The 2014 Sultan Marathon des Sables, one of the world's most famous ultramarathons, is set to depart once again on Friday, April 4, in the Moroccan Sahara desert.
Known as the "toughest foot race on Earth," the event consists of six stages over a total distance of roughly 155 miles in the blistering desert heat. Runners are entirely self-sufficient and are forced to carry all food and equipment necessary to survive in the Sahara desert, including sleeping bags and anti-venom pumps, according to the race's official website.
And while the organisation provides the competitors with a (limited) daily ration of water, all other nutrition must be in the runners' backpacks from day one. Anything that doesn't fit has to be left behind at the starting line and will not be available to the runners for the duration of the event.
While live coverage of the Marathon des Sables is not available, several channels including Eurosport International, France 2, TV 5 and Sky Italia will provide viewers with daily updates and highlights of every stage.
As for the exact route competitors will be following, the organisation traditionally reveals no information prior to the start of the event, but the layout of the stages is very similar from year to year.
More information on last year's stages can be found at the Marathon des Sables' official website.
|Marathon des Sables Event Schedule|
|April 4||N/A||Departure for Morocco|
|April 5||TBD||Technical, medical and administrative formalities|
|April 6||TBD||Stage 1|
|April 7||TBD||Stage 2|
|April 8||TBD||Stage 3|
|April 9||TBD||Stage 4|
|April 10||TBD||Day off|
|April 11||TBD||Stage 5|
|April 12||TBD||Stage 6 (untimed, solidarity stage)|
Traditionally a warm-up stage, the first stage is normally around 18 miles long and avoids the hilly terrain of the Moroccan desert. The opening stage gives first-time runners the chance to grow accustomed to the heat and test out all equipment, as keeping your shoes sand-free is one of the race's most important obstacles.
Slightly longer at around 20 miles, Stage 2's main calling card is a change of terrain. Runners get their first look at the Moroccan hills and the small stony paths that litter the flanks of every climb.
The first true marathon at roughly 25 miles, Stage 3 is known to be the one leading to the highest number of runners dropping out, as the prospect of facing Stage 4 immediately after such a heavy stage is too much to overcome for plenty of competitors.
The fourth stage is the Marathon des Sables' main event, a double marathon, or 50 miles of running on the desert sand, in the scorching heat and with several pounds of equipment on the competitors' backs.
Survivors of this brutal stage usually finish the Marathon des Sables, but the state in which the runners often cross the finish line after 50 miles of madness is horrifying.
Runners will have a day to rest after the brutal Stage 4, but the fifth stage brings yet another full marathon that needs to be run, and these 25 miles are usually undertaken in the event's most difficult conditions: The organisation reserves the toughest hills for this stage.
The final stage, a 13-mile victory lap, leads the remaining competitors over mainly flat terrain. With plenty of time to finish and a good ration of water, runners get to enjoy their accomplishment with every step that brings them closer to the finish line.
This year's final stage will be an untimed solidarity run.