Mark Gillett

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Mohamad Ahansal – Racing to Businessman

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MDS 2013

Mens 5 times winner, Mohamad Ahansal, takes the centre podium in this years MDS 2013. In Second place Salameh Alaked and in third place….

I first knew of Mohamad in 2006 when he resided with the Gods and I was a lowly Brit runner on the Marathon des Sables. That year he came 4th and his brother Lahcen won. Between them the two brothers have bagged 15 Marathon des Sables trophies and when they did not take first, they still usually took a place on the podium.

I started to get to know Mohamad from around 2008 when I returned to photograph the race for British press. I was never going to move into that arena of running and I my mind peaked with my long distances during 2008 with my best marathon time. My driver was no longer running but more the life around it, the desert and the world around us. I was fortunate to be able to cover events and also be fit enough to endure the challenges of extreme places. Returning to the desert each year to shoot the MDS was just a pleasure and complemented the other assignments I had.

Eventually one of my commissions was to shoot the team Mohamad ran for. The sponsor, UVU, wanted images and words from the team. This was the first time I sat with Mohamad and chatted. His voice is quiet, and his smile beaming putting Jimmy Carters dental work to shame! He laughs as we talk and I soon realise this is just Mohamad. Life is fun. Running is fun. Running is his life.

Mohamad in Marrakesh with participants of the 2014 Trans Atlas Marathon

Mohamad in Marrakesh with participants of the 2014 Trans Atlas Marathon

With most sports, high performance athletes come with a certain amount of ego and “specialness” about them but Mohamad was different. He still is different. His manner and character formed by his Berber upbringing is so humble and talking to him it is hard to imagine such a committed person. But he trains as hard as the best in any sport and in the harshest environment in the world. His time keeping is impeccable, and his self discipline and devotion to his cause are admirable.

Over the last years, I had the pleasure of seeing his transition from runner to businessman as he built his portfolio of races in Morocco. With invites from other top races for him to compete he began to travel more and build up a real following. He came to England in 2014 to promote his Trans Atlas Marathon race and stayed a couple of days with me. I picked him up from the airport and gave him a few rides getting to know more about him. And him me! To be honest I hardly noticed him in my house and as he took a part of my sofa to sleep, his small frame dosed off with the peace you would expect from someone growing up in the desert.

The Trans Atlas was my first race coverage for Mohamad. Making a few short films and photographing the event I saw first hand this man’s world. Although Mohamad grew up in Zagora on the edge of the Sahara, his family roots are from the Mountains. The race took us through a series of villages where tourists just never go. Everyone stayed local and the experience was just sublime. Real berber mountain life. Mohamad is a legend in the Mountains as he is in running world of the MDS. His is greeted almost like royalty but for him it goes with his character and is just another Berber. He loves his country and he respects his fellow human beings where ever he is.

I went back to Morocco this Autumn and Mohamad insisted we go down to his camp and latest race in Zagora to see his hometown as well as his new venture. The Ultra Trail Morocco Eco Sahara is a 109km trail race with a 64km event for those not so willing to punish themselves quite so badly. Again, I got to see this man in his element. His attention to detail learnt from his years of training, the MDS education from the owner Patrick Bauer, and his own willingness and drive to get others experiencing the world that has made his life so full, has helped create new events that will for sure stand out on the race calendar in years to come. Mohamad’s attitude is so typically Berber.

“It will happen slowly, Mark” he states. “I invested everything in this camp, so now I have to wait. The runners will come”. As with most in the desert culture, there is little time for stress. When things are good, they reap the benefits and when things don’t work they slowly move on. Its just the way it is. Their environment has taught them well. There is little you can do by getting stressed.

Runners of the Eco Sahara race planted over 40 trees before the start

Runners of the Eco Sahara race planted over 40 trees before the start

The runners that attended this first race were a mixed bunch. Around 20 from Europe and 25 from Morocco. One of Mohamad’s drivers is to get Moroccans running. he gives them deals and gets them in the race. Something the MDS could learn from being guests in Morocco! His right hand man in the race organisation is another soon to be Moroccan legend, Samir Akhdar. Similarly I have got to know him over the last few years for his smiles, persistent training and climb up the running ranks. He runs Mohamad’s races and then on finishing, works as the main organiser next to Mohamad. A work ethic and skill he has learnt from his mentor.

Mohamad Ahansal

Mohamad Ahansal

My meeting of Mohamad and his compatriots has done nothing but bring pleasure to my life. His teachings without being a teacher run deep, his status as a runner and human being are second to none and if anyone was to ever ask me what race to do next I would simply say, phone Mohamad!

Written by markgillett

November 8, 2015 at 11:25 am

One Response

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  1. Nice article Mark I have met Mohamad as well in Morocco. I agree he is such a gentle happy and quiet fantastic runner. He was interested in coming up to run the Polar Bear Marathon, but then couldn’t. Maybe some day. In a few weeks we head up to Polar Bear town to run. Albert

    Sent from my iPad


    Albert Martens

    November 8, 2015 at 1:21 pm

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