Image 1 of 10: Marathon of the Sands: Coined the “toughest race on earth,” this 251km trek across the Sahara is a challenge for even the ultra of ultramarathoners. Starting in southern Morocco in early April, runners have 6 days to complete the rigorous trek, not to mention carry everything they may need with them (except for water- alhamdulilah!).
Image 1 of 10: The Sea to Jerusalem Relay and Ultra Race: From Tel Aviv to Al Quds, or back again?! This annual late April race switches directions between the two MENA cities every year. Participants choose from 54, 70, and 144km race options, and for those in the team spirit, don’t sweat! There is the 144km relay for teams up to eight people.
Image 1 of 10: Pharaonic Challenge: Set your clocks BACK for Egypt’s premiere ultra. The annual 100km race held in November is based on the story of Pharaonic soldiers who ran their own 100km between 690-655 BC in honor of King Taharka’s visit to their army base. It’s got some famous alumni - legend has it the King ran the trek too!
Image 1 of 10: Dead2Red Relay: Why drive when you can run to Jordan’s top tourist spots? This annual March 242km relay challenges teams of up to 10 to run from the Kingdom’s Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba overnight. Teams are free to choose who runs the night shift...not to mention the hills!
Image 1 of 10: Urban Ultra UAE: Up for a rocky challenge? UAE’s 140km ultramarathon in February has runners cover mountains, valleys and even sand dunes! Like Marathon of the Sands, UU is BYOE (bring your own everything!). Put your bikini away - this isn't your your typical UAE vacation!
Image 1 of 10: TransOmania: Your UAE race, however, will be as smooth as a Dubai sea breeze if you run Oman’s TransOmania next January before the February gig. Like UU, Transomania has runners trek through mountains, valleys, sands, but here is the catch: the distance is double at 285km (but 200 and 130km are also offered)!
Image 1 of 10: Ocean Floor Race: If you can’t make it to Egypt’s Pharaonic 100km, the annual March Ocean Floor 160km may be one of the most beautiful (yes!) races on earth. Participants use GPS devices to navigate through Egypt’s gorgeous White Desert – but don’t get too sucked in to the surroundings! Runners must cross the finish line within 4 days.
Image 1 of 10: Transhariana: Algeria’s 268km footrace could give the Marathon of the Sands a run for the “toughest race” title. Held in the country’s southern Hoggar mountains every February, runners have 8 days to complete the 268km trek. Participants can also choose to do a non-stop 216km trek.
Image 1 of 10: Camelus: Try out Tunisia’s ultra too! The March 160km race has runners cover the treks of our hump-backed friends through the country’s southern desert areas. The race starts in the town of Douz, which is known as the “Gateway to the Sahara.” Feeling thirsty yet?
Image 1 of 10: The Color Run, UAE: And now for a much deserved cooldown! Time to head back to the UAE where Abu Dhabi recently hosted the latest edition of the “Happiest 5k on the planet,” with runners covered in head to toe with paints of all shades en route to the finish line! That's the sort of running we can get behind!
Want to see the Middle East landscape from a new perspective?! How about running...hundreds of kilometers through it?
Millions of tourists make the trek to the region every year to sun themselves on the shores of North Africa or the Red Sea, but a select few come for a slightly different reason: to participate in some of the most grueling road races on the planet, and what extreme athletes refer to as “ ultramarathons”.
Morocco kicked off its annual Marathon of the Sands (Marathon de Sables) this week, which is now considered the toughest race on earth as it challenges runners to cover 250km in six days through the Sahara desert. If that is not enough to make you sweat, participants carry all of their gear with them on the trek as well!
Other MENA countries feature similar ultra-challenges through the sands with races as long as 285km in Oman and 160km in Egypt’s White Desert. In the UAE and Algeria, ultra athletes can take on a rocky challenge in the countries’ mountain ranges.
And we thought Bedouins and camels had it hard!
Your MENA trip is sure to be an ultra-memorable one (in both the mind and sore body!) after taking on one of the region’s ultramarathon offerings! Take a stroll (no need to race just yet!) through this slideshow that highlights some of the region’s best ultras – offerings for the extreme athlete – and for those who may like to rise to the challenge in the future!