Ragna Debats – champion of the toughest footrace on earth!

Ragna shares the highs and lows of the Marathon des Sables ultra race


Photograph credit: Marta Bacardit photographer (@marta_bacardit_photography)

On the 12th April 2019, Ragna Debats was crowned the champion of the prestigious 34th Marathon des Sables – also known as the toughest footrace on earth!

She completed the gruelling seven-day ultra race through the deserts of Morocco in 22:33:36. Ragna finished a staggering 2 hours 43 minutes ahead of her nearest female competitor and finished 12th overall.

Ragna is a Dutch trail runner, proud Merrell ambassador and mum to young daughter, Ona. She is the 2018 double World champion in Skyrunning and Ultra-Trail and now, female champion of the 34th edition of the Marathon Des Sables.

Marathon des Sables

Entrants cover an impressive 156 miles through endless dunes, over rocky jebels and across white-hot salt plains. Once in the desert the temperature often reaches an incredible 50 degrees! The longest stint in the race is over 52 miles… ouch!

How did you stay motivated during the race?

“The stones, the dunes, the beautiful landscape that motivates me the most. I wouldn’t run a marathon in a city, there’s too many smells! I like the natural fresh air and interesting terrain. I like to see the people living in the villages and the types of vegetation growing. The sandy dunes are the most amazing part for me to see – they are so impressive!”

What was the weather like?

“It was colder than I expected! We were all very cold in the nights. I took more warm clothing than I expected to take. I wouldn’t have taken these things as they weigh a lot but I was so cold! – I knew recovery was key. It was also dangerous during the day because it’s a dry heat, you don’t feel sweaty and you don’t realise you’re thirsty. It is very important to remember to keep rehydrated.”

What was your toughest moment?

“I suffered a lot in the last 4km before the finish line. My backpack had been banging on my back and caused an acute related injury. I wasn’t able to cope with it. I was dehydrated, being sick and I still had 3 more days to go. Luckily another runner who was a physiotherapist, treated me and put cushioning on my back. Last minute my friends and I had decided to take an empty backpack along, I used this instead – it really saved me.”

How did you feel afterwards?

“I was really happy, I felt amazing. I felt very strong in the end, my legs felt really good. I was smiling the whole time and I just enjoyed myself. It was a nice day, the scenery was beautiful. Most people cry and feel like death but I felt like I could keep on running!”


Photograph credit: Marta Bacardit photographer (@marta_bacardit_photography)

Would you do it again?

“I would do it again. I don’t usually like to do the same races but I want to be there with the men. I want to get to the top.”

What are your training tips for someone getting in to ultra running?

“People think because the race is a long distance, they have to run long distances in their training. Most professionals train in short intervals – this is what gives you strength. It is important to do a lot of strength training, short running and running up and down hill. Also enjoy what you are doing!

How did you get in to endurance races?

“I started 10 years ago, I didn’t have any goals I just enjoyed discovering nature. I had a natural talent and started winning races then my passion grew and grew. I achieved a 50k race and got so much satisfaction from that win. I ran 85k in 2016 and had never done that distance before. I came third in that race so I prepared more and did it again in 2018 and won it! It was the second time I had ran that distance. I became better the more I did.

What is running to you?

“Running to me is freedom. I feel like there is nobody else, it’s just me. No one asks anything of me, there’s no obligations, I’m just out there feeling free and enjoying the outdoors.”


Photograph credit: Marta Bacardit photographer (@marta_bacardit_photography)

Ragna Debats – 2018 double World champion in Skyrunning and Ultra-Trail, and female champion of the 34th edition of the Marathon Des Sables – is a proud Merrell ambassador. Find out more about her here.

Written by Women's Running Magazine | 1575 articles | View profile

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