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Field Journal

MDS Peru

From The Field
MDS Peru

Words and Photography: Ian Corless

A journey over multiple days brings many challenges, especially when one must carry all that one needs: water, food, clothes, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and so on. It’s no accident that the pioneering solo trek across the Sahara by Patrick Bauer in 1984 created the now infamous Marathon des Sables. Bauer’s original journey was one that would spawn the whole multi-day racing concept; it’s been copied ever since, all over the world, but it has never been bettered. Marathon des Sables Morocco had its first edition in 1986 and it’s grown from small numbers to over 1,000 participants now toeing the line each year.

What is it that attracts runners to this demanding, thirst-enducing, food-hallucinating journey that costs thousands?

I believe it’s all about returning to basics – the simple basics of making a journey, just as our ancestors did, moving under one’s own power without the clutter of modern-day life. Way back in time, running was never about fun, it was about survival. Deprived of luxury, deprived of technology, deprived of phones and deprived of connecting to the outside world, participants have one objective at MDS: to journey from one place to the next. Racing like this forces everyone to connect, to sit in groups, help each other, talk about the day, share the journey in words and mutually bond. Let’s face it, it is becoming a lost art! For many, a first-time experience at a race like MDS changes them. They are not the same people after the race; they have a new perspective, a new grasp of what is important and what is not.

Multi-day running is more than just running!

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In 2017, the MDS brand grew with two new events: Half MDS Fuerteventura, a three-day event designed as a perfect stepping stone to the larger and longer six-day full events of Morocco, and the inaugural MDS Peru.

The concept is simple – travel 250km by foot over six days in a completely self-sufficient manner. Water (which is rationed) is provided at specific checkpoints throughout the race and a shelter for the night is provided. In Morocco, this is a bivouac shared with seven other participants; for MDS Peru, individual tents grouped in circular clusters. With the exception of water and tent, the runners must carry all they need to survive for six days!

Morocco is known for its expansive plateaus, stony ground, soft sand, dunes and intense heat. Peru would offer much of that experience but with a twist. South America brings a whole new environment, and sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, the ICA desert would for the first time be used as a modern-day colosseum for modern-day gladiators.

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Although similarities can be drawn with its Moroccan brother, MDS Peru provided a very different experience. Days one to three were raw, visceral and entrenched in local culture as participants passed through small villages, farms, lush green vegetation, wild expansive landscapes and high dunes. From day four, the Pacific Ocean provided a stunning backdrop to the journey – the sea and coastline became a constant presence all the way to the finish line in Barlovento. Blue sea, islands, coastal ridges and stunning wildlife made the journey a special one.

From day one, despite competitive men’s and women’s fields, sand experts Rachid El Morabity and Nathalie Mauclair dominated the race. El Morabity is a five-time champion of MDS Morocco, his first victory coming in 2011 and his last April 2017. Mauclair is a trail and ultra-running expert. She has been an IAU Trail World champion and has dominated ultras all over the world, but victory at MDS Morocco has eluded her – she has placed second twice.

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In Peru, the duo dictated from the front and won all six stages. They were head and shoulders above the competition but Peru had a strong showing in both races with Aldo Ramirez placing third for the men and Rocio Carrion planning third for the women. Remigio Huaman who had won Half MDS Fuerteventura earlier in 2017 had been the prime contender to push El Morabity to the line, and he lived up to expectations! However, he picked up a time penalty at one of the controls for carrying insufficient calories for the remainder of the race, and the time penalty relegated him to fifth. France’s Erik Clavery and Julien Chorier planed third and fourth. In the women’s race, Melanie Rousset, also from France, ran a strong and consistent race but she was no match for Mauclair. Rousset finished second, over four hours behind.

MDS Peru provided surprises, a raw and basic experience with a full immersion in nature as participants were deprived of creature comforts. For more than 30 years, MDS has pioneered this return to basics, and in 2017 MDS Peru continued and enhanced the legacy of Patrick Bauer and the Marathon des Sables format to South America. I have a feeling that this is just the beginning of a whole new journey…

For the full results of the 2017 MDS Peru, visit

Words and Photography: Ian Corless
Twitter: @Talkultra
Instagram: @iancorlessphotography