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Irish Conquer Marathon des Sables!


by Aisling Murray Well done to the Irish contingent who partook in the Marathon des Sables this week. After a unpredictable start which saw Stage 1 cancelled due to heavy rainfall (as someone said cue the Crowded House song “Everywhere you go you always to take the weather with you”), the Marathon des Sables got underway on Monday 30th March. The locals were in awe of the weather as many of them had never seen rain before – it was 17 years since it had rained in some parts of the region. Needless to say the Irish contingent were not impressed, having prepared to deal with high temperatures, they were met with cold and rain.

Race organisers had to find a new route over different terrrain because the original course was badly effected by the flooding, this resulted in much of the route being moved to more difficult sandy dunes and Stage 4 traditionally the longest stage was increased from the planned 80km to 91km. Stage 5 was also increased to 45km and the short stage on Sunday was cancelled.

Stage 1 – 32Km (cancelled due to flooding)
Stage 2 – 33Km
Stage 3 – 37Km
Stage 4 – 91Km
Stage 5 – 45Km

The Irish participants did fantastically well with all of them completing the harrowing course.
Place Surname Name Time
111 MCCORMICK James IRL 27H41’39
154 ROCHE Karl IRL 29H05’18
245 BUTLER Ronan IRL 31H00’54
328 O CRUALAOICH Niall IRL 33H50’11
356 O CONNOR Raymond IRL 34H50’38
394 BRACKEN Cathal IRL 36H13’13
526 FEARON Joanne IRL 41H28’10
559 FARRELL Gary IRL 43H13’46
697 MILLS Michael IRL 50H16’14
704 LEONARD Michael IRL 50H27’48
730 O DOWD Seamus IRL 52H17’23
734 THOMPSON Joseph IRL 52H31’30
751 BREEN David IRL 55H00’24

note these are temporary results.

Listen to interview with Ray O’Connor during Stage 5 here:


What is Marathon des Sables?

The Marathon des Sables is the toughest footrace on Earth.

It covers 243km/151 miles (in sections similar to 25, 34, 38, 82, 42, 22 km) run over 6 days (7 for some) – equivalent to 5 1/2 regular marathons. The event is held every year in the southern Moroccan desert.

That’s a speed of between 3 and 14 km an hour for competitors aged between 16 and 78). In addition to that, competitors have to carry everything they will need for the duration (apart from a tent) on their backs in a rucksack (food, clothes, medical kit, sleeping bag etc). Water is rationed and handed out at each checkpoint.

Competitors have to prepare all their own food throughout the race. They experience mid-day temperatures of up to 120°F, running or walking on uneven rocky, stony ground as well as 15 – 20% of the distance being in sand dunes.

The heat, distance and rubbing trash their feet. Mental stamina probably constitutes at least 50% of whether competitors complete the distance or not. Physical fitness is important but competitors shouldn’t underestimate the mental stress that they will need to endure.

This extraordinary outdoor race is both a great human adventure and a sporting challenge as competitors try to conquer the vastness of the desert. It also takes you on an intense voyage within yourself, uniting a multitude of languages and cultures from all over the world

Mohamad Ahansal and Touda Didi, the two winners reiterated their last year’s exploit. Coming from Zagroa’s area, both won a second victory. On the men’s side, the come back of the 10 times winner Lahcen Ahansal, did not change the final general ranking. The real fight opposed the Moroccans Mohamad Ahansal and Aziz El Akad, while the Jordanian Salameh Al Aqrah, 2nd in 2008, carried off a disappointing 3rd place. Proof that the Marathon des Sables has gained an international reputation, 7 different nationalities were represented in the top 10. This race is not any more a private game for Moroccan competitors. Considering the physical lapse of Mohamad Ahansal, many pretenders will dream of victory next year

On the women’s side, no surprise, Touda Didi, won all the stages way ahead of her competitors. With a 8,60 km/h average speed, her timing would rank her in the top 30 men ranking. In top shape, the American Meghan Hicks finished at the second position for her first participation: an exploit. She came in Morocco « to discover another part of the world », she really surpassed herself. The Spanish newcomer Luz Perez Carbajo won a well deserved third rank.

On the teams’ side, Eurosport won the first place thanks the remarkable performance of Slovenian Anton Vencelj. His team mates Charles Cosman and William Davies, finishing respectively on the 15th and 22nd ranks complete this mulicultural team (Canada, GB and Slovenia).

Special congratulations to the amazing Marco Olmo, 60 years old, who finished at the 12th place in the general ranking and won way ahead in his category.

Text and images courtesy of www.darbaroud.com and www.rayinthedesert.com