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Runners hit the desert for Tunisia's first ultra-marathon

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Ong Jmel (Tunisie) (AFP)

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.

He 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 which 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."

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