The Longest Day – Marathon Des Sables
12 avril 2012. Source: agencelignebleue. (IKKOSPORTS) - The long stage of the 27th Sultan MARATHON DES SABLES kept all its promises with a dramatic turn of events at the top of the race and unforgettable emotions and images for all. Wednesday and Thursday were probably the most striking days of this year's edition with the 81.5km long 4th stage, between El Maharch and djebel El Mraïer. Unforseeable new episode amongst the leaders: last year's winner and so far absolute master of the race, Rachid El Morabity was forced to withdraw. The stage finished under a violent storm which made the last kilometres even more epic for some competitors.
NEWS OF THE DAY
On the finish line of the 4th leg of the 27th Sultan MARATHON DES SABLES, where the banner is shaken by huge gushes of wind, some weep, other scream out of sheer relief. All are happy to have successfully completed the mythical « long leg » that spanned between El Mararch and djebel El Mraïer. Some arrive on their own, others in pairs or groups of three. Sometimes they didn’t even know each other on Wednesday morning when they set off. But their paths crossed in the middle of a string of dunes, a stony plateau or on top of a djebel. They decided to do part of the road together. Because one feels stronger when not on one’s own. And because it’s good to be able to talk when time seems to drag on forever. Inevitably the bond gets tighter as the kilometres roll on; when they get to the finish line, they fall into each other’s arms and there’s no need for words, their eyes say it all. The same scene gets repeated endlessly, as competitors make it to the finish line all through the night and the following day.
Their faces are tired but mostly relieved. All night for some, and even part of the next day for those who chose to sleep at one of the check points, they trodded towards their goal with their head torches on. Those light lights dancing into the nights amongts the dunes made for a striking image. And how moving to witness today the runners’ pride at having pushed back their own limit.
As the slower competitors were completing the leg, all, on the track or at the bivouac, had to face a final trial: a sand storm followed by a proper tempest with lightning and hail. But mid-afternoon, the sun was back and competitors could enjoy a few hours’ rest to attend their injuries and get their energy back ebfore the 5th leg, on Friday, between djebel El Mraïer and Merdani: a marathon (42,2km), the one before last step to the Holy Grail.
More Infos : At 12am. Hygrometry: 26%. Temperature : 31.4°C Runners still in the race (at 10am) : 800. Withdrawals in the 4th leg (at 10am) : 21 (total : 54)
PORTRAIT OF THE DAY
Pascal Pétoin’s unthinkable challenge
On Sunday, the day after he gets back from the Marathon des Sables, at he foot of the Merzouga dunes, Pascal Pétoin (D29 FRA) will be on the Champs-Elysée on the start line of the Paris Marathon de Paris.
Once they have come through the long stage (81.5km) of the Sultan MARATHON DES SABLES, Wednesday night, and of the marathon stage (42,2km) the following day, the MDS survivors will have nearly nailed it. All but one. For this year, Pascal Pétoin (D29-FRA) decided to make it even harder for himself with a 7th leg… on Sunday morning, with the Paris Marathon. An unthinkable challenge with a very strict timing. On Saturday morning, as soon as he’s crossed the finish line, Pascal will take a plane to Ouarzazate, and then a helicopter to Marrakech, from where he’ll fly to Paris. He’ll be landing at 10.40 pm, hardly ten hours before he sets off for the Paris marathon (kick off at 8.45am). Pascal had rather not think about it quite yet: “I must first get to the Merzuga dunes. It will be the shortest leg (15.5km), but possibly not the easiest. In any case, whether or not I get through it all, I really want to thank Patrick Bauer for his hlp, and also the shopkeepers from my village, Laharo.” And to show his attachment to the MARATHON DES SABLES, if all goes well, he will pour some sand from the desert when he crosses the finish line on the avenue Foch, in Paris.
ECHO FROM THE BIVOUAC
The Inspectors - Bivouac stewards
Just hours after the end of their leg, overcome with fatigue, laid out in their tent, the runners look forward to the moment when the emails are distributed. This distribution is orchestrated by the bivouac stewards, for whom this isn’t the only role. Numbering sixteen in total, they’re here to ensure that everything runs smoothly in the bivouac. Marie-Jeanne, Nathalie, Virginie, Jean–Jacques... their arrival is very keenly awaited, as Jean-Charles, Alexis, Pascal, Franck, Sébastien and Hervé from tent No.16 confirm in unison: “It’s so nice to see them everyday. They get our news and always have big smiles on their faces. And if we’re feeling a bit down, they know just what to say to make things better”. The other essential link in the MDS chain is provided by the inspectors. Positioned at each CP (checkpoint) and at the finish, there are twenty-eight of them to check off the competitors’ course cards, note down their respective passage times if the computer fails and distribute the water rations. Here again, the psychological aspect is an even more important factor according to François Laratta (D196-FRA): “The checkpoint passages are good for the spirits, as you know that you’re covering some ground. Above all though, the inspectors are there to encourage you not to give up. Their delight at being there is a real pleasure to see!”
A dramatic turn of event on the Sultan MARATHON DES SABLES
It was utterly unexpected. Last night, just one kilometre from the finish line of the long stage, with Salameh Al Aqra (D148-JOR) a few minutes ahead of Rachid El Morrabity (D1-MAR), leader in the general ranking, the latter felt a violent pain in his left thigh. Forced to resort to his emergency flares, he was quickly taken care of by the race doctors and taken to the clinic of the bivouac. An echography showed a serious muscle lesion on the quadriceps; El Morabity will be transferred to a hospital in the next few days. One man’ misfortune is another man’s luck: Salameh Al Aqra (D148-JOR), 21’38’’ ahead of Mohamad Ahansal (D8-MAR), seems to be on his way to victory, unless he suffers an injury in the next couple of days. The 3rd position is currently held by Portuguese competitor Carlos Alberto Gomes de Sa (D890-POR), 1h27’05 behind. As to Christophe Le Saux (D113-FRA), the first Frenchman to have come in, he is 1h43’32’’ behind the leader. On the women’s side, Laurence Klein (D322-FRA) confirmed her hold on the race, winning her 4th stage victory, with a remarkable rise from fellow French runner Karine Baillet (D130-FRA) earning a second position over Moroccan competitor Meryem Khali (D5-MAR), with 18’49’’ between them in the general ranking. Tomorrow will be the marathon leg, with 42.2km. Ahansal (D8-MAR)’s last chance before the final leg to deprive Al Aqra (D148-JOR) of a first victory at the Sultan MARATHON DES SABLES