Ultramarathon des Ziban : a 100 km road race run at the gateway to the desert

06 Dec 2012 06:00
Jean-Loup Fenaux
Desert Focus on a race Interview Road Running

Hello, on April 11 2013, you’ll be organizing the ultramarathon des Ziban. Can you tell us where it is located?

The Ziban 100km takes place in Algeria, at the feet of the Ziban, between Biskra and Ouled Djellal, at the gateway to the desert and 450km from Algeria, the capital.

One of the most beautiful palm groves, renowned for the quality of its “Deglet Nour” dates, stretches out over the territory of this wilaya (department). It’s called Tolga. The runners pass alongside it throughout the race.

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

It’s a sporty, orthopaedic surgeon, very interested in extreme challenges and a member of the Bouchaoui sporting association (AS-BAC), who had the idea. He took part in medical-surgical days in Ouled Djellal for 17 years, when he realised that there was 100km between Biskra and Ouled Djella.

He therefore suggested to his friends at AS-BAC to create a race on this route. They completely supported the plan and threw themselves into the adventure. Because it was a genuine adventure, as much as a sporting plan (to this day, it’s the only 100km run in one stage in Algeria) as a tourist one. Relying on a small hard core of runners and challenges, the adventure has lasted since 2008. The first event saw 11 runners line up at the start.

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

The Ziban 100km is a race at the gateway to the desert. It takes place in the month of April and it is generally already hot there. In different past events we have experienced mild weather as much as very hot weather.

The route itself consists of long, straight lines, not very hilly, where the runner often finds himself alone with this beautiful countryside and his accompanying cyclist. Along the route, runners will cross through some hamlets or villages and will run alongside the magnificent palm grove of Tolga.

In 2011, Bruno Heubi, the sponsor of the race, called it “the antechamber of Spartathlon” or a preparation for BadWater!

How many runners do you expect and what type of runners do you plan to attract?

Since the beginning of the adventure, the number of runners has increased and above all, the participants are not just AS-BAC members. We hope to be able to reach about fifty runners.

Do you organize other races during the Weekend? If so, on what distances?

It was only in 2008, for the 1st event, that we combined it with a 50km. We prefer to concentrate solely on the 100km. Furthermore, we organise a race from 5 to 10km each time in order to get the citizens of the region in Ouled Djellal to participate.

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

In general, it is between 15-20° at the departure time of 6h in the morning. Temperatures then climb up to 35° between 11h and 15h before finally dropping down to 20° C at 19h, the end time of the race.

For information, in October 2012, in Grenoble, the medical team who followed the runners before, during and after the UMZ presented a paper to the Congress of Sports Medicine entitled: “Endurance and biological variations in a hot climate during the UMZ100”.

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

After the 100km, we suggest to those coming to Biskra for the first time to let themselves be guided by the people of the region. They will show them what is worth seeing and what is good to eat!

Have you planned festivities around the ultramarathon?

After the race there is a ceremony to present medals which is celebrated at its true value by our hosts in Ouled Djellal. As this ceremony coincides with the closing of a week of medical-surgical days there, the evening has music and dancing. And don’t worry, even the hundred year olds are partying!

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

If you are looking for a change of scenery, strong experiences, challenges, surpassing oneself, solidarity, and the happiness of the running race covering a mythical distance, put one single date in your calendar: 11/04/2013. Destination: Algeria.

Think of Tolga, one of the most beautiful oases in the world.

Interview with Dr Redouane Si Larbi