Last week, nearly 900 competitors made their way through Southern Morocco for what is deemed ‘the toughest footrace on Earth’ – The Marathon Des Sables.

A six-day race spanning 251 kilometres over the Sahara Desert, it is called an ‘ultra marathon’ as the distance to be covered is six times as much as a regular marathon. This year Ziyad Rahim, a Qatar-based Pakistani, was among the competitors hoping to reach the finish line first.

Founded by Patrick Bauer, a Frenchman who trekked across the Algerian Sahara in 1984, the Marathon starts from the Moroccan city of Ouarzazate. It spans six stages ranging between 20 and 60 kilometres in length. Competitors are provided nine litres of water throughout the day and can carry one lightweight backpack with food, water and other supplies. At night, participants sleep in communal tents in the desert.

Since 1986, an estimated 12,000 competitors have participated in the Marathon and Moroccan-born Lahcen Ahansal has won it a record 10 times. While only two casualties have been reported since the Marathon’s inception, a number of interesting survival stories have emerged over the years. The most famous is of Mauro Prosperi, an Italian police officer who, in 1994, went off course during a sandstorm and was lost for nine days before being found by a Bedouin family in an abandoned mosque. He managed to stay alive on a diet that included dead bats and lost more than 13 kilos in the process.

The Marathon is an expensive undertaking, costing approximately $5,000 to participate in. Rahim, a seasoned marathon runner, had been sponsored by Barwa Bank. As the race drew to a close on Monday, many Pakistanis eagerly awaited news of Rahim crossing the finish line – and were not disappointed.

– Sophia Ahmed

First published in The Adbuzzzz Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on April 15, 2012.