In December 2013, myself and three friends stepped aboard a 29ft boat to row an ocean. We pushed off from the Canary Islands in early December, and almost immediately found ourselves in a huge storm getting pushed back towards land. After 3 days of being couped up in a tiny cabin, we resumed progress and reached Antigua after 48 days at sea. It was the most challenging and amazing adventure of my life.
Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1369) is widely recognised as one of the greatest travellers of all time covering some 73,000 miles, eclipsing his near-contemporary Marco Polo by some way. He was Moroccan, and one of the native Berber people who have called North Africa and the Atlas Mountains home for millennia, many of whom still maintain a nomadic lifestyle to this day.
Two such Moroccans truly embracing this spirit are the Ahansal brothers – Mohamad and Lahcen – who have made a name for themselves as two of the best ultra marathon runners in the world. Between them they have come first and second in no less than fifteen Marathon des Sable races. It is no surprise that they have gone about setting up their own event; one in their homeland embracing the true nomadic Berber spirit; an ultra marathon which eclipses most others.
And so the Trans Atlas Marathon (TAM) was born in 2013, and this year will be the sixth annual event.
6 day ultra marathon (15th – 20th May) across the High Atlas Mountains
285km in total
12,000m of ascent and descent across
The highest point of the route will be at an altitude 3,400m above sea level, which to put in comparison eclipses Europe’s highest ski resort of Val Thorens by 1,100m (its highest point is 2,300m).
Temperatures will rise up to 35 degrees celsius at the peak of the day
The course is marked all the way along, and there is a team of at least 6 medics spaced out over the course monitoring the competitors.
The race isn’t ‘self supported’, so we will carry a day bag with only those mandatory equipment needed for that stage, such as your food, capacity for up to 3 litres of water, spare clothing should the weather come in, first aid kit etc. This will likely weigh around 5kg when fully packed. Each night we will stay in tented camps and have our evening meal and breakfast cooked for us.
There is a ‘lite’ version available for runners should 280km be too far. This is 120km over the same 6 days, but these competitors run part of each day’s route and then are collected by 4×4 vehicle.
Needless to say, this is an exceptional, unique and challenging ultra marathon, which puts it into a league above most others. Last year there were 47 competitors in total – 35 of whom completed the course, results here – and this year there is a similar number expected on the start line. It is intended to have a personal and family feel with no more than 100 competitors ever taking part in any one year.
This is an exceptionally challenging event, in particular given the altitude and ascent of each day which sets it apart from a lot of other ultra marathons. It seems to have all the hallmarks to truly find your threshold and push you to a level where you might quit. But looking at testimonials of last year, it seems it will be six days of your life which will be with you forever and ultimately make you a better and stronger person.
The ‘Lite’ version (a shorter part of each day’s route) costs 1,650eur.
TAM are partnering with Facing Africa. This is a charity battling the acute infection Noma which affects the face, the victims of whom tend to be children under 6. With up to a 90% mortality rate, and 140,000 new cases each year in sub-Sahr Africa, the charity sends out teams of surgeons to treat children and educate to help prevent it.