In a stroke of miraculous luck and hospitality, I found myself in the middle of some Sahara Desert sand dunes on a training run with Rachid El Morabity, the 2011 Marathon des Sables men’s champion.
Let me back up a little. I’m racing the Marathon des Sables (MdS) this year also. Before the race, I vacationed in Zagora, the hometown of Morocco’s most successful male MdS runners. I’ve run MdS twice and they have, over the years, become my friends. These guys have welcomed me to their town and home, and have helped me acclimate to running in the Sahara Desert. Included in this was a day-long outing to some sweet sand dunes where Rachid has been camping and training.
Twenty-nine year old Rachid El Morabity hails from just outside Zagora. The tiny man, just about 5’5″ and 110 pounds, has a stout running pedigree in Morocco, including a recent 2:35-ish marathon finish in a small, local race. His breakout race was his 2011 MdS win. He’s back for more this year and says that he is fit as ever. I interviewed him after our training run (where he schooled everyone to the top of every sand dune while running, as he said, very easy for him). The interview provides a fun look into not only Rachid, but also the environment in which MdS takes place.
This year’s Marathon des Sables kicks off on Sunday and runs through next Saturday. You can follow all the action here on iRunFar.
[We apologize for the poor audio quality of the following video. We hope that you enjoy seeing the Sahara Desert in all its beauty and the friendliness of its inhabitants. Below the video, you can read a transcript of the interview.]
Rachid El Morabity Pre-2012 Marathon des Sables Interview Transcript
iRunFar: I’m Meghan from iRunFar. I’m in the Sahara Desert with Rachid El Morabity and Samir Akhdar, who’ll be our translator today. We’re interviewing Rachid, the 2011 champion of the Marathon des Sables (MdS). He is back in 2012 to compete.
Today, it’s late afternoon in the Sahara. We’ve just had a 15 kilometer, give or take, training run in the sand dunes with Rachid as our guide. We’ve taken tea and are now here for a short interview.
Rachid El Morabity: We are very glad we are here and get to train together. We hope to spendots of time together.
iRF: Rachid, North America doesn’t know you, so tell us. Where were you born? How old are you?
El Morabity: I’m Rachid El Morabilty. I was born in Zagora[, Morocco]. I was born in 1982 and am 29 years old.
iRF: For those who don’t know, where is Zagora in Morocco?
El Morabity: Zagora is a small town in the southeast of Morocco. It’s 360 kilometers from Marrakesh and 400 kilometers south of Casablanca.
iRF: Rachid told us earlier today that we’re only 20-25 kilometers from the border with Algeria.
Rachid, you’ve been out here in the Sahara at this training camp in the middle of nowhere. What have you been doing? How long have you been here?
El Morabity: Because of the route of the MdS, I’ve come here to train. I’ve not been here for a set time as I can spend a week training here and then go back to Zagora. If I need to go to Casablanca, he can go there and then come back to the desert where I live for training.
iRF: Rachid was last year’s winner of the MdS in his first time at the race.
El Morabity: Yes, I ran MdS for the first time last year and I won. I’ll run again this year and hope that I win it another time.
iRF: How do you feel about this year’s competition? Do you feel fit? Do you feel ready like last year?
El Morabity: I trained well this time. I feel that that I’m fit to run MdS in a good time. Insha’Allah.
iRF: My last question for you is, we’re in the middle of Moroccan wilderness, a very wild place in the Sahara. Many people watching this video maybe have seen the Sahara Desert on TV or it’s on their bucket list of places to visit or maybe they’ll never visit. However, if you had just one way to describe the Sahara Desert to someone who’s never been here, what would say about your wilderness?
El Morabity: You are welcome to the desert of Morocco. It’s another life to discover. It’s very calm. There’s nothing that can hurt you, just the sands and the sights to see.
iRF: Rachid, bon courage!
Our translator, Samir Akhdar is not running MdS this year, but he came in sixth last year, so it’s my opinion that he should be running. [Hint: Someone needs to sponsor this guy at MdS!]