A little over a year ago, I set out on an experimental journey called ‘Running for Harmony’, combining my passions for running, photography and sustainable advocacy in support of the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT), where I am currently the Chair of the Board. A pinnacle moment in my journey so far, was the Trans Atlas Marathon (TAM) which I completed in June of this year. The 6-day, 229 kilometre ultra marathon required determination and commitment, as well as an ability to adapt.

Over the past six months, I have shared my training progress in a series of blogs for the SFT with the hope of raising some funds for The Harmony Project. Now that the race is over, I want to reflect on my experience and share with you some of things that I have learnt, as well as some of my aspirations for taking my ‘running journey’ forwards.

The Trans Atlas Marathon

I took on a personal challenge to ‘Run for Harmony’ in support of the Sustainable Food Trust to explore the principles of Harmony in my training and during the Trans Atlas Marathon race. My goal was to put Harmony into practice in my own life.

I would like to begin by sharing what I thought about whilst running in harmony with nature across the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains.

Today I take no pictures. I run, carefree, with ease, fun; I endure, I am well trained, with hard effort, effortless, breathless, deep with breath, ecstatic, exhausting, exhausted. I should have done more hill training, more altitude training, that incline is steep. No thoughts, no intuition. Running down mountains, running with gliding birds, wahoo, drink, hydrate, salt, look up, look down, jump, look out for that tree, run through the water, feet wet, full body plunge, don’t stop, flowing, patterns of light, sweet fragrance of juniper, ants at work on the ground, so many stones, orange dots, and arrows, time to eat. I want a soda, I want a beer. Oh man, the landscape is beautiful! Permaculture, Antonia, my running partner, Berber designs. Keep running, don’t let the others catch me. Who created these trails? Donkey singing. That sheep is in my way. Goat singing. What makes animals’ voices different? Wild flowers blooming everywhere, nomads, Berber dogs, shepherd boy, girl, man, woman. Bonjour, Saalam uwaleekum – peace be with you. Stars at night,  1001 Nights, the universe, so much silence. Flowing rivers, sound of water, sunlight warm, rain cold. I can’t wait to sleep. I love running alone. Today is a good day! Harmony, mind, body, landscape, nature, oneness, connected, sprinting to the finish line with Eva, #WeRunTam, celebrate, gratitude.

Reflections on the race

It’s been almost 3 months since I crossed the finish line of the 7th edition of the Trans Atlas Marathon in Morocco. As I now reflect on the 6-day mountain running race, I am pleased to say that the journey was one of my most cherished life experiences. I definitely felt ‘at one’ with self, whilst running along nomadic trails and feeling the grandeur of the High Atlas Mountains.

Happily, I was able to overcome my previous “DNF” (did not finish) from my attempt at TAM in 2017. This year, I was more prepared mentally and physically. I believe my Running for Harmony project made the difference! The 2019 Trans Atlas Marathon covered close to 150 miles over 6 days, about a marathon per day. Running up and down some of the most beautiful nomadic trails under the shadow of Mt M’goun, Morocco’s second highest mountain. The month of June was the perfect time to be in the mountains. TAM was a transhumance journey of harmony for my mind, body and feet. Seeing first-hand Nature’s full bloom of wild mountain flowers, green pastures, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, busy insects, wild bees, soaring birds, roaming sheep and rambling goats, flowing ice cold mountain rivers, nomadic families on the move, and of course wild dogs! Moroccan mountain life is a beautiful summer bouquet of harmony in action.

Our Trans Atlas Marathon journey began in the alpine zone of the Ait Bouguemez Valley, also known as ‘Happy Valley’. The area lies at 2500 meters (8000 feet) above sea level and had no road access until 2001. The region was a very remote Berber utopia with a rich and diverse history of vegetable, grain and fruit production using traditional farming techniques. This area of Morocco is developing very fast, as can be seen in the new roads, bridges and villages, homes with solar panels, new commercial farming and more people, so it was great to see it before everything changes.

The 7th edition of the Trans Atlas Marathon, ran through the beautiful Berber villages of Agouti, Rbat, Zaouhait Ahansal, and ended up at the iconic Cathedral Rock in Imsfrane. The TAM Race director Mohamad Ahansal’s goal was to showcase this beautiful region and give a small group of international runners a real Moroccan Berber cultural experience. Mohamad’s team put on a first-class event, moving our nomadic bivouac daily to new locations, and offering us Moroccan cooking, singing and international dance music, always with friendly hospitality.

This year there were 24 runners taking part between the TAM and the shorter TAM Challenge (a race that is half the distance, allowing other runners to share in a collective ultra running journey). There were 10 countries represented. I was the only American. I like the smaller more intimate running atmosphere of these races. A smaller group allows for quiet opportunities to feel connected to the local landscape and rich cultural exchanges among each other and local communities.

Our race day began with wake up at 5:15 am, a 5:30 to 6:30 breakfast, with the race starting at 7 am sharp!  A feeling of oneness came over me as we all stood together at the start line – 24 international runners in harmony with one another. A few minutes later we all spread out according to our running skill levels. We had 6 days of very different mountain landscapes. I was able to run alone most of the time, enjoying my quiet mountain harmony running experience. I find that my senses are most alive whilst running solo – my awareness is focused of what’s in front of me and I’m able to make the best observations of natural surroundings, such as the patterns and designs of the landscape, mountain light, the movements of sheep and goat herds. On my Harmony Run, I observed a local Berber girl making a bouquet of wildflowers. I shared big smiles with local shepherds on the trail, and I navigated running over endless rocks, followed orange trail markers, listened to the flowing rivers, smelled the essence of wild junipers trees in the mid-day heat. I was taken by all the creative traditional farming methods, field designs, diversity of fruits, intercropping methods in challenging locations such as fertile riverbeds. And yes, we ran through farms with animals! While I ran, I thought a lot about how this area was being challenged by climate change and the potential food security risks. How will the traditional Berber culture change or adapt through younger generations in this beautiful High Atlas landscape?

I was connected to this place with my breath, sweat, eyes, heart, body and feet! Our running days were over by 4 pm, which gave everyone time to recover, rest and repair, consume lots of sugary Moroccan tea and cookies and share stories of our daily adventures. I also talked a lot about the work of the Sustainable Food Trust and the importance of The Harmony Project! A collective dinner with locally sourced food, was served at 7pm, and we were asleep by 9!

My goal over this past year has been to explore the idea of ‘Running for Harmony’: integrating the seven Harmony principles into my running and looking for ways to further explore the challenge set by the Prince of Wales to “Look at Nature in a new way.”

By taking on the ‘Running for Harmony’ journey over the past 12 months, I have been able to look and see Nature in a new way. I’ve added a new level of richness to my running and life. Going through a full annual cycle, I now see and feel, how my mind, body and health adapts to the seasons, as well as to diverse locations wherever I go. I understand better and see how humans are inseparable from nature and that we must consider ourselves part of Nature if we are to overcome some of the challenges facing the planet. I have learnt to appreciate the beauty of geometric patterns all around us. I am grateful for life and all that I can experience and share.

I will run the Trans Atlas Marathon again in June of 2021! In the meantime, my ‘Running for Harmony’ journey will continue to evolve and become a new life mission where I intend to develop Harmony both in practice and in action.

Photographs: Anthony Rodale 

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