Tag - Team I Run 4 Hope

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.”


Day 5: The Last Day! Marathon Des Sables


I Run 4 Ultra take SECOND PLACE in the team competition for Marathon des Sables 2016!
Our team of runners: Carlos Sa, Jason Schlarb, Ricardo Hernandez, Marco Olmo, and Harvey Lewis have taken second place in the 31st edition of the Marathon des Sables, the toughest footrace on earth.
It is the most fantastic result and we could not be more proud of our runners. They have braved over 250km across the Sahara desert in 5 stages, carrying all their own equipment and food for the race with water rations in place and always under the burning sun. They have battled sand dunes, salt flats, high hills, claustrophobic river valleys and rocky gorges to win their place on the podium just behind TGCC, the winning Moroccan team.
An amazing team result built on their individual successes!
The final results for the individuals in the team in the overall classification were as follows:
8th   Carlos Sa  23h 59
12th Jason Schlarb  24h 58
23rd Ricardo Hernandez  27h 48
30th Marco Olmo 29h 32
92nd Harvey Lewis  34h 47
Our team were running to raise awareness of ADHD which affects one in ten children in America. They were all proud to take on this challenge for us and had this to say to us before the race.

Marathon Des Sables race

Photography by Dino Bonelli from Run the World

Ricardo Hernandez, “For me, it is a pleasure and honor to be able to represent an organization like Hope So Bright, that prides itself and dedicates to raising awareness to help children with ADHD in this day and age.
Many children have been affected and diagnosed, from all over the world. I am a father and son. I have experienced firsthand what it is like to deal with something of the unknown. It is difficult for families to deal with these emotional and inhibitory issues when they don’t know where to go or turn for help. Fortunately, as Hope So Bright is dedicated to helping children and young adults it speaks in loud volumes to the public in raising awareness for ADHD.”
Harvey Lewis, “As a teacher and athlete I’m honored to join the Hope So Bright Campaign for children. As a child, I had a learning disability and the investments and dedication made by my teachers, parents, and community paved the way for the opportunities I enjoy today. I’m concerned about our nation’s standard approach to ADHD and treatment that generally focuses solely on medicating children. From my observations of children in various countries and personal experience with ADHD I believe greater strides should be made toward holistic approaches to overcoming ADHD including nutrition, exercise and learning styles. I’m interested in bringing greater awareness and hope to inspire folks through our shared journey along Marathon De Sables. I’m excited about the Odyssey ahead.”
Marco Olmo, “” There’s one week per year in which there is no room for small-mindedness, deception, cowardice, or deceit, and it is the week of the Marathon des Sables. I am honored to be part of the team representing the organization, Hope So Bright for Marathon des Sables.”
Carlos Sa, “This is an opportunity to be doing what I like best, running with friends, and to be, at the same time, contributing positively to another noble cause of this organization.  In this case, we are helping to combat ADHD and drawing attention to the importance of physical exercise and healthy eating.  I don’t doubt that I should do everything possible to fully integrate myself in this challenge”
Jason Schlarb, “I am proud to represent Hope So Bright at the Marathon Des Sables race.  Helping children is certainly one of the most important things anyone can do in life and I am honored, inspired and humbled to represent Hope So Bright and their amazing cause.
Our great team’s efforts go a long way to continuing to raise awareness of ADHD, its diagnosis and treatments and we would like to thank them most sincerely for undertaking this challenge for Hope So Bright.
Tomorrow is the charity stage and then they will be arriving back at the hotels ready to relax before they start their journeys home.
All our thanks and congratulations again to Team I Run 4 Hope! What a wonderful result and a great endeavor. Bravo, champions!


Day 4: Marathon Des Sables 2016 – The Long Stage

The long stage in the Marathon Des Sables is a true test of determination and skill. 84.3 km over rocks, steep hills, the inevitable dunes, and river valleys. The course’s organizers make sure that they lead the race over some of the most challenging terrain that the Sahara desert has to offer – and that is pretty challenging!
It is a Marathon Des Sables tradition that the top fifty runners have to start the stage three hours after the main field has set off. As four of our team are in that top fifty, it made the race much more difficult for them as they started as the sun was reaching its hottest and ran right through the heat of midday and early afternoon, finishing after nightfall.
Even though it is the longest and toughest stage, day four of the Marathon Des Sables is always the one that runners talk about and remember with the most clarity. Running through a desert sunset is a privilege and no-one who has ever done it will forget it.
The course for stage 4 included the highest and most difficult ascent of the entire race. There are fixed ropes at the top to help the competitors for the final few meters. It is called Jebel el Otfal and has a ratio of 12% increasing to 30%. After that there are still two more jebels to tackle as well dunes and long rocky gorges.
Night falls in Morocco around 8.15 pm local times so all of the runners finished in the darkness.  For the main field, many of them will STILL be running or walking to the finish line today (Thursday).
But our runners all got back to the bivouac safely and ran yet another fantastic stage. They are running to raise awareness of ADHD and are doing the most incredible job. 100% effort 100% of the time.

The places overall and the total times for MDS so far for Team I Run 4 Ultra are:

7th Carlos Sa 20 hrs 20
11th Jason Schlarb 21 hrs 21
23rd Ricardo Hernandez 23 hrs 26
29th Marco Olmo 25 hrs 12
119th Harvey Lewis 30 hrs 08
We spoke to Linda Sanders who is following the runners and filming them for the documentary, “Desert Around Me”. She says it was an incredibly hot and exhausting day but that everyone is well and will spend today recovering.
Enjoy your rest day Team I Run 4 Ultra! You deserve it. Just one more race day to go.  Keep going guys, we are all behind you!
Don’t forget we are posting pictures from our photographer Dino Bonelli from Run The World on Facebook and Twitter all through the day.


Toughest Footrace on Earth begins: Team I Run 4 Ultra are there

The racers for the Marathon Des Sables, the toughest footrace on earth, have arrived at their camp in the Sahara desert. The race starts at 9.00 am (GMT) on Sunday the 10 the April. Six marathons in six days across the most hostile wilderness on earth.
Harvey Sweetland Lewis (USA) winner of Bad Water and Jason Schlarb, multi ultra winner, (USA) have come together with three other top international athletes, Marco Olmo (Italy), Carlos Sa (Portugal) and Ricardo Mejia Hernandez (Mexico), to contend for the team crown as team I Run 4 Ultra.
Traditionally the men’s and team race has been dominated by Moroccan contestants, but team I Run 4 Ultra

Hope will be challenging that!

The race is designed to test the mettle of the toughest and fittest. It is six marathons in six days, and the middle one is double marathon distance at 60 miles plus. The terrain is extreme with towering sand dunes, blinding dried lake flats and burning sands. The temperature will average in the high 40s and reach over 50 degrees during the race.
Team, I Run 4 Ultra has been brought together by USA Ultra Runner and founder of Hope So Bright,
Linda Sanders, to create awareness of the plight of children suffering from ADHD through her
organization, Hope So Bright. A staggering one in ten children in the USA is diagnosed with the condition and seven billion dollars a year is spent on drugs.
Schlarb speaks for the whole team when he says of his participation in the Marathon des Sables for
Team, I Run 4 Ultra, “I am proud to represent Hope So Bright at the Marathon Des Sables race.  Helping
children are certainly one of the most important things anyone can do in life and I am honored, inspired
and humbled to represent Hope So Bright and their amazing cause.”
Good Luck Team I Run 4 Ultra! We are rooting for you!

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