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168 mile Al Marmoom Ultramarathon is one of the world’s longest desert ultras

Set in a rugged national conservation area, the Al Marmoom Ultramarathon claims to be one of the longest desert ultra in the world. The 270km (168 mile) route was run over five days in December in temperatures as high as 35C (95F),.

In its inaugural year, 19 runners (15 men and four women) completed the race, with 36-year-old Moroccan Rachid El Morabity -- a six-time Marathon des Sables winner -- crossing the finish line first in 31 hours and 17 minutes. Eleven runners didn't make it, as well as many others in the shorter 100 km and 50 km versions of the race.

Race manager Ole Brom oversaw of the health and wellbeing of the runners.   Running these distances across energy-sapping sand amounts to an extreme sport, the Norwegian told CNN, and "not something that is taken on lightly."

"On the first day after about 40 km, about 12 km from the end, (one athlete) collapsed unconscious," says Brom. "He ignored the signs of dehydration and he suffered the consequences."

Stretches of the race, including one 100-kilometer leg, were only accessible by air for first responders, explained event director Ruth Dickinson. Athletes wore tracking devices and distress beacons and carried anti-venom pumps in case of snake bites.

Running across the dunes was not without its rewards. "(It's) really peaceful," says 45-year-old female race winner Magdalena Boulet, "(you) can't really see anything for miles and miles."

"It's mesmerizing," Brom adds. "On certain routes there were Oryx, there were sand gazelle, mountain gazelles. We saw eagles (and) a lot of different migrating birds." (As a designated conservation area, runners were penalized for dropping trash and required to bury human waste, should nature call.)

There were still smatterings of luxury, with racers provided hot water, tents and massages between stages. Brom says some athletes told him they'd return for the toilets alone.

The Al Marmoom Ultramarathon will join 400-plus local sporting events ranked by the Dubai Sports Council. Acting director of events Ghazi Al Madani says planning for 2019's race is already underway.

Brom believes transit hub Dubai could become a nexus for desert ultra runners, playing host to regular events in its "backyard." "Ten percent of the landmass of Dubai is sand," he adds, "so it makes perfect sense."

(06/13/2019) ⚡AMP
by Tom Page
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Al Marmoom Ultra Marathon

Al Marmoom Ultra Marathon

Launched under the initiative of UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of DubaiHis Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve will host the world's longest desert ultra-run Meraas Al Marmoom Ultramarathon. Meraas Al Marmoom Ultramarathon is a 270km, 100km and 50km race across desert terrain and will be held 11th to 15th December...

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Marios Giannakou from Greece was the youngest finisher in one of the most difficult races in the world at Al Marmoom

Marios Giannakou is a 26-year-old runner from the city of Drama in Macedonia, Greece. His extraordinary story of perseverance, as he transformed himself from a smoker into an ultra-fit runner, can serve as an inspiration to all.

He was the youngest finisher in one of the most difficult races in the world, the 270-kilometer (168 mile) “Ultra Marathon”, which took place in the deserts of Dubai between December 11–15.

Giannakou wasn’t always a fit athlete who loved challenges. Weighing more than average and a regular smoker, he changed his attitude and life and began running at the age of 22.

Speaking with the Greek Reporter, Giannakou says that he never saw running as a simple athletic competition, or a personal challenge where you try to achieve the fastest time.”It is an activity where you are on your own. You have the time to think and solve problems for yourself,” he says.

His ultra-long distance running adventure began in 2015, when he participated in several competitions in the region of Rhodopi in Greece’s Thrace. He ran distances of 82 kilometers (51 miles) and even 161 kilometers (100 miles) in separate races there.

In early 2018, he decided to run with his friend Chronis in the Arctic for the distance of 150 kilometers (93.2 miles). ”We finished together, we had the same time” he said proudly.

Asked about his decision to participate in Dubai’s Ultra-Marathon, Giannakou laughed.

”We saw the cold, now it was time to see how the desert is” he said, laughing over the extraordinary accomplishments he has had in less than one year.

(12/19/2018) ⚡AMP
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Moroccans won the world’s longest desert Al Marmoom ultra marathon in the men’s division

El Morabity finished the world’s longest desert Al Marmoom ultra marathon of 270 kilometers in under 32 hours (31:17:29), ahead of French runner Muriel Robert and Iranian runner Akbar Najdi Niryan.

In the women’s category, Moroccan Aziza Raji achieved finished second (40:03:20) behind American runner Magdalena Boulet (37:27:59), while Russian Oskana Riyapova finished third (42:17:43).

The sporting event brought together runners from 35 countries who specialize in endurance races.

The victory comes a week after Rachid El Morabity and his brother Mohammed scored Morocco a gold medal during the Oman Desert Marathon. The brothers won first and second places, respectively.

(12/18/2018) ⚡AMP
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