9 questions to discover a marathon : Sahara Marathon

15 Oct 2009 14:44
Jean-Loup Fenaux
Focus on a race Interview Charity

This week, our featured race is very special one. It is a gorgeous desert marathon, but first of all a humanitarian project to help the saharawi people. Mattia Durli is presenting us the race and its purpose.

Mattia, 34 year old is working as a software programmer in Bologna (Italy). He participated in 2001 to the very first edition of the Sahara Marathon. Since then, he worked as a volunteer in the organization. Each year, he goes to Tindouf a week before the participants to organize the race with the saharawis. The rest of the year he helps coordinating the promotion of the race as well as the humanitarian projects linked to the Sahara Marathon, and the collection of humanitarian aids.

Everyone in the organization team invests a lot of his or her free time in the project and it is a serious commitment. As Mattia says, ‘But we’re happy with it. It’s a beautiful adventure for all of us’.

Hello, on February 22nd 2010, you’ll be organizing the Sahara Marathon . Can you tell us where it is located?

In the Saharawi refugee camps, in South West of Algeria, close to the Algerian city of Tindouf.
The camps were created in 1975, when the Saharawi had to leave WesternSahara, occupied by Morocco.


This will be the 10th edition of the race. Why was it created in the first place?

To express solidarity to the Saharawi people for their struggle to resist in such harsh conditions and to promote sports among the young saharawis.

What kind of route have you set up for the runners? How would you describe it?

The race touches 3 of the 4 refugee camps and is a run in the desert that has been home to the saharawi for the last 35 years.
You start in the ElAyoun camp, cross 21km of flat desert to Auserd, and then sand dunes to the finish line in Smara.

Sahara Marathon 1

How many runners do you expect on Monday morning? What type of runners do you plan to attract?

Race is always on mondays. Normally we expect some 150 marathon runners, and an overall of 500 people (local saharawis and foreigners) for all the races (42km, 21km,10km and 5km).

We expect any kind of runner, it’s a unique and strange race…

Any kind of runner is welcome from elite runners to recreational ones: people comes to this race to experience the amazing adventure of a marathon in the desert and to express their solidarity to the saharawis.

And there are no prizes, everyone receives the same medal: all the funds collected goes to develop sporting projects at the camps.

Sahara Marathon 2

Do you organize other races during the Week-End? If so, on what distances?

No, but we’re looking forward for a form of race affiliation in other countries: we want to propose to organize saharawi solidarity races to our participants coming from all over the world, in theri countries, and to give them our support.

At that time of the year, what kind of weather can we expect?

Dry, hot/warm during the day, cold at night.

But weather can change drastically. It depends on the wind which is unpredictable: in our 9 year experience we had very hot races, with no wind, and cold race with sand storms….

Have you planned festivities around the marathon?

Participants stay at the camps 1 week (race is 1 day only) to participate to the different activities. For example 27th is the celebration of the national day, with a long parade and festivities.

The day after the race we organize the children races, where more than 1000 young kids, participate to races and sport activities. And then the football match saharawi against the rest of the world. And many more visits to the schools, hospitals, museums, and meeting with local authorities.

The marathon finished, what advice would you give a runner who has never been to Tindouf before? A good restaurant, a fancy sightseeing?

Participants can’t go to Tindouf, that’s a military algerian town were foreigner are not allowed. Participants stay all the time in the refugee camps, first Smara then Dhakla.

What we reccomend is to enjoy the desert time, talk with the family that hosts them, enjoy the tea with them. Then walk around the camps, talk with people, play with kids… that will be an awesome experience.

In a single sentence, what would you tell the readers of ahotu Marathons to make them register for the Sahara Marathon?

What we wrote in the back of a T-shirt: ‘it is not down in any map. true places never are.

Thank you Mattia
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