The Marathon des Sables begins today

One of the longest running and most challenge endurance races on the planet gets underway today when the 24th annual Marathon des Sables, or Marathon of the Sands, begins in Morocco. Over the course of the next week, competitors from around the globe will challenge themselves, and each other, in a race through one of the harshest environments on the planet.

This year’s race is approximately 243 kilometers (151 miles) in length, with the competitors running the equivalent of a marathon each day for six days. As if that weren’t challenging enough, they’ll be doing so in the heart of the Sahara Desert, where temperatures routinely hit 120ºF and blowing sand can make a challenging run turn extremely brutal. The combination of long distances, heat, and sand is unforgiving on the racers’ feet as well.

To add to the challenge, the racers are required to carry all of their gear (minus tent) with them at all times, including food and water. They’ll receive resupply on the water when they hit checkpoints along the way, but otherwise they should be completely self sufficient when they head out on the course each morning.

This year’s field is the largest ever, with 1031 runners from 43 different countries taking part in the race. Most of those will be just happy to finish, but the elite runners amongst them will finish the entire course, spread out over the six days, in a combined time of roughly 20-25 hours. Pretty impressive considering the challenges the desert provides.

The Marathon des Sables, The Toughest Footrace on Earth

I think somebody forgot to tell these guys that a marathon is only 26.2 miles. Because, um, they’re planning on running 150+ miles. And I *guess* somebody should also tell them that most marathons aren’t supposed to be quite this brutal. Because, um, they’re planning on running through the deserts of Southern Morocco. For a week. In 120° temps.

The Marathon des Sables (the Sand Marathon) is a footrace that features crazies who race by day and sleep in communal tents by night. Carrying everything they need to eat and drink, the racers also have to protect themselves from blisters, rashes, dust storms, snakes (SNAKES?!) — you name it. Despite all that, the official website boasts, “There’ll be a daily dose of sand and dunes, and breathtaking panoramic views once you’re up the jebels” — “up the jebels” no doubt being slang for hallucinating bitterly.

The 2007 Sand Marathon, which begins March 23, will involve 40 medical staff; 100,000 liters of bottled water; 150 Berber and Saharan tents; 100 all-terrain vehicles; 18 buses; 4 camels; 2½ miles of Elastoplast; 15,000 compresses; 5300 painkillers — and 50 exhausted teams.

To learn more about this grueling event check out this (PDF) feature from Outside.

[Via Whatsonwhen]