Wadi Rum Full Moon Marathon sheds light on Jordan's outdoor renaissance

(Photos: Jacub Michaletz)
WADI RUM, Jordan — Against the picturesque backdrop of Wadi Rum, the 14th annual Wadi Rum Full Moon Marathon kicked off in early May with the participation of 342 runners representing 34 countries. , captivating the hearts of 342 runners representing 34 countries. اضافة اعلان

As the sun set and the moon rose, the event unfolded, transforming the desert into a prolonged track for athletes from around the globe to traverse through the Wadi Rum Protected Area.

Renowned as one of Men's Journal's top off-road marathons, the Wadi Rum race entices participants with its otherworldly beauty, intensified by the soft glow of moonlight and the rhythmic sound of footfalls echoing through the vast expanse.

Yet, the journey to organize such a remarkable race is far from simple.

Year after year, hidden behind the allure and simplicity of running under the moon's radiance lies a labyrinth of logistical complexities. Fouad Kalbouneh, co-founder of TREKSjo, the organizing company behind the marathon, describes the annual planning process as "massive".

From coordinating aid stations and marking the route to ensuring the safety of each runner, a formidable challenge grown.

Yet, the marathon's organization serves a larger purpose — cultivating Jordan's outdoor culture and intertwining it with the nation's rich history, all fostered by TREKSjo.

Humble beginnings
The roots of TREKSjo trace back to its beginnings as an informal guiding service, inviting the local community to partake in adventurous journeys. Initially, these excursions aimed to enhance the outdoor skills of Jordanians, educating them on trail finding, GPS navigation, and self-sufficiency in the wilderness.

Jordan, with its rugged desert terrain and unmarked trails, presented its own set of difficulties. The Wadi Rum Full Moon Marathon exemplifies this predicament, as one participant in the half-marathon race compared her previous time of 1 hour and 46 minutes to her race time of 3 hours and 15 minutes.

The race route, with glow stick-adorned poles every 100m, has encountered difficulties with individuals removing the markers.

Overcoming obstacles
Nevertheless, the allure of the outdoors lies in overcoming obstacles.

Following local guiding and education initiatives, TREKSjo ventured into international expeditions, embarking on awe-inspiring journeys to Kilimanjaro and the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Fouad fondly recalls these expeditions, stating, "we didn't know what we were facing." Unbeknownst to them, their trek through Nepal coincided with the monsoon rains, subjecting them to relentless downpours and obscured mountain vistas. "It was a crazy trip but full of fun. … We loved it," Fouad said.

Adversity weaves a tapestry of community spirit. This year, as the Wadi Rum Half Moon Marathon commenced, a dust storm swept through the starting line, creating an anxious stir among the crowd. Although the storm subsided within 20 minutes, the adverse conditions intensified the excitement rather than dampening it.

The expeditionary endeavors of TREKSjo also encountered another hurdle: sourcing proper outdoor gear. Beyond skill development, acquiring quality equipment poses a significant barrier to entry for outdoor enthusiasts worldwide.

In Jordan, where such gear is scarce, TREKSjo resorted to petitioning friends traveling abroad to bring back supplies from the United States or Europe.

In 2013, recognizing the pressing need to facilitate local engagement in the outdoor scene, TREKSjo opened a store dedicated to selling equipment. This pivotal move paved the way for their sponsorship of the Wadi Rum Full Moon Marathon, eventually leading them to assume full responsibility for organizing the event after collaborating with its original organizer, Bisher Sakkal, for six years.

Fostering inclusion
Despite the growing interest in outdoor activities within Jordan, hiking trips and the marathon often attract a considerable number of foreign participants.

Fouad explained that many Jordanians attempt to register at the last minute, unaware that organizing the logistics necessitates closing registration 48 hours prior to the event.

To foster inclusivity, this year's marathon introduced a 5km walk alongside the existing distances of 42km, 21km, and 10km. The inclusionary measure proved successful, with Henry T. Wooster, the US ambassador to Jordan, even participating in the walk.

Muhammed Asha, a dedicated marathon runner, spearheads the organization Run Through Jordan, which aims to nurture and support the local running community.

According to Asha, the running scene in Jordan was once modest, consisting of a small group of enthusiasts. However, through gradual efforts and increased exposure, the community has grown, with Run Through Jordan organizing running races throughout the year.

These shorter and more affordable races primarily attract Jordanians, serving as a gateway to introduce people to running as a lifelong pursuit, extending beyond race day.

Long-time runner Shadi Zureik described running as a social endeavor, a means to forge connections with like-minded individuals. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, Run Through Jordan organized virtual races through the fitness app Strava, ensuring the enduring bond of the running community.

Building an outdoor community requires time, the availability of gear, and the transfer of skills and culture passed down through families and friends. Yet, the growth of Jordan's outdoor culture appears inevitable.

As 2023 unfolds, TREKSjo has recently relocated to a larger, more central venue, setting their sights on the future, with next year's Wadi Rum Full Moon Marathon potentially scheduled for May 24.

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