Marathon des Sables 2017
“Barnes and Elmorabity top the podium in Morocco”
1200 runners arrived in bivouac for a first night in the Sahara. A meal, some admin and an early night. Admin day followed and from the moment they dropped their backs, the 32nd Marathon des Sables experience had really begun. The clothes they were wearing would last them for the following week as they journeyed through the Sahara.
Bivouac is spread over a large area and each tent holds 8-people. It’s a place of carnage as pack contents are laid out and runners stress if they have enough food for the adventure ahead. Self-sufficiency whilst running 236km’s through the Sahara cannot be underestimated – it’s what makes this race so tough!
The last meal provided by the race, a final good sleep and in the morning on waking, self-sufficiency begins.
Day 1 is 30.03km with a 10-hour cut-off time.
The roar of the helicopter followed the runners as they were released from the line with a relatively flat, sandy 30.3km of the Sahara ahead.
As first days go, the 2017 edition came up with a revelation in British runner, Thomas Evans. He but the Moroccan quartet of Rachid El Morabity, Mohamed El Morabity, Abdelkader El Mouaziz and Hammou Moudouji under real pressure. Mohamad out sprinted his brother Rachid and El Mouaziz placed 3rd and Evans held on for 4th. It was close, with just a handful of minutes separating the leaders, 2:10:30 to 2:11:58.
Elisabet Barnes ran strong, confident and looked in incredible shape showing all the ladies a clean pair of heels and echoed her winning form of 2015. It was a decisive day, Barnes beat 2016 second place Nathalie Mauclair by over 6-minutes, Aziza Raji followed and then Fernanda Maciel, Emilie Lecomte, and Melanie Rousset.
Stage 2 is a tough stage of 39km. Cut-off 11h 30mins.
Heading south the early km’s were full of sand, dunes, and climbing – Bou Laadam Jebel a significant marker at 5km. A plateau and then a steady sandy climb at 8.5km would lead to Cp1 at 12.8km. The next 12km would follow a southerly direction of sand, hills, and dunes. Cp2 would offer some recovery before the push to Cp3 then dunes would sap the runners’ energy before a tough climb would lead to the highest point of the day via a gulley of rock. Elotfal jebel offered stunning views and then a steep sandy descent before the final Cp and a flat run to bivouac.
Elisabet Barnes lead from the front and never looked back, she crossed the line in 3:49:00 ahead of a resuming Fernanda Maciel who beat Nathalie Mauclair to second place by over 4-minutes, 4:00:42 to 4:04:14.
Rachid El Morabity ran a controlled race in the early stages then opened up a gap leaving the rest to follow. It was the defending champions day and he stamped his authority on it in 3:04:52 in contrast to El Mouaziz who placed 2nd in 3:12:15. or El Morabity (Mohamed) and Evans placed 3rd and 4th.
The day started with Rachid El Morabity bidding his time and running a little behind his Moroccan friends. After Cp2 though he regained the front of the race and although he didn’t pull away and gain a huge margin, win the day he did! El Morabity crossed the day 3 finish in a ridiculous 2:33:14, his brother Mohamad was 2nd in 2:34:25 and then Abdelaziz Baghazza, Abdelkader El Mouaziz and Thomas Evan took the remaining top-5 placings.
The ladies’ race was always going to be closed today with technical terrain suiting Nathalie Mauclair and Fernanda Maciel. However, Elisabet Barnes lead from the front once again and it remained that way all the way to the end. It was in the flatter final stages that Barnes opened a little time crossing in 3:13:07 to Mauclair’s 3:15:14 – the early technical terrain had kept the duo together. Fernanda Maciel one again returned to form finishing 3rd in 3:27:11.
For many, stage 3 of the Marathon des Sables was a classic with some incredible views and challenging terrain. Just 2km out of camp dunes waited and a sandy passage through two mountains, the summit of Joua Baba Ali jebel and then a technical path lead to Cp1 where a section of flat running preceded arguably one of the highlights of the day – the second section of Joua Baba Ali jebel which is technical, exposed and a real challenge. In the latter stage, the now almost yearly climb to the summit of El Oftal jebel via rope sections concluded the day before a flat section home.
Day 4 – The Long Day 86.2km with a 35hr cut-off time
Thomas Evans today showed the Moroccans that a European can come to the Sahara and push for the podium. He ran a fearless day of guts and determination and was rewarded with 2nd. Rachid El Morabity took the day with a performance of class that established him as the no1 desert runner in the world. Rachid’s brother Mohamad placed 3rd and then Abdelaziz Baghazza and Remigio Huaman took the remaining top-5 places.
The route echoed much of the 2016 edition passing early through the oasis of El Maharch, a flat dried up lake before the first couple of climbs of the day starting at 10km. The climb of Mhadid Al Elahau followed by a high-level plateau traverse was followed by a fast and thrilling sandy descent. From here to the end, the race course was all about sand and dunes that sapped the runner’s legs, minds, and hearts all the way to the line.
Nathalie Mauclair made a last-ditch effort for victory today which came as no surprise – the longer the distance, the better she is. From Cp5, Mauclair extended her lead over Barnes but the 2015 Marathon des Sables champion dug in, used her flat running speed and closed on the French lady. Mauclair took victory in 9:39:58 and Barnes crossed the tape in 9:41:16. Fernanda Maciel, also a long distance specialist, followed the duo ahead and she finished third.
Day 5 – The classic ‘Marathon‘
Rachid El Morabity and Elisabet Barnes have crowned 2017 Marathon des Sables champions! The displayed consistency, pacing and a strong mental approach to once again top the podium in a race that started multi-day racing an astonishing 32-years ago!
Barnes led the early stages of the ladies’ race and then eventually Mauclair took over the charge and clinched the final stage win just 2-minutes ahead of the 2015 and now 2017 champion Barnes. Fernanda Maciel placed 3rd as she has done for much of the week, her time 4:14:32 and Emilie Lecomte 4th at 4:22:09. Aziza Raji placed 5th and the ladies’ top-5 was complete.
Despite an early charge by Thomas Evans, Rachid El Morabity seized the day as he has done most of the week, he pipped his brother Mohamad by just 7-seconds, 3:10:08 to 3:10:15. Aziz El Akad and Abdelaziz Baghazza beat Thomas Evans to the line 3:11:19 and 3:14:13 to 3:16: 20. But it was Evans who clinched the final podium slot and the highest ranking position ever by a European.
It must be noted that the Marathon des Sables 2017 is so much more than elite runners going fast. The finish line is one full of stories, emotion, tears, and laughter. The example of Louis from Luxembourg, Duncan Slater from their UK and so many more cannot go unnoticed.
Congratulations go to all those who completed and toed the start line of the 32nd Marathon des Sables