Morocco’s Rachid El Morabity won the 2019 Marathon des Sables via day-by-day control of both the competition and conditions. In this interview, Rachid talks about how his brain is as important as his body at the MDS, what it’s like to race with his younger brother Mohamed El Morabity who came in second, how his life has changed over the years of his seven victories, and if we might ever see him race in the United States.
Learn more about how this year’s Marathon des Sables played out with our full-race recap, mid-race update, and preview, all in various articles of our ‘This Week in Running’ column.
Rachid El Morabity, 2019 Marathon des Sables Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar and I’m here in Ouarzazate, Morocco. It’s the day after the 2019 Marathon des Sables. I’m with men’s Marathon des Sables champion Rachid El Morabity. Congratulations Rachid.
Rachid El Morabity: [Speaking Moroccan dialect]
iRunFar: And I also want to say as we’re starting that we’re doing this interview with a translation from Abdelhadi Elmoustahli who also finished eighth place, so congratulations on your eighth-place finish.
Abdelhadi Elmoustahli: Thank you very much, Meghan. Thank you.
iRunFar: So it’s the day after the 2019 Marathon des Sables. You won the race yesterday. We were out in the Sahara Desert. Now we’re in the city. How do you feel?
El Morabity: [through a translator] I feel very strange coming back from Sahara to civilization. In the Sahara we were just a quiet, simple life. Happy, very basic. We made nomad. Here in civilization it’s very stressful. Not used to it after a long time in desert. Here, lots of cars, pollution, so it’s very stressful. It’s very strange and stressful a little bit, yeah.
iRunFar: I feel the same way today too. So this is your seventh win of the Marathon des Sables. This year you showed what looked like to me as a complete mastery of the race. Every day you ran in control and pushed a little bit at the finish to stay ahead of the rest of your competition. From the inside out, did it feel like that you had control of this race?
El Morabity: As you know, it’s the seventh time. After I learned a lot from the previous races of MDS, so I won lots and I gained lots of experiences so that made me learn and study the MDS as well. So that gives me chance to win seven times the MDS, and that’s one of the tickets, to learn more about the MDS, and learn how to do well.
iRunFar: When you’re running this race you look very focused. Like kind of a serious face where you’re not only watching the terrain, but you’re watching the runners around you. Is that what you’re doing when you’re racing?
El Morabity: About Marathon des Sables concentration, it’s very important for me. So I have to take chance of every single chance, I have to during the race. So I have to watch everyone and watch the race, how is it, so I have to concentrate. If I’m not concentrating, if I’m not watching the race, watching the competitors or the guys with me, I want to be able to be top in the race, so I have to concentrate on the race, and study, and watch out the race.
iRunFar: For the last three years, your closest competition has been your brother Mohamed [El Morabity]. In the end he’s only finished a couple minutes back from you in the general competition. Do you consider him your greatest competition? Are you watching him and racing him most closely?
El Morabity: When I see my brother Mohamed close to me, that’s encouraging me lots. It makes me very happy and proud of him. As you know, Mohamed is a younger brother. He is very enthusiastic so he is very patient and he has aims as well. So I’m taking the chance in Marathon des Sables to train him and teach him how to organize himself during the race as well. It’s kind of preparing him for the future so I’m hoping that in the future he will be able to win MDS and continue victories in MDS the same as me.
iRunFar: What’s it actually like to have your brother, like you’re trying to mentor him for his future success but you also want to beat him and win this race? What’s that like?
El Morabity: Thanks, good. It’s kind of preparing him. When I am competing with my brother, I’m not competing with him just to beat him, but I’m making sure to prepare him properly for the future, and next races to win MDS. That’s the most important and why I’ve trained to compete with him and race with him and push him hard. It’s just to prepare him and make sure that he’s strong enough to win the MDS.
iRunFar: I really love that. That’s awesome. Okay, so I’ve known you for about seven years now. I met you when we were both young people in Zagora and you were getting ready for one of your earliest Marathon des Sables. Life has changed for you now. You’ve won Marathon des Sables seven times, which means a lot in Morocco. You spend part of your time in your hometown of Zagora but you also go to train at altitude in the mountains. Can you talk about how life, how your life has changed in all these years of winning Marathon des Sables?
El Morabity: I have made a few successes at Marathon des Sables. I am very happy and proud of that. Many people are encouraging me and helping me and saying congratulations to me and supporting me, that even if I suffered, I sacrifice lots of my time for the race, but instead I gain a lot from other people, and I did something very good in sport that I love and I like very much. So I sacrificed lots of things for this, for this sport and for MDS.
iRunFar: Can you talk for a minute about what your training and preparation is like for this week? I might have heard you were running 350-kilometer training weeks?
El Morabity: Every race I am going for, I have to train properly so I have to prepare myself properly, as much as possible, as hard as possible. So this encourages me and gives me trust in myself that I will do a very good result in any race I go for.
iRunFar: Last question for you. I know you have lots of things you need to do today so I don’t want to keep you anymore. The world has seen you race outside of Morocco, a few times in Europe. I think you said you’ve been there 10 times now. Do you want to race in the United States some day? Do you have plans to?
El Morabity: I would like to thank Laurence Klein and Grand to Grand and invite him to go for the race, but I am apologizing because of tiredness of Marathon des Sables. I would love to do it, but I cannot go because of tired, and why not, why not, why not. I would like to do a race in USA with pleasure.
iRunFar: Someday, inshallah [God willing].
El Morabity: Inshallah. Someday, inshallah.
iRunFar: Okay, so congratulations on your seventh win of the Marathon des Sables. Congratulations on being the 2019 champion.
El Morabity: Thank you Meghan. We will meet you in Marathon des Sables, and we will meet you in Zagora as well. You are part of our family. Whenever we see you we are very happy and we thank you very much for the chance that we’re talking, and thank you very much that you allowed me to explain about the experience and portrait of my life.
iRunFar: Congratulations again.
El Morabity: Merci beaucoup. Thank you.