Algeria’s International Sahara Marathon

The Sahara Marathon is an exciting international event held in Algeria each year. This event, hosted by the Saharawi people is a wonderful opportunity to compete in the unique conditions of the Sahara desert and to experience the fascinating culture of the desert dwellers. The 2007 Sahara Marathon will be held on 26 February and is the seventh running of the remarkable race.

First of all, who are the Saharawi? They are a group of refugees who moved to an area nearby Tindouf of Algeria when Morocco invaded. For some 26 years this group of people has been residing here in Refugee Camps. The Sahara Marathon is hosted by the Saharawi sport committee with the help of volunteers from many different countries. The marathon is run in the Western Sahara Refugee Camps of western Algeria with the starting line at Smara Camp. Those running the main Sahara Marathon will cover a distance of 42 km whilst there are numerous options for others who can run either 21 km, 10 km, 5 km, a children’s race or the Ultra Marathon of 160 km. All profits made from the race go back into the building-up of the community.

For the duration of the Sahara Marathon the runners reside with refugee families. Very hospitable people, the Saharawi will provide you with breakfast, a fine bed and excellent company. Lunch and dinner are enjoyed as a group at the Community Hall where runners dine on meat, vegetables, bread and fruit. Bottled water is provided. The facilities may not be the best in the world, but the refugees certainly make up for anything lacking through their friendly nature and giving spirit. Traditionally the Saharawi will offer an individual 3 cups of tea. The first is bitter like life, the second is sweet like love and the third is said to be soft like death.

Surrounding the refugee camps are impressive sand dunes, exposed to the extreme temperatures of the Sahara. The majority of the Sahara Marathon is run on sand with some 5 km of paved area. It is quite a tough running course as certain sections of sand will be very loose whilst other sections are hard packed. The race course is marked out by rock bags called carrins with streamers attached. If you think you may be lost, simply follow the footprints left by other runners. Water stations are situated all along the way, though it is still advisable to carry some with you. You should also supply your own energy snacks as these are not provided. As racers dash or limp across the finish line, a medal is strung around the neck. A bag of clothing and other needed items is brought to the finish line for you and food is provided. Runners are then transported back to Smara Camp in trucks.

People from around the world come to compete in the Sahara Marathon and many have found it to be a real delight. What better way to get to know about the culture and lifestyle of Sahara’s desert people as well as challenging your own will-power.