The Marathon des Sables, also known as the toughest foot race on the planet, is a 7 day / 151 mile (243 km) endurance running race across the Sahara Desert in Morocco. The 2008 edition starts on March 29th.
Participants cover the equivalent of nearly six marathons over 7 days. Each runner has to carry everything they will need for the duration (apart from a tent) on their backs. This includes food, clothes, a medical kit, a sleeping bag, a rescue flare, an anti-venom pump, and other survival items. Water is rationed and distributed at checkpoints. Runners can expect mid-day temperatures to soar as high as 120°F (49°C) and nighttime temperatures to drop to the freezing point. The journey requires running on uneven rocky ground and over immense sand dunes.
Mental stamina constitutes a major part of the experience; physical fitness is obviously crucial but the mental challenge runners experience over the course of the race can’t be underestimated. On day four, for example, participants must run across the desolate desert environment to complete a 50 mile (80 km) stage – often alone to navigate, self-motivate, and deal with the occasional sand storm. Many people complete this portion of the race before dark and some will not come in until evening approaches on the second day.
So why do people sign up for the race?
One of the wonderful things about this event is the camaraderie, the bond between people from different cultures around the world who share a passion for testing their limits and experiencing the natural beauty of the desert.
The picturesque Sahara, the elation of crossing the finish line and the sheer excitement of watching and taking part in "The Toughest Foot race on Earth" also contribute to making the experience well worth all the preparation and sacrifice.