The 42.5 kilometers of what is known as “the marathon stage” was all that stood in the way of runners and the finish line of the world’s longest desert race hosted in Morocco.
Rabat – The final competitive leg of the 34th Marathon des Sables (MDS) was the fifth stage of the race nicknamed “the marathon stage,” which took place on Friday. The stage’s 42.5-kilometer course was all that stood in the way of the remaining 756 runners.
The world’s longest desert race, hosted in the deserts of southern Morocco, came to an end when the last runners conquered the marathon stage and crossed the finish line.
For the seventh time, Moroccan runner Rachid El Morabity took home the men’s first place spot. First time MDS competitor and Dutch runner Ragna Debats kept a double-Moroccan victory out of reach by taking the women’s first place spot.
El Morabity, Debats, and hundreds of other competitors ran nearly double the stage five distance the day before—during the fourth stage of the MDS. On average, runners had been covering 33.9 kilometers a day until they took on the 76.3 kilometers of “the long stage.”
While the shorter distance was a relief to many, race organizers made sure the terrain of the final stage was equally as challenging as the previous stages. The most brutal parts of the stage were the run through Jebel El Otfal and the climb of a 250-meter-high sand dune with an average slope of 25%.
“I loved the ascent,” French runner Vincent Pilet said. “I’m a mountain fan and here, I got my money’s worth.”
Runners left the start in two sections, with the bulk of the pack leaving at 7 a.m. and the top 150 runners departing three hours later at 10 a.m.
Past the finish line was the MDS’ most scenic bivouac, bordered by the Zireg mountains and surrounded by sandy plains with grass gardens, runners were left sweaty and speechless.
“I’ve participated in many events, I’m a jaded guy and I didn’t think I would be so emotional,” French runner Vincent Gaudin said. “But when I crossed the finish line, emotions overwhelmed me … The MDS is a legend.”
Also at the finish line was an MDS legend in the flesh, founder and race director Patrick Bauer, who waited for every single competitor to give them their finisher medal.
The men’s race
Moroccan runner Rachid El Morabity finished first in the fifth stage and won the men’s competition for the seventh time, inching closer to his goal of equalling Lahcen Ahansal’s record of 10 victories at the MDS.
“I’m very happy to win,” Rachid El Morabity said. “The Marathon des Sables remains [a] great adventure I love.”
In keeping with the last four stages, Rachid’s younger brother Mohamed El Morabity finished second in the stage and second overall. The two brothers, along with their teammate Abdelkader El Mouaziz, led the Maroc TGCC team to be the overall winning team.
“For me, it was important to finish, and that Rachid won, and the TGCC team too,” Mohamed El Morabity said. “We achieved this result thanks to our hard work.”
34th Marathon des Sables: First Five Men
|1||Rachid El Morabity||Morocco||18:31:24|
|2||Mohamed El Morabity||Morocco||18:39:48|
|4||Abdelkader El Mouaziz||Morocco||19:38:56|
The women’s race
After a week of dominating the competition, Dutch runner Ragna Debats came in first for the fifth stage and officially won the women’s competition.
The 40-year-old 2018 Trail World Champion powered through her severe back chafing and took home another prestigious first place victory.
Not far behind her was Moroccan runner Aziza Raji, who has finished second to Debats during four of the MDS’ five stages. Raji dreams of one day taking after Touda Didi, the only Moroccan woman to have won the ultra-marathon.
34th Marathon des Sables: First Five Women
|1||Ragna Debats||The Netherlands||22:33:36|
|3||Gemma Game||Great Britain||26:04:10|
|4||Meghan Hicks||The United States of America||30:49:16|
|5||Jodie Moss||Great Britain||31:05:48|
The next stage
The final stage of the MDS is known as “the charity stage” or “the solidarity stage,” and its six kilometer distance is what matters the least.
The stage allows first and last place runners to celebrate the end of the MDS together, while supporting the Marathon des Sables Solidarity Center.
The stage began in the morning of Saturday, April 13. Morocco World News will continue to provide updates on the marathon throughout this last stage.