Morocco has become something of a Mecca for trail and ultra-marathon running. The country is a veritable playground for adventurers of any kind with the huge variation in terrain and climate in a relatively small geographical area. When you add to that, a local passion for running and a hugely friendly running community, it is no wonder that all places for the (in)famous Marathon des Sables are bought out just 11 minutes after they go on sale. Here, Alice Morrison, maps out six of the best.
Agafay Full Moon Run
At number six we have the Agafay Full Moon Run. This is quite simply one of the nicest running events in the World. It is held every year during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan to celebrate and bring runners together. It is a 12km trail run through the Agafay desert starting off from La Pause and timed to coincide with the full moon. The runners gather before sunset to break the day’s fast together with a traditional Moroccan meal of spicy soup, sweet sticky pastries, and fruit juices. Then at 1030 pm after the full moon has risen, they set off to the accompaniment of Berber drums and fire dancers, across the desert. The run is across undulating country with a clearly marked trail and just the sound of bullfrogs to accompany you. It is suitable for runners of all abilities. At the end, there is a big feast and a chance to rest up under the stars.
In at number five is the Morocco Race, which is a new one on the circuit and had its first edition last year. It sets off from Terres D’Amanar not far from Marrakech and has four distances, making it accessible to everyone: 95km – 65km – 25km -10km If you are brave enough to try out the big one, the 95km, you are in for a long, hard day as the trail winds over high mountain passes, down through steep valleys and in and out of the pine forests. It takes place in November.
Trans Atlas Marathon
In the middle is the Trans Atlas Marathon, set up and run by Mohamad Ahansal the five times champion of the Marathon des Sables and one of the most famous runners in Morocco. This spectacular races takes you right across the Atlas Mountains from Zawiyyat Ahansal to Imlil. The races lasts 6 days and is 280km long. That is a long way and don’t forget that you will be climbing up a lot of mountains. It truly is an experience, though, with night time accommodation in gites along the way and the chance to run alone through the most beautiful mountains in Africa. There is also a challenge race which is between 12 and 20km per day and is doable for any fit mountain walker.
In third place is the Nomad’s Run which is an annual event in the Agafay desert where you can choose from a combination of biking and running. This has something for everyone and is very popular with families as the children can complete some of the distances and love being part of the event. The distances range from 12km to 60km for the run and 12km to 80km for the bike. The atmosphere is super friendly and the scenery is stunning, passing over high points where the whole desert spreads out before you to the foot of the mountains.
Our runner up is UTAT which is a fantastic mountain race that takes place every October from Oukaimeden. It is a high-altitude, high-octane adventure and one that your legs need to be ready for. There are four distances: 26km, 43km, 26km+43km and 105km. All of them involve serious climbing and descending. This is a really tough race but it pays you back – the pain is worth it! A really unique experience and a chance to run through Berber villages, up rocky passes and down through lush, farmed oueds.
Marathon des Sables
There can only be number one, though and that has to be the Marathon des Sables, the toughest footrace on earth. It is now in its 32nd year and is a jewel in the crown of ultra racers. 250km across the Sahara desert in temperatures of 50 degrees, it is one for the brave or, indeed, the foolhardy. The race is self-sufficient so you have to carry all your own food and equipment for the six days that it takes. It works out as roughly a marathon a day but just to add in some extra difficulty, the middle one is a double marathon. This is truly a once in a lifetime experience, totally magnificent and utterly unforgettable.
If you would like to join us on any of these races, Charlie, the Boss, is a very keen runner and can tell you more from first-hand experience. Just email Info@Epic.Travel.