Moroccan Rachid El Morabity has withdrawn from the 2023 Marathon des Sables, after being assessed a three-hour time penalty for receiving outside assistance. Rachid El Morabity, age 41, is a nine-time winner of the event.
The Marathon des Sables (MDS) is a 250-kilometer (150 miles), seven-day, five-stage race held annually in the Sahara Desert in Morocco. Each year, more than 1,000 runners compete in the event’s five competitive stages, sleep at night in rough bivouacs, and largely operate with food and gear self-sufficiency. The only assistance runners receive from the race organization is water, a shade tent at each bivouac, and medical and emergency assistance, if needed.
The 2023 edition of MDS began on Sunday, April 23, with the first competitive stage. Rachid El Morabity finished in the lead or very close to it in each of the first four stages, and was in second place in the overall classification by only a couple minutes after Stage 4.
On Thursday, April 27, at about 3 p.m. local time, the MDS organization released a statement saying he had been assessed a penalty:
“In order to guarantee fairness between all participants, the race rules are strict: obviously, any external assistance is forbidden and subject to penalty. Bag checks are regularly carried out to verify that food has not been provided to competitors. However, yesterday the checks among the elite unfortunately revealed anomalies: Rachid El Morabity and Aziz El Akad each get a three-hour penalty.”
Within about two hours of this notice, at about 5 p.m. local time, Rachid El Morabity, along with Aziz El Akad, were shown as withdrawn on the race’s live timing system.
On Friday, April 28, Rachid El Morabity posted to his Facebook page his response in French. Here’s Google Translate’s translation:
“To all my friends and loved ones, it is with a heavy heart that I have decided to abandon the Marathon des Sables because I was being unfairly punished for a mistake that I did not commit. When you are wrongly accused, it is better to leave with your head held high than to stay to suffer an injustice even if I miss out on my dream. I hope that the next time I return to win my 10th title inshallah, the organization will do the necessary verification work before the start of the Marathon des Sables. Good luck to all participants and may the best win.”
On Saturday, April 29, the MDS race organization responded to iRunFar’s request for further comment with the following:
“We have seen the message Rachid posted, but we will not release further details on the nature of what we found. Rachid was checked like everyone else just before the race, and during the unannounced check preceding the long stage, he had new elements which could only come from an outside person. Hence this penalty.”
On Saturday, April 29, the Moroccan media organization, “Moroccan Depth,” published a story in Arabic with new quotes from Rachid El Morabity. Here’s Google Translate’s translation of the key quote:
“… The committee found an empty yogurt container in one side of my bag, which is subject to all racing regulations and without any explicit violation … The empty box that was found dates back to before the start of the current edition, and that is my nature to keep the rubbish until I come across a garbage container and get rid of it.”
Rachid El Morabity has not returned requests from iRunFar for comment at this time.
The younger brother of Rachid El Morabity and Team TGCC teammate, Mohamed El Morabity, remains in the race, is in first place in the overall classification, and has the potential to secure his first MDS victory. The fifth and final competitive stage is scheduled for Friday, April 28. Mohamed El Morabity has previously finished in second place behind his older brother five times. Morocco’s Aziz Yachou, however, is only four minutes behind in second place in the general classification.
According to the race’s live timing system, Team TGCC received a one-hour penalty for the abandonment of team members. While Mohamed El Morabity is a member Team TGCC, that penalty only affects the team rankings and not his individual ranking. Indeed, the penalty does not appear to matter in the team rankings either, as three members of the four-person team have now withdrawn from the race following the penalties assessed to Rachid El Morabity and Aziz El Akad, and following the earlier withdrawal for unknown reasons by Abdelkader El Mouaziz, it will no longer contend for a team victory.
[Editor’s Note: This is an evolving story, and we’ll update it as new information becomes available. Last update Saturday, April 29, 11:00 a.m. U.S. MDT]