Salameh Al Aqra, 2012 Marathon des Sables Champion

An interview with Salameh Al Aqra, the 2012 Marathon des Sables champion.

By on April 18, 2012 | Comments

Salameh Al Aqra of Jordan won the 2012 Marathon des Sables. This was his first MdS victory in seven attempts. In the following interview, he talks about how it feels to win MdS, how his race played out, and what makes the Marathon des Sables unique.

Salameh Al Aqra, 2012 Marathon des Sables Champion, Interview Transcript

iRunFar: This is Meghan and I am here with the 2012 Marathon des Sables champion, Salameh Al Aqra, of Jordan. Bonjour! Well, it’s the day after the Marathon des Sables, we’re just back out of the desert, we’re just back here in Ouarzazate. You’ve just been awarded your championship. How are you feeling?

Salameh Al Aqra: I am extremely happy; I cannot even describe how happy I really am. Six years I’ve been after it and finally number seven is the charm and I’m here.

iRF: So you are very, very happy!

Al Aqra: I just can’t describe how I feel, because I don’t think I could have any other win that’s as good as this one.

iRF: Let’s talk about the race for a minute and how you felt. Take us through the marathon day or the long day, just one day out there. Tell us about how your body felt.

Al Aqra: The long stage was my favorite of them all. I actually felt the best at it, because I knew that this was the stage I could overtake all the others and it was the stage I’d been waiting for. I felt the best at it. As for the marathon day, it was the watch and look out day. Just make sure you don’t blow it and keep an eye on the rest of the competitors and keep on going.

iRF: Let’s talk about the competition for a minute. You had some stiff competition. The men’s race is always a fierce one. Talk about some of the men you were out there with and what it was like to compete with them.

Al Aqra: I would have loved to have had Rachid el Morabity stay in the race. I’m absolutely saddened by the fact that he was actually injured. A bit of it, although we’re really good friends, is a little bit selfish to actually make sure that when I won all the Moroccans and the strong boys were there. Unfortunately, what happened happened and we wish him the best. We hope he gets well soon.

iRF: Yes, a sad day on that long stage, the three of you really fighting for the top spot, yourself, Rachid, and Mohamad Ahansal. And to find out after you finished the race that Rachid had sustained such a terrible and race-ending injury. Did that make you think at all about how races can change in a moment and you can go from the top to the bottom or perhaps not even in the race?

Al Aqra: This is always on my mind regardless of what happened especially when it’s in the Marathon des Sables. The simplest reason is just the topography of what we’re running on. The scariest moment, believe it or not, was starting to run that 15km end stage, not to lose anything that day. So I actually just kept it easy and just let it go and I didn’t want to push the pace in any way, shape, or form in order just to finish and get that title. This is the thing that is different about the Marathon des Sables. It’s not about your capability of running. It’s about how careful you are in planning and how careful you are along the way so that everything goes according to the plan and you don’t get injured. It’s a bit different than other races.

iRF: Yes, in America we say the Marathon des Sables is more like a project than just a race.

Al Aqra: Now it’s become a part of my life, Marathon des Sables. It’s a part of my life and for the past seven years it’s been like that. I plan my calendar year around it and we come through.

iRF: Well, that’s a good lead in to my last question for you. You’ve been here seven times, six top 3 finishes, and now you’re the champion of the Marathon des Sables. Are we going to see you next year?

Al Aqra: There is absolutely no doubt about it; I will be here next year. Even if I don’t win again, even if I never win again, I want to at least be here ten times. The loss will teach you how to win again, so it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. I’m just going to be here.

iRF: We’re always learning.

Al Aqra: Absolutely.

iRF: Certainly the country of Jordan represents this year. On behalf of all of us here at iRunFar I want to say congratulations, felicitacions! I want to say a special thank you to Amar today. He’s also our translator from Arabic, and he just completed his fourth Marathon des Sables. He’s also standing here with tired legs. Thank you for the translation. Alright, congratulations again and best of luck with your recoveries!

Amar: We’ll see you next year?

iRF: Inshallah.

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.