Marathon des Sables

There is no place as dry and hot and hostile.
William Langewiesche

The Western Kingdom

al-mamlakah al-Maghribiyah, the Arabic name for Morocco translates as The Western Kingdom although, officially, the country is known as the Kingdom of Morocco

It’s not just sand

Oddly enough, Morocco’s climate is similar to southern California. In the northern and central mountains lush forests can be found. The Rif, Middle and High Atlas enjoy a variety of climates – Mediterranean, humid temperate, cloud forests and Alpine.

A country of sand

Morocco is the western end of the Sahara Desert. It is also home to the Atlas and the Rif Mountains and is only one of three countries that lie on both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean seas.

The weather depends on the wind

Temperatures in Morocco depend where you are and whether the Sirocco is blowing off the desert. It can reach a sweltering 40°C and drop to -24°C. The Sirocco can raise the temperature by as much as 8°C for up to five days.


Sand, sand and more sand.

Apart from the adventure, one of the things I like about the Marathon des Sables is the positive impact it has on the communities the race passes through. The development of a school and the distribution of school materials, especially in isolated villages and an artisanal complex for woman are exceptionally good reasons to be a part of the race. Education is something that is very close to my heart. It’s something I’d like to see all children have access to. The race founders, Patrick and Marie Bauer, along with the Marathon des Sables itself has also set up the Solidarite Marathon des Sables.

The year before, I had run 1000km through the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. So, although the Marathon des Sables is touted as the world’s toughest foot race, at 250km, at least I went into it with a really good training base.

The Marathon des Sables is the original and ‘classic’ desert stage race. Runners have to carry all their own food, spare clothes, a medical kit and a sleeping bag. The one thing you don’t bring to the race is water. That gets handed out at the checkpoints and is rationed. It’s part of what makes the race such a mental challenge. Especially when the temperature has risen to the high 30°C’s and you’re in the middle of the long 82km stage. When the sun sinks you welcome the cooler temperature as you run. But it’s the desert, so the temperature keeps dropping.

What you wear on your feet is very important. Only 20 percent of the race is in sand dunes. The rest is uneven, rocky, stony ground. Thanks to the ingenuity of my wife, Sarah, I had custom-made gaiters that did a great job keeping the sand out of my shoes.

I had a really good run and finished the race in the top 100.


Although people rarely died playing Quidditch, referees had been known to vanish and turn up months later in the Sahara Desert.

J. K. Rowling