Safety is the Number 1 concern at every MARATHON DES SABLES: 1,000 competitors are flirting with the limits of their body and mind, and the organisation team has the challenge of enabling them to do so in the best safety conditions. This explains why the day preceding the race is dedicated to checks: competitors must show their equipment, which shall include safety items such as a compass, a survival bag, a signalling mirror and a venom extractor. They must also show their food – freeze-dried dishes, seeds, energy powders, etc. – since the event involves food self-sufficiency. After the technical checks, the bag's weight (without water) is determined - it must range between 6.5 and 15 kg. Below the lower limit, the organisation considers that the competitor will not be safe enough; above the upper limit, that the risk of injury is too high. Sometimes, saving too much on weight can lead to unexpected consequences, as experienced by Alexandre STEHLY (D0787-FRA): "Last night, I didn't sleep well because of the cold and the hard soil below my too-thin sports mat. But the environment is superb. It's my first time in the Moroccan desert."
Regarding medical aspects, the DOC TROTTERs check the health condition of each competitor through pre-established examinations (medical certificate, electrocardiogram). In addition to the basic medical checks that apply to all competitors, a health and doping prevention protocol is used for some twenty competitors. Urine and blood samples (for the Top 10 and Top 5 Men and Women according to the ITRA classification, respectively) complete a first sampling procedure carried out 30 days ago. The Top 3 Men and Women will also be tested on the day of the Marathon stage (Stage 5). These checks are preventive in nature: certain abnormalities could endanger the health of those athletes aiming for the podium, who will be pushing their body to the very limits of its possibilities, in extremely severe conditions, with a high risk of dehydration. The organisation is thus entitled to "stop" them from taking the start of the race. This would of course be very sad news for them, but it would potentially protect them from harmful consequences.
After these checks, all competitors (from the elite runners to the slowest walkers) receive their race equipment: bibs, check card, Chronotag and SPOT beacon. The SPOT beacon is one of the key safety devices on the MARATHON DES SABLES: it enables to track each competitor remotely from the Race HQ and to identify any abnormality – a competitor straying away from the course or at a standstill... Furthermore, competitors are able to request assistance via an SOS button located on their beacon. This will immediately trigger the launching of rescue means, by land or air (according to the competitor's location) – a reactivity that can saves lives. Finally, these SPOT beacons enable the MDS organisers to offer a live tracking of the race, which can be easily accessed by anyone in the LIVE section of the race's website. A great technology at the service of safety, but also a formidable way for relatives to follow their favourite competitor.
The roadbook given yesterday to all competitors enables them to have a detailed view of the 6 stages they will have to either run or walk. On the menu: 247 km of stony plains, sandy dunes, dried oueds, rocky plateaus and djebels. The race course of this 33rd edition is very similar to that of last year: indeed, competitors had loved it, especially the two crossings of jebel El Otfal, the vertiginous crests and the splendid dried lake. Everything you need to treat your eyes and return home fully energised!
Tonight, the MDS organisation will provide all competitors with a last supper; and tomorrow morning, food self-sufficiency will start. At 9 AM, it will be the start of the first stage, measuring 30.3 km. The adventure will finally begin - a time long awaited by many competitors, especially one: "24 years, that's how long I've been waiting for: I had first registered in the MDS in 1993, but I got injured and could not make it to the start line. During the following years, I cured myself and rebuilt my physical condition, and in 2016, I decided I was ready. Yesterday, coming out of the Ouarzazate airport – with volunteers cheering us on – was really incredible: in seconds, I filled up my energy tank!"