Trail running in the Moroccan High Atlas : Ultra Trail Atlas Toubkal

13 Jan 2011 10:56
Jean-Loup Fenaux
Focus on a race

Dr Thouret Brice, MD, has taken part in many outdoor sporting events as a doctor but also as a participant. With his friend and partner Cyrille Sismondini who lives in Marrakech, he wanted to introduce the Moroccan High Atlas to runners via the values of respect and humbleness that the trail carry.

Hello, on October 6th & 7th, you’ll be organizing the UltraTrail Atlas Toubkal . Can you tell us where it is located?

The third edition of the Ultra Trail Atlas Toubkal (UTAT) will take place on October 6th and 7th in the Moroccan High Atlas, near the highest mount in North Africa, the Jbel Toubkal.

The start and finish line are located in the ski resort of Oukaïmeden (2620m) where a friendly base camp will be set up.

It takes about a 1 hour and half drive to reach Oukaïmeden from the international airport of Marrakech.

How old is the race and why was it created in the first place?

The first edition of the UTAT was held on October 1st & 2nd 2009. We created this event because we were devoted to this gorgeous regions and its people. Inn addition to this fantastic playground made of varied and extraordinary landscapes, the UTAT is a magical encounter with the Berber culture.

The change of scene is guarantied, less than a 3 hour flight away from the major european capital cities.

Affiche 2011
Credit : UltraTrail Atlas Toubkal
What kind of route have you set up for the runners? How would you describe it?

There are three great routes. There’s something from everyone!

- The UTAT (105 km, + 6500m) is very challenging. On the agenda: Adventure!
Many 3000+ meters paths, including the Tizi n’Tarharate (3456 m), running through about fifteen Berber villages among the most remote ones of the Atlas. A stretch of the route can only be reached by mule.
Because of the altitude, the race is considered by specialists one of the toughest ultramarathons in the world!

- The Oukaïmeden Trail (42 km, + 2600m), is also a tough one. You’ll climb 3 times above 3000 meters and the landscape is breathtaking!
To give you an idea, the winner of the 2010 edition, Mohamad Ahansal, who won the marathon des sables multiple times took nearly 5 hours to reach the finish line!

- The Virée d’Ikiss (25 km, + 1200m). The most accessible race. Nevertheless, there are 2 3000+ meters paths and the last ascent, shared with the UTAT will leave memories. Hikers are welcome.


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

This third edition should be the confirmation, the first 2 editions allowed us to validate and invalidate many assumptions and we know exactly where we go. Participant safety is the main element of our concerns.

For 2011 we will cap the registration to 300 participants.
Our target is broad! In 2009 and 2010 several nationalities were represented (Moroccan, Swiss, Spanish, Italian, English, Portuguese, Belgian, and of course French!), the level is very heterogeneous. It goes from confirmed champions (Mr. Ahansal, P. Prost Petit S. Camus …) to budding adventurers who come to discover trail running and the region.

Panorama
Credit : UltraTrail Atlas Toubkal

Furthermore we give the possibility to the inhabitants of several Berber villages along the route to participate in the races. We equip them thanks to the donations of our sponsors and participants who desire to do it. These local champions are amazing! In 2010 the young El Houssein Aourik won the Virée Ikiss (25 km in less than 3 hours please!) and the Okaîmeden Mountain guide Ideal Brahim won the challenge (42 km + 25 km).

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

Sharing parts of their routes, 105 and 42 km will start together on Thursday, October 6th while th 25 km will start on Oct. 7th
There will be 4 rankings : the ultra 105 km, the trail of 42 km, 25 km ride and one for the volunteers who dare not run the ultra but will run both 42km an 25 km in two days (the challenge).

UltraTrail Atlas Toubkal
Credit : UltraTrail Atlas Toubkal
At that time of the year, what kind of weather can we expect?

Statistically, we are in the best period of the year to organize this race, the weather reports are formal, October is the month when it rains the less in the region.
But we go out in the High Atlas, and conditions are those of the high mountains.
In 2009 it hailed two days before the start! Fortunately, on the big day everything was cleared and we had optimal conditions.
We work anyway on fallback routes, which will enable us to run whatever the weather.
In the daytime temperatures can easily reach between 25 and 30°C. Night temperatures can drop below 15°C.
In 2010 we tried the race in July, as an experiment, but conditions are not favourable because temperatures can become quite excessive during the day.

Have you planned festivities around the ultramarathon?

Of course! the UTAT, is primarily a celebration and a cultural exchange. During the race, each Berber village crossing will high in emotion. Then the various protagonists are invited to the closing dinner called “couscous-party”, under the Moroccan tent with a folk group and awards.

Credit : UltraTrail Atlas Toubkal
The marathon finished, what advice would you give a runner who has never been to Oukaïmeden before? A good restaurant, a fancy sightseeing?

What a program!
On Oukaïmeden you can see magnificent rock carvings dating from the Bronze Age. On a clear starry sky the sight is amazing and the local observatory is worth the visit.
Heated pool, sauna, steam bath (hammam) and massages are available in luxurious hotels of the resort.
Various restaurants offer local and gourmet cuisine!
There is also the possibility, via the organization’s vehicles, to reach some sectors of the races (Imlil, Setti Fatma, Tacheddirt) and cheer on participants. Hikes to meet the riders will also be organized.

Marrakech being so close, you can combine a sporting journey with the discovery of a magnificent city, rich in history and emotion. Its bazaars, palaces, gardens, and wonderful Jema El Fna square, are to visit!
Besides its cultural assets, Marrakech is also a shopping destination!

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

Come enjoy a great sporting challenge, suitable for all, and at the heart of an ancient and preserved culture.