Tag - autism awareness

The Challenge of Badwater 135 miler 2016


For immediate release

For more information, contact:

Alice Hunter Morrison, Moroccan-based journalist, winner of Best Africa Blog, a writer for RunUltra, author of “Dodging Elephants, 8000 miles across Africa by bike” and Special Correspondent to Hope So Bright [email protected]

The Challenge of Badwater
Running America’s toughest race for awareness of Autism
July 21, 2016
(Manhattan Beach, CA)
Mohamad Ahansal is a Moroccan Berber from the desert town of Zagora. He is a five-time champion of the Marathon des Sables, the six-day race across the Saharan Desert. This year, for the first time, he took on the challenge of STYR Lab’s Badwater® 135 in the USA, running for IRun4Ultra to raise awareness about autism.
The STYR Labs Badwater® 135 covers 135 miles (217km) non-stop from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, CA. It is the most demanding and extreme one-stage running race offered anywhere on the planet. The start line is at Badwater, Death Valley, which marks the lowest elevation in North America at 280’ (85m) below sea level and boasts some of the hottest temperatures in the world. The race finishes at Whitney Portal at 8,300’ (2530m). The Badwater® 135 course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 14,600’ (4450m) of cumulative vertical ascent and 6,100’ (1859m) of cumulative descent.
Before he started the race, Ahansal said, “Running for IRun4Ultra gives this race special meaning for me. It is going to be very difficult, very tough with the heat and the elevation. I have never run this far in one go, but I believe that when you take on something so hard and give it everything and push through it to help children with difficulties; it is worth the suffering.”
The elite wave of runners for Badwater, including Ahansal, set off at 2300 PST, Monday, July 18. At the first checkpoint at 17 miles, he was lying in 12th place and was running strong. However, trouble started to kick in over the next 20 miles and his position dropped to 25th with a time of 7 hrs 17 min at 41 miles.
His knees, first the left and then the right, were failing as he was not accustomed to running on tarmac and he was wearing new shoes.  His luggage had been lost at Los Angeles International Airport.  As he pounded down an eight-mile descent, he was forced to confront the fact that he was facing long-term damage to his knees unless he gave up. He made that heartbreaking decision at 73 miles, with just over 62 miles to go.
“He gave it everything he had,” said Linda Sanders, Founder of IRun4Ultra, “ We couldn’t ask any more of him. Ahansal is a true champion and great desert runner but Badwater is a massive challenge and, this time, it was not to be. He has made us proud and, most importantly, he has helped tremendously in our mission to raise awareness of the problems of autism.”  Will he be back? “I hope so,” said Ahansal, “Next year, God willing!”
About Mohamad Ahansal
Mohamad Ahansal is a Moroccan Berber from the town of Zagora in the Sahara in the south of Morocco. He started running competitively in his teens but as a young boy he ran to and from school every day (7K each way) so, his conditioning started early. He and his elder brother, Lahcen, have won the Marathon des Sables 15 times between them. Ahansal has just taken first place at the Iranian Silk Road Ultramarathon.
About Hope So Bright and I Run 4 Ultra
Mohamad Ahansal ran as an IRun4Ultra Ambassador for Hope So Bright.  Linda Sanders founded Hope So Bright, a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity foundation in 2012, to provide financial support to nonprofit organizations who offer programs and services to disadvantaged, underserved and at-risk youth. The current goal of Hope So Bright, for the next several years, is to promote awareness, collaboration, education, resources and advocacy for children with learning disabilities, particularly autism syndrome and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with special consideration given to the underserved.  IRun4Ultra uses the sport of ultrarunning to promote those goals. For more information visit:  https://hopesobright.org.  To watch the sizzle reel for the ADHD documentary filmed at Marathon des Sables please visit https://vimeo.com/155417209 .
About Autism
Autism is a serious neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It also includes restricted repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities, which cause significant impairment in social, occupational and other areas of functioning.
Hope So Bright’s 2016-17 Autism Awareness Campaign is focused on spreading awareness about the epidemic of Autism as well as the non-pharmaceutical behavioral programs that can effectively help children who exhibit symptoms.


The Challenge of Badwater 135 miler 2016

Mohamad Ahansal

Mohamad Ahansal Interview

Mohamad Ahansal Interview

By Alice Hunter Morrison, Moroccan-based Journalist, winner of Best Africa Blog, RunUltra, and Special Correspondent to Hope So Bright

Mohamad Ahansal is a hero in his home country of Morocco and a superstar amongst trail runners. He has run the Marathon des Sables, the toughest race on earth, which takes place annually in the Sahara Desert 21 times.  It is a six-day trail race covering over 250 kilometers in the most hostile environment on earth. Of those twenty-one runs, Ahansal has won the race five times and been runner-up ten times.  That is an extraordinary feat.

Now, Ahansal is taking on the legendary Badwater ultra marathon. Badwater is a 135-mile (217 km) course starting at 279 feet (85 m) below sea level in the Badwater Basin, in California’s Death Valley, and ending at an elevation of 8360 feet (2548 m) at Whitney Portal, the trailhead to Mount Whitney. It takes place in mid-July when the weather conditions are horrific and temperatures are more than 120 °F (49 °C), even in the shade.

Competitors have 48 hours to finish the race. You can only compete if you are invited, and only the elites are invited.

Ahansal will be running as an Ambassador for Hope So Bright to raise awareness about children who struggle with autism. One out of ten children are diagnosed with the disorder in the United States and Hope So Bright, through their elite running team and “I Run 4 Ultra” campaign, are publicizing the issue and looking at different ways to treat the symptoms of autism.

Ahansal didn’t start running competitively until he was in his late teens.  As a child growing up near Zagora, in the desert regions south of Morocco, he had a very active life. “My school was seven kilometers away,“ he says, “so, I ran there and back and that was my early conditioning.”

When he was 17, Ahansal entered his first competition. “It was Eid Al Arsh, the festival of the coronation, on the third of March, and there were lots of festivities to celebrate, including races. All the boys and young men in the area signed up. I wore green plastic, heavy football boots. I saw that everyone else was wearing trainers so, I took my boots off, left them at the start and I ran barefoot. I ran over the sand and the stones as fast as I could and I finished second. It was the first time I realized I could do it and it was completely natural. I didn’t need preparation or training.”

However, Ahansal will be training for Badwater.  “I am focusing on three types of training,“ he said. “Heat, mountains, and altitude. The heat should be no problem as it regularly reaches these kinds of temperatures in Zagora, my home. As for the mountains, I am going to be running the route of the trail marathon that is in Morocco at the end of May, the Trans Atlas Marathon.  To prepare for the altitude I will spend some time running in the High Atlas and go up Mount Toubkal, which is 4,167 m.
For someone who has triumphed so often at the Marathon des Sables, will Badwater still pose a challenge? I asked.
“Yes! In a way it was a crazy decision to sign up,“ says Ahansal. “It is almost the same distance but Marathon des Sables takes six days and Badwater is non-stop.  I have never run this far in one race.  Yes, the temperature will be the same, but the quality of the sun will be different.  The altitude, the humidity and the difference between the desert plain and the mountains are all factors. At the start, it is going to be very dry with lots of heat coming up from the ground, and then by the end of the race, you’re at high altitude. This is the difficulty!”
Ahansal is running to support children who suffer from autism. I asked him if that was a problem in Morocco also. “It never used to be,” he said. “Before, children walked to school and ate dates, bread, and oil. They moved around a lot. But now, we go everywhere in cars and it is all about fast food – kids are always asking to eat at McDonald’s.”
For the race itself, Ahansal’s aim is to try and win the race. It will be very difficult he acknowledges as the competition is tough, but he hopes that his experiences in the desert with the Marathon des Sables and in the mountains with the Trans Atlas Marathon will stand him in good stead.

Ahsanal wants to win that place on the podium for team “I Run 4 Ultra” and Hope So Bright. “I am so proud to be running for Hope So Bright. I want to do as much as I can to publicize the problems that children face when diagnosed with autism. I dedicate my race and performance to these children.”