ONG JMEL: Dozens of runners headed into Tunisia’s desert at dawn on Saturday for the North African country’s first ever ultra-marathon.
The 100-kilometre (60-mile) Ultra Mirage El Djerid race — with a course skirting the Sahara desert’s biggest salt lake — attracted 58 competitors including eight women and 25 foreign runners.
Morocco’s Mohamed el Morabity battled his way over dunes, rocky hills, and a salt plain to win the race in 8 hours, 48 minutes, and 49 seconds.
el Morabity and his brother Rachid both competed this year at the Marathon des Sables, a famed endurance event in the Moroccan desert which inspired the Tunisian event.
The race took place in Tozeur, a southwestern region that served as a set for Anakin Skywalker’s village Mos Espa in the Star Wars films.
“I think there is a real lack of this type of sporting event in the desert,” race director Amir Ben-Gacem said.
Organisers hope to make the event an annual fixture on the international ultra-trail circuit, attracting 500 runners annually within three years.
“Tunisia is extremely well placed to hold this kind of event,” Ben-Gacem said. “We have the beauty of southern Tunisia and we have all the infrastructure to do it.”