1 THE COURSE
The Marathon des Sables in Morocco is the toughest multistage desert race in the world. The participants fight their way across 251km of Saharan sand over six days, lugging food and a sleeping bag on their backs. They also have to carry a flare, a compass and a snake venom extractor pump. The record-holder is Morocco’s own Lahcen Ahansal (above), who has won the desert race 10 times.
2 TO THE DUNES!
The desert runners wear gaiters to prevent sand seeping into their shoes on the dunes, which can be up to 150m high. The most important thing to remember when it’s almost 50°C is to drink regularly; the race organisers provide 9 litres a day. Pictured above: the runners near the village of Jdaid, shortly after setting out on stage five.
3 THE PAIN
The only assistance provided by the race organisers is water and Berber tents. The runners even gather their own firewood. After a night camping out, Morocco’s Rachid El Morabity sits by his breakfast bonfire (above) and cools his sore toes with a bag of ice. All 1,300 participants have experience of foot injuries: each year, more than 2km of plasters are used.
4 ALONE IN THE SAND
The most infamous incident in Marathon des Sables history occurred in 1994 when runner Mauro Prosperi lost his bearings in a sandstorm. The 39-year-old Italian spent 10 days wandering the Sahara, only staying alive by drinking his own urine and sucking the blood from dead bats. Prosperi eventually stumbled across a Berber camp almost 300km off course. He had lost 15kg. Two years later, he was back in the starting line-up. Now, every runner (above) can be located by a GPS tracking unit.
5 THE FINISH LINE“
You see very heightened emotions at the finish line,” says photographer Erik Sampers, who has been covering the desert race since 1990. “The runners often burst into tears or collapse from exhaustion. And yet most of them still come back.” Here we see 50-year-old New Zealander Philip Culpan completing the final stage of the 30th Marathon des Sables in 2015. Sampers calls this picture “The Victory Of A Simple Runner”.