Mohamad Ahansal Pre-2013 Marathon des Sables Interview

Mohamad Ahansal is a legend at the Marathon des Sables. In his 18 finishes, he’s won the race four times and finished second another ten times! In the following interview, he talks about about his life’s history, the land where he was born, and how he feels about his chances at the 2013 MdS.

[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]

Mohamad Ahansal Pre-2013 Marathon des Sables Interview Transcript

iRunFar: This is Meghan of iRunFar. I’m here in the Sahara Desert with Mohamad Ahansal. He’s an 18-time finisher of the Marathon des Sables. He was the second-place finisher at the 2012 Marathon des Sables last year. He’s a four-time winner and a 10-time second-place finisher. Salaam alaikum.

Mohamad Ahansal: Salaam alaikum salaam. You are welcome in the desert!

iRF: Merci, shukran.

Ahansal: Oh, perfect, you speak Arabic.

iRF: You’ll have to bear with us with this interview. English is Mohamad’s fourth language. Arabic is not any of my languages. We’re here in a really special place. We’re in the valley in which Mohamad was born. You tell me just out of the camera’s view maybe 300 meters is your birth place?

Ahansal: Yes, 300, 400 meters.

iRF: Still today, most of your family lives in this valley here. Can you talk about this land as your birth place?

Ahansal: 30k from Zagora. There are eight families here that are different. There are my uncles and family, family, family, all the families are here. There are no streets, no telephone… it’s desert.

iRF: There is one road in (one piste) and one road out.

Ahansal: There is one road, but after a lot of raining, there are no cars coming here. Every people there and here work to fix the road.

iRF: After the rains, the road becomes un-driveable until you go and fix it. You were born in this valley to a nomad family. Your mom and dad were nomads. They moved from settlement to settlement to settlement following food, water, and food for their livestock.

Ahansal: I am born here, but my brother is born in another place, another brother is born in another place. It’s not the same. Every time I question my mother as to where I was born, I come to this place and in this place I was born maybe 34 or 35 years ago. No days, no years, I don’t know.

iRF: You don’t know your age because your mom doesn’t remember the day or the year you were born.

Ahansal: No. No writing, no family books.

iRF: You keep track of things here (in your head).

Ahansal: My mom said it was one year with a lot of rain… or one year with a lot of insects… every year is somehow special. So you remember how many years ago that way.

iRF: So between the year of the rain and the year of the insects is how she remembers. It’s a different way of keeping track of time. You have to remember things in your mind.

Ahansal: My mom says the actual days and the years are not important when I question, but it’s very important.

iRF: You want to know because when you register for a race, you have to write it down.

Ahansal: Yes, I have trouble when I go to an airport or an international race and it says, “What is your birthdate?” After, in Morocco, a General wrote “1/1/and the years.” Okay.

iRF: January 1, and then a year—that’s what you call your birthday. I love it. Talk to me for just a moment a little more about this land. This is a very rocky valley—many rocks everywhere you look. There are very few plants, hardly any water, almost no water. What do you love about this land?

Ahansal: Before the nomad family go to different places that are very good for food and common land for animals. My family came here and stayed in this valley. After, there is no water, and some families say go to Zagora or other place. My father went to Zagora, my uncle stayed here. Now you can see some houses and small farms. Every family has one well, 10 to 20 meters or so, for a small garden or for food to eat.

iRF: So each small family has a well. Here you said water is only seven to 10 meters deep.

Ahansal: Some years it’s much lower. Some years, no water. Now it’s better.

iRF: You have water now. Tell me, the Sahara Desert, your home, is beautiful. What do you love about your desert?

Ahansal: I love the desert. I love a desert valley because it’s my roots. When I come here, I have other priorities. I love it. It’s no cars, no noise, no computer… it’s quiet, peaceful, tranquil. I love it. I come sometimes to my uncle’s and stay one week or five days and drink tea and run here and go back to Zagora.

iRF: Let me ask you a few questions about the Marathon des Sables. It’s coming up in 10-days time. Last year, you were the second-place finisher about 20 minutes behind Salameh [Al Aqra], the winner. What do you think of your training since then? How is your training going this year? How do you compare your preparations from last year to this year?

Ahansal: For this year, I feel good and better than last year or two years ago. The last two years, I am a little “no good.”

iRF: You said, before, part of your problem was up here in your head.

Ahansal: Yes, a lot of thinking and work…

iRF: Too much thinking?

Ahansal: Yes, but last year I had a sore problem (leg) and I told myself to start slowly and finish good. For next year, come back and hopefully do better, Inshallah. At MdS, it’s very long and one day is good and the next day is no good and another day is good—it’s difficult.

iRF: Today you had a 20k run. How did today’s run go?

Ahansal: Today was very good. I had yesterday’s slowly and today a 10k run was a little faster, the same speed as MdS. I felt good. I have only two kilos in my pack. Tomorrow, will be another test for seven kilos.

iRF: We’ll see how you feel then.

Ahansal: I think I’ll feel good, yes.

iRF: There are a lot of fast men coming to the MdS this year. What do you think about your competition? You, Lhoucine [Akhdar], Samir [Akhdar], Salameh, Rachid El Morabity, who else?

Ahansal: And more, and more…

iRF: More and more and all the Europeans. What do you think of the competition?

[Editor’s Note: The following two paragraphs were removed from the video and the transcript until after the race’s roadbook, which informs runners of the stages, was released.]

Ahansal: The competition is very quick and speedy in the first and second and maybe third stages. Maybe the long stage will be important. But I think the first stage is very important and significant because it’s a little long and for the first time more than 35k. 38k in the first stage. It’s very difficult with the heavy pack and sun and it may be hot. A lot of the competition may not be ready for that or know whether to run slowly or quickly or… it’s a difficult stage and very important. The long stage of 75k is very important for the winner for MdS.

iRF: The person who does the best in the long stage is the person who might win MdS. [End of previous redaction]

Ahansal: Yes, but the first stage is very important this year—very, very important.

iRF: This is a race of self-sufficiency. You have to carry your pack with all of your food in your pack. What is an example of some of the food in your pack? What will you be eating this year?

Ahansal: I have not yet decided. I don’t know. Dates, special food from my uncle reserved for me that is very good—mango and other fruit mélange, farine, and it’s a different food. And some milk. I’ll take you in Zagora. All the nomads say it is very good. You eat just 100g and you are good.

iRF: That’s the special potion of the Moroccans. I want to thank you for today’s interview. I want to thank you also for inviting me to your homeland valley and for spending the day out here with you. It’s been a very special day for me. I also want to say good luck to you at this 28th edition of the Marathon des Sables.

Ahansal: Good luck to you and good luck to all the runners in MdS. You are welcome in my birth valley.

iRF: Thank you so much.

Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Senior Editor, the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running,' and a Contributing Editor at Trail Runner magazine. The converted road runner finished her first ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places. For more information on Meghan and her adventures, please visit her personal website.

There are 2 comments

  1. Dean G

    This is a fantastic interview. I was thinking about it… I don't come across a lot of sports coverage in the USA that gives me a glimpse at anything but American or European based athletes. What a cool guy. Humble. And interesting to hear how he likes to come back to his home to get away from what is too much distraction from their version of city life.

    P.S. — Two champions, one interview. So cool. Meghan is my hero.

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