Rabat - Endurance Adventure: Morocco is a nine-day athletic challenge that spans far more than a typical footrace.
Rabat – Endurance Adventure: Morocco is a nine-day athletic challenge that spans far more than a typical footrace.
A mixed group of men and women with impressive track records took on this challenge, bringing years of experience, from Iron Man races to Antarctic treks. While the men had more extensive running resumes, two of only three competitors to complete every task were women.
Allison Macsas of www.womensrunning.competitor.com parallels the female participation in the race to the strength of the Amazir (called Berber in Latin languages) women whom they passed along the way. The Berber were the original inhabitants of Morocco before the Arab Conquest over 1000 years ago, and in rural settings many still lead lives like their ancestors. Much like the female underdogs in Endurance Adventure, Morocco’s Berber women are seldom noticed when first entering their village, but are not to be underestimated.
While men run the shops, guide weary travelers, and generally lead interactions with strangers, Berber women are busy running the household. Rearing children, cooking meals, clearing dishes, and harvesting crops all dominate Berber life, and are often relegated to the women. Macsas explains that “You’ll soon notice something; your lack of interaction with women isn’t because they are shy, suspicious, or repressed. It’s simply because they’re busy. Busy serving the very foundation of Berber life.”
As for the race itself, it covered a vast expanse of the diverse Moroccan landscape. Beginning with the picturesque Ksar (castle) of Ait ben Haddou and covering mountain, desert, and farmland settings, the run often transitioned into hiking or climbing. The High Atlas Mountains became a racetrack, and mountain villages served as rest-stops.
Toubkal, the tallest peak in North Africa, was a daunting obstacle, but nonetheless conquered by the ambitious runners. The 4,167-metre mountain prompted a 4am wakeup and swift ascent. Fortunately, these strenuous days were capped by stays at hospitable riads with authentic food and generous hosts. The relaxing nights were brief; pre-dawn hikes often awaited on the other side.
Yet Endurance Adventure was more than just an athletic challenge. The competitors engaged with Moroccan culture, learning to live like rural Berber farmers. Baking mud-bricks, reaping crops with scythes, and carrying firewood were tasked to the runners, who took to their chores with ardor. Treating argon nuts and learning to prepare “Berber whiskey” (Amazigh tea, completely without alcohol) allowed them to engage with more fundamental aspects of local life and participate in traditions of craftsmanship and hospitality.
This running challenge resulted in more than conquering physical obstacles, although those feats were impressive enough on their own. It also yielded personal connections and empathy among the runners, the staff and crew, and the local Moroccans passed along the way. From cheering shepherds to excited children, the Berber villagers encouraged the racers along and fostered a cultural understanding. Personal connection trumped cultural divisions. While often overlooked and underestimated, both the female racers and Berber women are far stronger than first impressions might imply. The female runners found the strength of Berber women and pushed onward to complete the race.
Photo courtesy: All photos by Jeff Genova Photography; jeffgenovaphotography.com