men

  • Mohamad Ahansal – The two-time defending champion (he also won in 1998) returns once again to defend his crown. With his combination of MdS experience and natural talent, he’s the favorite.
  • Aziz El Akad – Last year, this 42-year old Moroccan fell less than five minutes short of besting Mohamad, who is five year’s Aziz’s junior. Needless to say, Aziz knows that he can challenge Mohamad for the win.
  • Anton Vencelj – The top returning foreigner and top Westerner from last year’s race. He was an hour and 47 minutes behind Mohamad in fourth place in 2009. He’ll also head up the Eurosport team.
  • Mustapha Ait Amar – Mustapha finished just two minutes behind Anton in ’09. Let’s hope for an exciting rematch!
  • Marco Olmo – While it’s true that there’s little chance of this ageless Italian placing in the top three, we’d love to see the 61-year old better his 11th place in 2009 with a top ten finish this year.

The biggest news of this year’s race might be the absence of Lahcen Ahansal, Mohamad’s brother, who has won the race a phenomenal ten-times, including nine straight victories between 1999 and 2007! Last year’s top foreigner, Salameh Al Aqra from Jordan has not returned to better his third place showing. Neither last year’s 6th place finisher Lorenzo Trincheri (Italy) nor 7th place finisher Samir Akhdar, a kind and generous young Moroccan, have returned in 2010.

Bonus: Other Top Male Competitors
With more than a thousand competitors from around the world (with less than a tenth from North America), we’ll admit to being unqualified to identify all of the top non-returning competitors at this year’s Marathon des Sables. If you know of someone who should be in the hunt for the podium, leave a comment. We’d love to know!

Top Returning Non-US Women

  • Touda Didi – As with the men, the defending champion returns for the women. Last year, she bested Hicks by just under an hour.
  • Luz Perez Carbajo – Spaniard Perez Carbajo finished third in 2009 less than 10 minutes behind Hicks. Watch for another great rematch!
  • Jennifer Salter – The British Salter finished sixth last year, but is the fourth best returning female. She finished almost three and a quarter hours behind Didi and more than two hours behind Perez Carbajo, so she’s got some work to do for a podium finish.
2009 MdS Luz Touda Meghan

The top women of MdS 2009 (l-r): Luz Perez Cabajo (3rd), Touda Didi (1st) & Meghan Hicks (2nd). (Photo by Bryon Powell)

Bonus: Other Top Female Competitors
We’ll repeat our plea from above, with 1,000+ competitors from around the world (with less than a tenth from North America), we’ll admit to being unqualified to identify all of the top non-returning MdS competitors. If you know of someone who should be in the hunt for the podium, leave a comment. We’d love to know!

  • Monica Aguilera – Reader Sergio now call predicts Aguilera as the top female based on the her history at the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. She was 2nd there in 2007 and 3rd in 2009. Not bad… if she can run with a pack in the desert.
  • Jennifer Vogel – Vogel is a strong American who won the 2009 Keys 100 mile. 100 miles on pavement in Florida in mid-May must have been hot if nothing else.

MdS Team Preview
We’re picking Groupe Rahal to take back the team title for the Moroccans from Eurosport. El Akad and Ait Amar provide a solid top two for Groupe Rahal while last year’s female winner Touda should provide a strong third runner. While Vencelj returns for the defending Eurosport team, his two teammates do not appear to be nearly as strong as his teammates of last year.

Team Dreamchasers USA took third at the 2009 MdS. From left to right: iRunFar’s Bryon Powell (19th), Ted Archer (18th), Michael Wardian (8th). (Photographer unknown)

Teams are ranked by totaling the time of the top three runners. If a team has more than three runners, the team faces a 60 minute penalty for each team member who does not complete the race. As both the Groupe Rahal and Eurosport teams have only three members, they cannot afford a DNF. Regardless, with 46 teams from around the globe in the race, there are certain to be surprises.

2010 Marathon des Sables Results
In looking for this year’s Marathon des Sables results, we’ll first be looking at the race’s English website. (There’s also a French version.) In addition, there’s an MdS Live Race Tracker. We’ve yet to use it, so we’ll hold judgment for now. While the MdS organizers run a tight ship, we’ve seen one too many live tracker capsize in an internet gale for us to jump on board ahead of time. We may also update this post with daily results.

If we find another solid news source, we’ll post it here. If we get hooked up with a great info stream, we’ll post it on a new page.

Contact 2010 Marathon des Sables Participants
It was awesome receiving email from friends, family, and complete strangers while racing in the middle of the Saraha Desert last April. Those emails were significant enough that while I discarded numerous valuable items during the race, I carried and still have printed copies of those emails today.

Please send an email … or bunch to MdS competitors! [Updated: April 2 at 3 p.m. PST] From now through through Friday, April 9 you can send a message via Write a Competitor page.

Here are the list of all competitors and lists of Americans, Canadians, Brits, Australians, and Kiwis to help facilitate you contacting a racer!

I’ll be sending notes to my friends, 2009 MdS tentmates, and top Americans: Meghan Hicks (668) and Michael Wardian (698).

Meghan Hicks 2009 Marathon des Sables

Meghan Hicks (#668) awaiting the bus to the first bivouac prior to the start of the 2009 Marathon des Sables… and awaiting your messages! (Photo by Bryon Powell)

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.