‘I was lost, had no water and my phones were dead'

June 12th, 2018 2:00 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

The only way is up: Chris O'Connor pictured competing in the Trans Atlas Marathon in Morocco last month.

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THE irony of getting lost in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco isn’t lost on Chris O’Connor.

It was stage five of six in the 160km Trans Atlas Marathon. The finish line was only a day away. But it felt like an eternity when Chris ventured off track on his own.

‘It was the penultimate day, I overslept and woke up a bit late. That set the tone for the day,’ he recalls, looking back on his latest Trans Atlas Marathon adventure, which is becoming an annual fixture for this Union Hall resident, originally
from Surrey.

After organising his supplies of food and water for the day ahead, he set off, but soon found himself alone on the mountain range with no water and no working mobile phones.

‘It was a hot day, the terrain isn’t what I like, a lot was downhill, it was very rocky and difficult to cover,’ he says.

‘I was on my own most of the time. I ended up getting lost. 

‘I drank all the water I had on me. I was next to a river and it was close to the point where I was going to drink from that even though I didn’t know what was in it. 

‘I was thirsty, had lost the track, was going backwards and forwards to find it, and the batteries ran out on the two mobiles I had on me.’

Eventually, he stumbled back on the right track and made it to the next checkpoint.

‘That was a bad day, the exertions of the previous few days were starting to take their toll. But then the last was my best day. 

‘I had a lot of energy, the aches and pains were gone so I finished on a high.’

What makes Chris’s Trans Atlas Marathon adventure even more challenging is that he also filmed and edited promotional videos for the event.
He owns and runs CoJo Films, an independent film production company that specialises in extreme sports films both in Europe and further afield.

Not only was he running up to 30km every day high in the Moroccan mountains, he was also working. 

‘It isn’t the easiest thing to do when you’re been running and hiking up mountains for six hours. While others could rest and sleep at the end of the day, I was editing and uploading footage and trying to get a short video out every day on social media and their website,’ explains Chris who moved to West Cork two years ago and now lives in Union Hall.

He was a regular visitor to these shores before making the move permanent as his family owned a holiday cottage in Union Hall where he now lives.

‘If you like the outdoor life this is a great place to live,’ the 60-year-old explains.

Chris is also involved with Kilmacabea Rowing Club and has medals from the national indoor rowing championships to his name from earlier this year, as well as a silver medal with the senior veteran’s crew from the Munster Regatta in Glandore.

His rowing skills were put to one side as he conquered the the Atlas Mountains last month – but his training runs on the beaches and trails of West Cork, including many hill running sessions at Knockomagh Forest, helped him on his latest ultra-running conquest.

‘The Trans Atlas Marathon is very demanding,’ admits Chris, who also competed in the famed Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert in 2010.

‘We are out for six hours each day. The first two days it was unusual weather in the mountains for May, it was snowing. It was cold for those two days. It was quite extreme but then the weather changed and it was the opposite with the temperature up into the high 20s, early 30s at times. It was a tale of two climates in the one week.

‘You’re following mule trails and unmarked paths, climbing up mountains and down the other side, through little villages.

‘On five out of six days, the climbing was equivalent to twice the height of Hungry Hill, and you have to factor in the altitude as well.’

His first marathon was in 1982 and he’s still going strong, already planning to return to Morocco in 2019 for the seventh hosting of the Trans Atlas Marathon.

‘It’s quite a tough race and it depends on how competitive you are. Because I was filming, I wasn’t too competitive. I’d run and stop to film, run and stop to film. 

‘I’m looking forward to next year already.’

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