Marathon Des Sables in Morocco from April 10th to 15th. This will be the 31st edition of this challenging multi-stage event covering over 250km. A whole host of quality North African athletes, including several past winners will be taking it out from the front. These include Rachid El Morabity, Abdelkader El Mouaziz, Aziz El Akad and Samir Akhdar. Those were the top four in 2015 in that order with an overall time difference of 1:20 between first and fourth place. Surely its these four fighting for the three podium slots again?
In the women’s race we have an exciting challenge. Can Elisabet Barnes retain her crown? Can another American win MDS (Meghan Arbogast and Lisa Howard)? Can newcomers Fernanda Maciel or Nathalie Mauclair upset the specialist stage racers? Will Laurence Klein reclaim her form and her crown? Or will Natalia Sedykhs improve on her 2015 performance to rise up the rankings?
What’s for sure is that whilst the men’s race might be about the Moroccans and possibly who can break the Moroccan stranglehold on the podium, the women’s race is potentially a wide open affair with a number of contenders challenging for the top spot. And that makes for exciting racing!
Rachid El Morabity – The winner of MDS in 2015, 2014 and 2011. So, must surely be the man to beat!
Adbelkader El Mouaziz – Second place at MDS in 2015 and seventh in 2014. Podium spot.
Aziz El Akad – Third place at MDS in 2015 and fifth in 2013. Podium spot
Samir Akhdar – Fourth place at MDS in 2015 and eighth in 2013. Podium spot.
Top International Men
The question is can any of the four Moroccans above be beaten – here are the main International contenders.
Erik Clavery – This will be a new experience for Clavery. He has grit and form over a number of distances. Can he sustain multiple days of fast racing over sand, rocks, dunes and the blisteringly heat? Second place at Lavaredo Ultra Trail in 2015, seventh at UTMB in 2015 and sixth at Transvulcania in 2012.
Jason Schlarb – Top American contender and out for an adventure. Schlarb thrives on difficult conditions so he has come to the right place. Sixth place at Tarawera in 2016, second at Eiger Ultra in 2015, tenth at Diagonal des Fous and fourth at UTMB in 2014.
Sondre Amdahl – Amdahl has been a revelation over the last two years. Seemingly out of nowhere he has become a permanent fixture at UTWT events and usually placing top ten. 2015 – fourth at TransGrancanaria, fourth UTMF and second at Vibram 100k. 2014 – sixth Transgrancanaria and seventh UTMB.
Carlos Sa – Seventh and fourth places at MDS in 2013 and 2012 respectively. Recent form at Costa Rica Challenge (third place) must be great preparation for the heat. A good bet for top ten.
Marco Olmo – Not really top ten but this 68 year-old Italian will be fighting it out for another great MDS finish.
Elisabet Barnes – Winner of MDS in 2015. Winner of Oman stage race in 2015. Second place at this years Costa Rica challenge. Fast becoming a specialist in stage races and the one to beat at this years MDS.
Meghan Arbogast – Has Western States pedigree and therefore speed – can she replicate it among the sand dunes and rocks of the Saharan desert. – Recent Western States form – eighth in 2014, fourth in 2013 and tenth in 2012. Fifth place at Tarawera in 2014.
Nathalie Mauclair – No stranger to tough races. Winner of Diagonal des Fous in 2014 and fourth place in 2015. Winner of UTMB in 2015 and third in 2014. Western States third place in 2014.
Fernanda Maciel – Second at UTMF and third place at Lavaredo last year. Followed by an extended period in South America set a FKT on Aconcagua. Previous years racing has seen her tough it out on mountainous courses such as UTMB (fourth place in 2014) and Transgrancanaria (third place in 2014).
Lisa Howard – Sixteenth place in her first MDS last year. Back for some more action and will have learnt much from last year’s experience. She has speed on her side
Laurence Klein – Past winner of MDS but recent years form has suffered due to heat issues. Second at MDS in 2014 and tenth in 2015. Can she pull it out of the bag this year?
Pui-Yan Chow – Has some recent race performances that stand out – Winner of Vibram HK and tenth place at TNF 100 in 2015. Second place at Vibram HK in 2014. The question is can she translate this running with a pack over five key stages.
Natalia Sedykhs – Third place at MDS last year including a time penalty. Surely she will be back to rectify that?
All images copyright – Ian Campbell Photography