With his characteristic and contagious smile, Zaid Ait Malek jumped onto the podium of the 2017 Transvulcania Ultramarathon in the last kilometers of the race, finishing third through a patient race strategy. He improved his top-10 finish from last year and, in this interview, we chat with him about how his race went, his tight fight with fourth-place Nicolas Martin, what his next goals for the season are, and his personal story outside of running.
Be sure to check out our results article for the full race story.
iRunFar: Well, hello Zaid! How are you today? How are those legs after the race? Is there anything hurting?
Zaid Ait Malek: I’m amazingly recovered. Yesterday I ran around an hour, being able to jog easy, which is great as I found myself super well. Recovering step by step, with some cramps of course, the normal thing after a race like this.
iRunFar: Are you happy with your result from Saturday? How was your race in general? You went out easier than other times but did your thing in the downhill, right?
Ait Malek: Yes, I’m really happy being in the podium. I was thinking about it before the race, but the night before I was feeling really bad with a hard headache, and I had to start a bit more conservative. Also, I knew the key of Transvulcania is mainly the final part, the downhill. Anyway, we started faster than usual, it’s not a normal pace for other races. The first kilometers we ran faster than in any other race as it’s really hard to stand in a good spot when the trail goes thinner after the start. I cruised around eighth position from El Pilar at 26k to El Roque de los Muchachos, just before the downhill. That’s where my race started. And then, well, getting to the finish line in third position, I’m really happy for that.
iRunFar: You almost had a sprint finish with Nico [Martin]. Where exactly did you pass him to stand on the podium?
Ait Malek: In the last part of the downhill, arriving to El Puerto de Tazacorte, I could hear the speaker say, “The Frenchman Nicolas has just arrived to the aid station, but we can see Zaid Ait Malek up there around three minutes back,” and I said to myself, “Well, here I go!” From there, I hammered that last part of the downhill, giving it all. When I got to the aid station the guys told me he was three minutes in front of me, but that I was looking better. Then, after that, at El Barranco de las Angustias, every time I saw a person they were telling me the gaps and every time was smaller. “Three minutes,” kept going, and then, “Two and a half minutes,” until the last uphill. I kept on running as fast as I could, and in the middle someone told me, “One minute!” So, I thought, Well, this looks good, maybe I can catch him. And at the end of that final uphill, I could see him right in front of me. Around 200 meters before getting to Los Llanos, I passed him. I ran faster than ever on that last flat part, and finally, I left him behind.
iRunFar: It was a great show to watch for all of us spectators. Now, tell me, after this big result, what’s next for you in the season?
Ait Malek: I’ll keep going for my season goals. My next race is in two weeks, well, less than two weeks in Zegama. As always, we’ll try to give it all but mainly enjoying. Then, I’m resting the whole month of June, and after that I’ll go to the marathon at the Buff Epic Trail. The biggest objective of the year starts in August, which is the Skyrunner World Series in the Sky Extreme category.
iRunFar: Thank you so much, Zaid. But before I say goodbye, I would like to ask you something for those who don’t know you that much. Who is Zaid Ait Malek? Where does he come from?
Ait Malek: It’s a pretty long story, but I will try to make it short. Well, I arrived to Spain in 2007 on a truck. Illegally, without papers, from Morocco. Here I started working and practicing my old sport, soccer. Then suddenly, I found running and started doing some road races while I kept working. I worked hard to be better at half marathons and short races but always on the road. In 2011, I did my first few mountain races here in Andalucía. I was able to run with the main runners from the Andaluz scene, until I could win them. In 2012, I started running Spain’s vertical kilometer cup and won it, but as I didn’t have my citizenship, I was an unofficial champion. But, well, even though it’s unofficial, title is there. That year I was also third at the Spanish cup. Then, in 2013 I won the Spanish championships but still were unofficial for me, and repeated that title in 2014. I was third at the Skyrunner World Series in 2014, second at the 2015 Ultra Pirineu, and, well, from then, good results began. Buff started sponsoring me since Zegama 2013 and it’s been a great journey, they’ve been real help, and they were awesome with me. Now everything keeps going up, and that motivates me a lot, fighting as always and still on the move.
iRunFar: Great, thanks so much Zaid. Today, maybe more calm, and with a family formed, right? You’ve become a father a few months ago! What did this change for you, I mean, being a father?
Ait Malek: In 2014 I had the chance of winning my first world-cup race at Matterhorn Ultraks, and I came back full of happiness, and I thought, Well, it’s time to get married, to move forward to a new stage in life. And it has been like this since then. Last year we had a boy, he came to life on December 22, and from there on I’m the happiest man. Even though he’s not close to me at this moment, he runs with me in my heart. Another dream come true, I’m really happy with my family, and we keep on making dreams come true.
iRunFar: Thanks for your trust and time, Zaid. See you soon in Zegama!
Ait Malek: No problem, dude! Thank you, enjoy, see you soon.