"Running on nomadic Berber trails in the heart of Morocco's Atlas Mountains was my most difficult physical and mental adventure yet. I want to do it again."

The Trans Atlas Marathon, Morocco, is one of the toughest Ultra Marathons in the world. TAM is an international, 6-day, 180-mile ultra marathon mountain stage race, Running approximately 30 miles per day up and down the grueling Atlas Mountain Terrain, with an elevation over 6 days of 14,000 meters +-, following goat and sheep herding paths used for centuries in the most out of the way places. Two Moroccan ultra running champions, brothers, Mohamad and Lahcen Ahansal created the “Trans Atlas Marathon” in 2012 to showcase a rare unvisited part of their Moroccan homelands. The Trans Atlas Marathon runs in the heart of the Berber culture. Moroccan Berbers, are from an ancient North African culture known for their artisanal skills, diverse subsistence farming, and nomadic herding. The Berber word “Amazigh,” meaning “free people, be brave, be strong, be proud,” best describes the collective feelings one recieves while encountering local men, women and children on the trail, literally, “in the middle of no where.”

The TAM Ultra racers will run and see amazing hidden rough and raw places, active farming communities growing food in challenged areas.Mohamad Ahansal

Connected to the Land

“Morocco is a geographically diverse country that encompasses the Atlas and Rif mountains, the Sahara desert and the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. Agriculture is the backbone of the Moroccan economy with over half the population working in farming.”  Moroccan agriculture: Facing the challenges of a divided system. Essay by Meghan Perry of the Sustainable Food Trust. 

The Course, 280km, 175 miles, over 6 days

Stage #1 Bivouac Agouti 44.5Km

Stage #2 Bivouac Agouti 52.9Km

Stage#3 Agouti to Talmest 52.3KM

Stage#4 Talmest to Lac Koucer 43.8Km

Stage#5 Lac Koucer to Gite Cathedral 36.6Km

Stage#6 Gite Cathedral to Lac Bin El Ouidane 47.9Km

The 5th Edition, Trans Atlas Marathon 2017

Trans Atlas Marathon 2017, the 5th Edition had 39 participants, 16 Moroccan runners, 11 other countries represented. The number of race participants will vary year to year. The TAM race organizers, and support team are 100% Moroccan. A true Moroccan cultural immersion experience. The official race language is either english or french, but it’s really what ever you can speak to communicate with each other, BerberFrenchEnglishArabicGermanSpanishItalianNorwegian…etc…a sense of humor is very helpful. Mohamad Ahansal gives all the race instructions in English or French, but on the trail, speaking a few Berber words is most useful to communicate with the locals you meet along the way. The incredible Medical support team “Exile Medics, all speak English.

The Call to Run!

A Day at the Trans Atlas Marathon goes like this: wake up at 5:30am, eat breakfast, prepare to run, and depart at 8:00am with a little warm up Berber dance beforehand. Mohamad Ahansal starts his stop watch, and says, “GO!” Then you run. Of course the Moroccan runners have the home field advantage over everyone! It’s their landscape, they know the rocky terrain, the altitude, the plants, the people, the water sources, they mark the course before the race with red dots! The rest of us take on each day as amazing mountain trail running adventure. Yes, there are appropriate check points, and water refills, but carry enough food, and water to handle the various challenges that might occur with the weather and the terrain. Don’t expect to run fast 10kms. The TAM trails are not appropriate for speed. They were designed by shepherds, goats, and sheep. Be prepared for the unexpected, always be alert. It’s almost 100% technical with very few straight flat paths. Running sticks are recommended. TAM is not a race for beginners. It’s not a race for walkers. It’s a race where you have to keep moving to finish the race by sunset. Running in the dark is not recommended! Each night a delicious locally sourced Moroccan dinner is served around 7:00pm. You don’t want to miss the food, plus the overview of the next days race. By 8:30pm everyone is sleeping.

Running adventure, a long meditation, awakening to the universe.

I’m a happy 3 time finisher of the Marathon des Sables, 2011, 2013, 2015. As I crossed the finish line of my 3rd MDS I challenged myself, the next big race, run the Trans Atlas Marathon in May of 2017.   I must admit all 3 MDS finishes were positive and exhausting life changing events.

One of my “ultra sources of motivations,” happened in 2011, when I first met Moroccan ultra running champion, Mohamad Ahansal. Watching Mohamad run effortlessly, and fast through the Southern Saharan dunes like a gazelle was such an inspiration. That year Mohamad won his 5th Marathon des Sables. I could only ever dream of running like Mohamad, that will never be my reality. I run ultra races for adventure, not for competition. Each event I choose to run I’m constantly looking for a race with amazing landscapes, and a rich cultural experience. Morocco is now top on my list!

I heard the Trans Atlas Marathon was going to be brutally difficult. Longer and harder than the Marathon des Sables, and it was! TAM is not the Marathon des Sables, those mountain trails are insane! Using my “go slow and steady” MDS race strategy was not a good idea. Like a novice, I over extended my time limits, spending too much time enjoying the scenery, and talking with locals. I found it hard not to resist a friendly conversation in the middle of the lonely trail. Not very happy with my TAM performance, I loved the event! I’ve decided to run the Trans Atlas Marathon, 7th edition in June of 2019 as a fundraiser for the for the Sustainable Food Trust “a global voice for sustainable food and health.”  Much more to be said about this in the coming months.

A few personal TAM highlight moments!

Anthony Rodale and Mohamad Ahansal, Stage #4 TAM 2017

More information:

Trans Atlas Marathon

Fellow Travelers Run the Atlas 

Smiling into the Wind with Mohamad Ahansal 

 

FitWild Adventures is going to Barcelona, Spain, and the South of France next!

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