"What on earth are they looking for in that nightmare?" This question is often heard about those taking part in the MARATHON DES SABLES. Indeed, from afar, this 6-stage, 250-km foot race that crosses regs, ergs, jebels, oases and dried oueds, under a scorching sun and in food self-sufficiency, looks like a six-station Way of the Cross. But for those who live it from the inside, such simple analysis is quite far from the complex reality.
Some participants come to the MARATHON DES SABLES to live an adventure and unexpected moments. Others are attracted by the sports challenge of this Saharan odyssey. And yet others take part for their own pleasure, as described very poetically by an MDS habitué: "In this event, difficulties and sufferings are only the visible features of the iceberg. The reality is that hell leads to magnificence!"
To pamper himself, such was Ali Zaghloul's motivation to take part in his first MARATHON DES SABLES at the very young age of… 16! A pupil at the 'Léon l’Africain' high school in Casablanca, he is the youngest Moroccan to participate, as far as camel drivers can recall. Until now, the record was held by Othmane Harakat, another high-school pupil who was 17 when he participated in the 2016 edition.
Young Ali, who has come to this 33rd edition with his father Mehdi, has not been put off by the extreme difficulty of this much-feared race. "I had seen TV reports about it. My father also took part in an MDS several years ago and talked to me about it. It's not a piece of cake, but I prefer not focusing solely on the 'hellish' aspects, because there's much more than just this," he added with a serene tone just before the kick-off of the first stage.
At the end of that introductory piece, the youngest competitor of this 2018 MDS is even surprised that all the stories he's heard about the MARATHON DES SABLES talk only about the harsh conditions. "The event is tough indeed, but it's also beautiful. My father and I really enjoyed the race course, the landscapes…" he continued. And his father Mehdi added with a big smile: "As if it were a simple stroll!"
Indeed, for Ali and Mehdi, it's seems to be the Happy People's stroll. Let's hope the duo will keep the same state of mind until the end of the race!