Dubbed the ‘toughest foot race on earth’, the Marathon Des Sables is a 250km, six-stage running event across the Sahara desert, often in searing temperatures of mid-40 degrees during the day and minus 5 at night.
This year, three local runners from Carrickfergus, Gary Connolly, Gillian Cordner and Bobbie Irvine, took on and successfully completed the challenge. 2015 saw the longest stage in the events’ history; a 91 km stage, with a cut-off time of 36 hours. The runners set off at 8am and ran throughout the night into the following day.
As if the event wasn’t challenging enough, it is also self-sufficient; competitors carry their own food, clothing, sleeping equipment and essential safety items for the six stages. Organisers provide only bivouacs (shelter) for competitors to sleep in at night and daily water allowances - the rest is the responsibility of the runners.
This years’ event saw a total of 1,329 start day one, however, by the end of the event 92 runners had either withdrawn or were removed from the event due to exhaustion, dehydration or for other medical reasons.
This year temperatures reached 55 degrees, hotter than most years, which added an extra dimension of difficulty.
Connolly, Cordner and Irvine completed the entire event despite Cordner struggling with heat-associated sickness for five days and Connolly requiring medical assistance for dehydration, finishing the ‘long stage’ of 91 km in under 24 hours, with final finishing times of 50:38:34 (Irvine) and 51:47:54 (Connolly and Cordner, running together).
An incredible achievement for the local runners, a mere sven Northen Ireland athletes took on the challenge this year, with Cordner the only Northen Ireland women to compete, finishing in the top third of females.