The TAM takes place in Morocco and may well be one of the most challenging ultra-Marathons in the world. Comprised of a six day, 185-mile mountain-running stage race, alongside more than 50 other runners, I will be covering approximately 30 miles per day, up and down gruelling Atlas Mountain terrain. The route has an elevation gain over the six days of 14,000 metres, following goat and sheep herding paths used for centuries in the most out of the way places.
Created in 2012 by Mohamad Ahansal, a Moroccan ultra-running champion, five-time winner of the Marathon des Sables (MDS), along with his brother Lahcen Ahansal (a ten-time winner of the MDS), the race aims to showcase the rare beauty of a largely unexplored part of the Moroccan homeland. The course runs through the heart of North African Berber culture, known for its artisanal crafts, local subsistence farming and nomadic herding, with some of the toughest mountain and desert runners taking it on.
This will be my second time running the TAM, which previously proved to be my most difficult physical and mental adventure. Despite the challenges of the run, the landscape is the perfect stage, connecting nature with my personal life-long running journey. In many ways, the experience reminds me of a pilgrimage, a long meditation, an awakening to the universe and learning about the self. It’s so much more than a race. Being fully immersed in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains for a week, in a remote location, observing nature in a thriving local and sustainable culture, that is home to some very creative mixed food production systems, sparks new thoughts and emotions and encourages us to reflect upon why we run.
Harmony is expressed in nature in many ways, and its principles include geometry, interdependence, cycles, diversity, health, beauty, and oneness. The connection between my run and the Harmony Project is not simply based on my support of the Project’s mission – to encourage a global understanding of the Harmony Principles and the way in which they can help us make sense of the world in which we find ourselves – but stems from a deep-rooted connection to the harmony principles that are expressed when I run.
The act of running, for me, seems to create some interesting ‘harmonies’. To explain this properly I feel that it is helpful to compare the movement of running to a musical score – the word harmony too stems from musical origins. When running, patterns appear as they do in nature, including for example the sound of feet striking the ground, breathing cycles, and heart beats. Each of these sounds are mixed in with the sounds of nature as I run – bird song, the sound of waves against the shore or wind rushing through the trees, honking car horns, dogs barking, or just silence. All of these sounds stimulate within me a new way of looking at the world, and I am made aware of the physical connection between myself and nature.
Why I run
So here I offer some personal insights into the ways in which the principles of harmony relate to my experience running. There are three reasons why I run: for discovery, health and performance.
My number one motivation for running is discovery. I am a curious person by nature and I find every running outing completely different from the previous one. Running is both a physical and visual activity. I might run in the country on a trail, on a busy urban street, in a foreign place. The light, the weather and temperature is always varied, causing my mind and body to react differently each time. Noticing wild animals and passing other people can also be energizing. I’ve discovered that “Running is a silent harmonious language other people understand and appreciate.”
I run to improve my health and to be fit – running feeds my mind and body with oxygen; I like the way I feel after I run. Running makes me happy. Running takes me places. Running helps me meet people and makes me feel connected – with others and with the universe. Focusing on being as healthy as I can be – eating, sleeping, training, working and spending time with my family, allows me to continue to enjoy running. Yet health is not easy to maintain, it requires determination and persistence. Thankfully, I have enjoyed running outside all year long in the blistering heat of summer and the sub-zero temperatures of winter, when no one else is outside. Watching the sunrise or the sunset makes me feel alive. Spending as much time outside awakens my senses to the cycles of nature and the earth’s elements, feeling at one with myself and the world around me, always testing myself.
Racing is a way for me to be focused on my goal. It’s where I can find and discover my true essence, my strengths and weaknesses. I’m always testing myself to discover my physical, and mental potential for endurance, speed and strength. Harmony teaches us to recognise the interconnectedness of things. Achieving a strong mind and body requires training my legs, lungs, heart and mind to work together. All of these factors help to propel my body and mind forward towards my goal. Commitment, dedication, nutrition, intuition, positivity, character, skill, agility, seeing beauty, and feeling flow in the moment, pushing beyond limits, effortless form – these make a great performance, but in the end, it is, essentially, learning about one’s self.
In July of 2017, while in Wales, I listened to HRH the Prince of Wales challenge the audience of the Sustainable Food Trust’s Harmony in Food and Farming conference to use the idea of harmony as a new way of looking at the world. I quietly asked myself in silence: what is the best way I can contribute to the harmony conversation? I’ve come up with the Harmony Run to begin to explore my own questions and experiences. I will be sharing my journey with you over the next nine months as part of the Sustainable Food Trust’s Harmony Project, documenting my physical and mental training across different terrains, my connections and conversations with other runners, and the development of my understanding of harmony. My experience will be inspired by foot strikes, breathing cycles and heart beats, mixed in with sounds of nature, revealing how the patterns of nature, and the principles of harmony are reflected through my year-long harmony running journey.
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Anthony Rodale is Chair of the Sustainable Food Trust Board, an advocate for sustainability, endurance athlete, and keen photographer. He is 3 time finisher of the ultra Marathon des Sables. Anthony has spent years travelling the world visiting sustainable and organic farms, learning about successful practices in soil regeneration, crop production, plant diversity, carbon sequestration, economic viability, food security and community health. He has been President of the Sustainable Food Alliance since 2011. Before that served on other Boards such as the Rainforest Alliance, Friends of the Soil Association, and Board Chair of the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania.
This article was first published on 18th July 2013 on the Sustainable Food Trust website.