Tuesday 20 May 2008 9:00pm – 10:00pm on ITV4.
Hailed as the world’s toughest race, ITV4 has exclusive access to a select group of this year’s Marathon des Sables competitors. Chosen from over 2000 entrants, 800 runners from 32 countries muster all their strength, skill and stamina to cross 150 miles of Saharan desert in less than one week.
The Marathon des Sables is renowned as the ultra multi-day marathon and this year sees the longest route yet. The equivalent of nearly a standard marathon every day, this gruelling task is not one to be entered into lightly. 255 of the entrants are flying the flag for Britain this year and while other nations have left it solely to the professionals, the British candidates consist of both male and female marathon veterans, but many are first timers, including fire fighters, airline pilots, models, army officers, barristers, veterinary surgeons, and plumbers.
ITV4 is following a handful of runners in this one hour special, as they prepare both mentally and physically. The journey begins with a punishing training regime, for many this includes running up and down the beach with a backpack filled with bricks or jogging in a sauna for hours at a time. Some of the British runners however, are woefully unprepared for the task that lies ahead. At the end of each stage in the race the runners are provided with water and shelter, but between these they must carry their clothing, food and emergency rations.
The show follows the runners’ journey from start line to finish. They suffer severe blisters, are totally under nourished, dehydrated and sleep deprived which leads to hallucinations and disorientation. Coupled with extreme temperatures, this makes the race mercilessly demanding.
A mix of beautiful sand dunes, steep rocky climbs and vast open plains make for a beautiful backdrop, and as the competitors set up camp each night viewers will discover their motivations for running what’s dubbed the most extreme race in the world.
During the time spent in the camp relationships develop as the competitors discuss the past few miles and look ahead to the following day. During this time, they’re resting, reassessing kit, tending to wounds and cooking the food they carry with them in their packs. The runners also take time to seek advice from four times veteran of The Marathon des Sables Rory Coleman, who has taken on a guiding role this year for the younger and more amateur athletes.
At check points medics cut off blisters and rub battered feet with iodine before athletes embark upon the next leg of their journey.
The second half of the week sees the longest day – the ultimate challenge. This section is more than 75 km and includes the most treacherous mountain climb of the event. The majority try and complete this stage in one go but many end up sleeping alone in the desert, as their tent mates await news of their progress.
Finally, the successful entrants cross the line, marking the end of a life changing experience for some. Friends and family are out in force at Gatwick Airport to see their heroes return and after being covered in sand, insect repellent and sunscreen for a long sweaty week, without showers, the runners relish the facilities of the hotel and look back over the trials and tribulations of the event.