The Marathon des Sables by numbers

Rory Coleman running the Marathon des Sables



Sir Ranulph Fiennes is taking on what might just be his toughest challenge ever – running 156 miles (251km) as part of the Marathon des Sables (MdS). If you don't know much about the six-day ultra marathon, don't worry. We've got facts and figures to give you an idea of what the race is all about.

28 years old


This was how old Patrick Bauer was when he set off into the desert. He was to become the founder of the Marathon des Sables. In 1984 he went into the Saharan Desert to try and cross 350km of uninhabited desert alone, on foot, with just a 35kg backpack for company. He was out there for 12 days, and so began the story of the Marathon des Sables.

The year 1986


Two years after Bauer set out into the desert, 23 competitors took part in the first MdS carrying their own supplies and racing across the desert. Rules might be more strict today, but it reflects the essence of today's race.

10 wins


Lahcen Ahansal is the man who's won more Marathon des Sables races than anyone else, winning in 1997 and then dominating from 1999-2007. Whatever makes him so strong in the sand dunes runs in the family; his brother, Mohamad, has won the race five times, too.

71st birthday


At the beginning of March 2015, Sir Ranulph Fiennes turned 71. Should he be successful and complete the race, he'll be the oldest Briton ever to do so.

450 people


To make sure the race goes smoothly, there are 450 supervisors, including a medical team, drivers, helpers and technical advisors.

72 medical experts


Because it's such a tough challenge, there's a massive medical team. With 26 doctors and 30 nurses, all manner of injuries can be looked after. Some of the most important members of the team for the runners though will be the 11 chiropodists, carefully looking after the famous blisters caused by the sand.

2,300 metres of plasters


All those blisters need plasters, so the MdS carries with it 2,300 metres of elastoplast. That's over seven times as high as the Eiffel Tower.

141 foot treatments


In with the 72 litres of antiseptic, 7,000 pairs of surgical gloves and 3 tonnes of other medical supplies are 141 different treatments for feet. The toughest footrace on earth also has the best foot care in the world!

6,000 painkillers


Even with the best foot injury treatment available, the race still hurts. To help get through the pain barrier, 6,000 painkillers will be taken collectively by the competitors during the six days of the race.

Two sizes too big


The runners will be using running trainers two sizes larger than their normal shoe size. In the extreme heat, their feet will swell, so they'll need the extra room to help prevent rubbing and creating more blisters. It's also useful to have a little spare space for the bandages their feet will need to cover up their blisters. There's nothing worse than pulling of a fresh bandage getting trainers back on...

120,000 litres of water


At over 50 degrees celsius, the athletes in the race sweat. A lot. To replace all the lost fluids the MdS organisers carry 120,000 litres of bottled mineral water. This is the only supply the runners don't carry. All their food and other supplies are carried on their backs.

2 choppers


So they can keep an eye on all the runners, the MdS has two helicopters, plus one Cessna plane.

4 camels


Well, actually they're dromedaries, a type of camel. These walk alongside the competitors carrying vital supplies. There are also five quad bikes, for getting around on land a little quicker.

3 km/h


Three kilometres an hour is the average slowest speed you can complete a stage of the MdS. Any slower than this and you'll likely be asked to stop, for your own safety. At the other end of the spectrum though are the people looking to win the race overall. They'll be galloping along at an average of thirteen and a half kilometres an hour.

1,360 competitors


This year, the thirtieth running of the MdS, they'll be 1,360 runners in the race, including Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Since the first race in 1986, there have been over 18,000 people who've competed in the race.