Last updated: 20-Aug-18
When Lahcen Ahansal, ten times winner of the Marathon des Sables, turns up as the sweep for an ultra marathon in the mountains, you can be sure it is going to be something pretty special.
The Trans Atlas Marathon is a six day, 280 km ultra trail marathon right across the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco. It is characterized by days full of steep ascents and plunging descents. It starts in Zawiat Ahansal and ends in Imlil, so it really does cross the range.
It is the brainchild of Mohamad Ahansal, another MdS legend with five wins and ten runner-up places under his belt. He says of his aims for the race, I really have two big dreams. The first is to introduce runners to the beautiful mountains here and the Berber way of life and the second is to discover hidden stars in the Moroccan running community. I want to give a chance to the Berbers who run in the mountains and the desert but don’t have the chance or the equipment to come out and compete.
The trail running up the high passes, across the wild ridges of the Atlas and down through tiny Berber villages is world class with an excellent mixture of gradients, surfaces and challenge. As you would expect there are several stages with 1500m + ascent and the longest day covers 54kms.
There are regular water checkpoints and medical checkpoints along the route with UK-based Exile Medics supplying first-class medical support and patch-you-up services.
The course was a rocky moonscape that dives into lush, green waterways in which you find people just living out a very simple but comfortable life, said Meghan Hicks, US champion ultra runner and MdS women’s winner, who was one of this year’s competitors.
Every day you were handed out a lunch before you start but the race is designed to be semi self-sufficient. At night, the accommodation was in local gites with showers and mattresses – luxury!
One night was spent at a bivouac high up on a green plateau. Food was good running fodder – meat and vegetables with either couscous or in a tagine and fresh water melon afterwards with a glass of Verbena tea.
The field was very international with 11 nationalities taking part. In keeping with Mohamad’s aims, 24 of the 57 competitors were Moroccans. And they dominated the field taking men’s first, second and third position and women’s first place.
This race really has something for everyone. For the super-fast (and brave) it is a chance to pit yourself against the Berber boys and girls in their own territory. For the slower, but doughty, there is an opportunity to do the Challenge which covers approximately half the stage every day.
And how many trail stage races do you run where every evening is filled with drumming and singing?
Photo credit: Alice Morrison.