Exotic Endurance: Tourism, Fitness and the Marathon des Sables

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This paper critically examines the intersections of global tourism and fitness in the Marathon des Sables, an annual ultramarathon in the Sahara desert in which over a thousand athletes run the equivalent of five marathons in six days. It demonstrates how the globalization of health and fitness resonates with familiar Western productions of exotic cultures for the purposes of tourist consumption. Of particular interest here is how established colonial asymmetries are recast in a neoliberal context as runners test their resilience, endurance and strength against an ‘extreme’ Saharan landscape. While the paper calls attention to these asymmetries, it is more concerned with troubling reductive colonial encounters in order to reveal their instability, heterogeneity and ambivalence. Indeed, the central conceit of the Marathon des Sables – that superior Western fitness regimes and technologies will dominate the race – is inverted by the overwhelming success of Moroccan runners and disaggregated by the biopolitical regulation of elite running bodies. These unexpected intersections of global tourism and fitness demand further attention because they reconfigure our received notions of who (and what) is capable of exerting agency in postcolonial encounters.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-281
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number2
Early online date29 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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