Zaid Ait Malek, a Moroccan living in Spain who moved to Europe in 2007 for better work conditions, has found growing success in mountain running over the last few years, including fifth place at last year’s Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon. In this interview, learn about Zaid’s youth in Morocco, what it has been like for him to find success in running, and what he thinks he can run at this year’s edition of Zegama.
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Zaid Ait Malek Pre-2015 Zegama Marathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Zaid Ait Malek before the 2015 Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon with Depa translating. Zaid, you are Moroccan, and you live in Spain. What brought you here and when?
Zaid Ait Malek: Yes, I’m Moroccan. I came to Spain in 2007 and 2008 for work because in Morocco there are not as many good positions to work and to live. Maybe I’d like to spend some time in Spain. After one year, more or less, in Spain, I started to run in races on the road in half marathons and marathons. In 2011, I started to run in the mountains and in trail running. With training, I have started to improve.
iRunFar: Were you a runner when you were in Morocco?
Malek: No, in Morocco I didn’t run. I trained in football [soccer] like a lot of children in Morocco. I went to the mountains with my mother because in Morocco I lived in the Atlas close to the mountains. Usually I went to the mountains but only walking.
iRunFar: A lot of your countrymen, Mohamad Ahansal and Lahcen Ahansal, they’re very good runners, but they’re best on the flat and the marathons on the roads and Marathon des Sables. Why do you run mountain races? What draws you to the mountains?
Malek: I know my colleagues, the Moroccan runners, run on the roads, but I don’t like the roads because I lived in Morocco in the mountains and I remembered walking there when I was a child and would go to the mountains with my mother. Maybe I made this connection between me, my history, my childhood, and my mother.
iRunFar: Now you’re a champion in trail running. Last year you won the [Matterhorn] Ultraks, the race in Zermatt. We didn’t have a chance to interview you there because we didn’t have someone like Depa to translate. What did it feel like to win that race?
Malek: For me, it was like a dream because I dreamed sometimes to win in one race or a world championship, but I did think this moment came early. I’m very happy because normally I expected this moment would arrive in more years after. But in three or four years of running, I arrived to win a race and to battle with the strongest runners in the world.
iRunFar: Here we are in Zegama. You’ve run this race twice. Two years ago you were fourth in 3:59. Last year you were fifth in 3:55. Do you think you can run faster this year?
Malek: For the first time I come here to run Zegama, everyone told me “Zegama is Zegama” like everybody knows. So for me it was a big surprise that the first year I came that I could stay running with the first runners for position. Zegama is the key of the happiness for me every year. Maybe this year I’ll seem more strong than last year. I want to run too fast in every time, in every race.
iRunFar: This year, there is no Kilian [Jornet], no Luis Alberto [Hernando]. Are you shooting for the podium or the win?
Malek: Every time with Zegama is a big dream. I know that this year maybe is the best opportunity for me because Luis Alberto Hernando and Kilian Jornet aren’t here. Maybe I will.
iRunFar: Do you think it takes a different strategy to try to win as opposed to trying to be top three?
Malek: The most important difference to win and make a fast race is the planning of the race. I think that this year I will run differently because I want to be the winner. So my plan for the race is to go at the head but not run too, too fast because it’s very important to arrive at the last kilometers with legs because I want to win the race.
iRunFar: Thank you very much and good luck. [To translator: Thank you very much, Depa.]