The new year has many of us thinking about trying something we’ve never done before. Maybe you want to run a marathon or visit a new country.
Well, how about both?
I love running and when I was invited to the Sahara Desert for the Treg Algeria Trail for a week of ultramarathons and sightseeing, I couldn’t resist a trip to see what it was all about.
What is the Treg Algeria Trail?
Treg organises trail running and desert marathon holidays across the world. They are multi-day, multi-distance races where the runners must guide themselves with a GPS while carrying everything they need - including water, food and extra layers - with them.
Though the terrain varies from country to country, the company prides itself on its unique and jaw-dropping locations. I took part in its latest trip which sees runners navigate the desert landscapes of Timimoun in Algeria.
Runners had the choice of either a 45km, 90km or 180km route - all of which took them through dunes, oases, plateaus and mountains.
The week-long trip included two days of sightseeing, one at the start and one at the end, a day of preparation and safety checks and three days to complete their chosen distance.
The race began early on a Tuesday morning in the heart of Timimoun. There was a great atmosphere at the start line with local singers and musicians getting everyone hyped up. It almost felt like a festival.
From here, the first part of the race up to checkpoint 1 was the same route for everyone, no matter which distance they were running.
It’s at this point, I have to admit that I only completed this first 20km section and not the entire route. I love running but I only had seven weeks to prepare and I’m nowhere near fit enough to run a marathon, never mind one in the desert.
Fortunately for me, there was a nice cool breeze to combat the heat on the first day of the race.
Still, this was my first time in the Sahara and I was completely blown away by the scenery as I joined the rest of the runners for the first stretch of their adventure.
Who is a desert marathon for?
I spent my time running and trekking alongside all sorts of people at the start of the race. For a while, I walked with a team of Algerian female prison guards.
I asked them why they had decided to come and do this race.
“Life is short, why not go on an adventure?” one replied.
During my week in Algeria, I met so many other interesting, and frankly, inspiring people too.
If you’re tempted by an adventure holiday like this, but don’t have any friends as invested in running long distances in the desert as you, fear not.
Everyone was so friendly and the group felt like a big family by the end making it a great option for solo travellers.
The average age for ultra-distance events tends to be a little older as it takes time to build up your endurance. Nevertheless, the ages ranged from around 30 to mid-70s and it attracts a fairly even split of men and women.
I met one 71 year old man who completed the 180km distance. He was then planning to spend the next few months walking home to Nantes in western France from Algiers, the capital of Algeria.
Was he mad? Maybe. Was he incredible? Absolutely.
When is the best time to visit Timimoun?
Timimoun is a town and district in central Algeria, around a two hour flight south of Algiers. It’s known as a red oasis due to its stunning signature architectural style.
According to Toufik Boudraa, the owner of the Djenane Malek hotel where we all stayed, the best time to visit is between October and late April.
You’ll avoid the blistering temperatures of the summer whilst still enjoying warm, sunny days. But make sure you pack a jumper and jacket as it does get cool in the evenings.
Is it safe to visit Algeria?
The UK FCDO advises against visiting places within 30km of the borders with Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, Mali and Niger however the rest of the country is still fine to visit.
Algeria has previously been a fairly closed country but is now making efforts to open up and welcome tourism.
The checks at the airport are very thorough - I think I had my bag checked three times before boarding the plane. Although it may feel excessive, it could be seen as a reassuring sign of their commitment to safety.
Algeria is a Muslim country, however there is no requirement for women to cover their hair or face. I did pack a scarf though, just in case I wanted to visit any religious buildings.
As for the race, there were strict procedures in place to keep everyone safe. Each runner was fitted with a tracker, carried a mobile phone and could send a distress signal from their GPS device.
Over the full 180km distance, there were eight checkpoints, each with a doctor, where the runners could rest, refill their water supply and seek medical attention.
There was also military support with vehicles and helicopters to monitor the area in case anyone got very lost. Thankfully no one did.
The next Treg Algeria Trail will take place in Timimoun from 25 November 2023.
Hannah Brown was a guest of ANEP (Algerian National Publishing and Advertising Agency).
Watch the video above to see more of Hannah’s adventure in Algeria.