Wide Angle

Diaspo #186 : Karim El Hayani... from irregular migrant to world-record setter with his barefooted half-marathon in snow

After immigrating irregularly to Spain at the age of eleven, Karim El Hayani, who is currently residing in Canada, succeeded in making himself a name among Spanish runners. He is known for running marathons in sandals or barefooted. In March, he broke a world record, running barefooted in the snow.

Moroccan-Spanish runner Karim El Hayani. / DR
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During a minus-ten degree-day, barefooted 27-year-old Moroccan runner Karim El Hayani broke a world record when he ran a half-marathon (21.1 kilometers) near the frozen lake of Beauport in Quebec, Canada on March 3.

In an hour, 37 minutes and 54 seconds he managed to beat the previous record set by the Dutch Wim Hof, also known as «Snowman», who broke the record in 2007 after running for two hours and six minutes.

The Moroccan-Spanish runner submitted a request to the Guinness World Records Book. But it took several weeks for his name to be officially included among the list of world record-breakers.

From an irregular migrant to record breaker

Karim El Hayani's road to titles and record-breaking was not easy. The runner had a rough childhood during which he irregularly migrated at the age of 11 with a group of other minors to Spain.

«I grew up seeing many young men who immigrated to Europe while they were returning with new cars and showing off their money, so the idea of immigration occupied my mind, until the right time came and I hid inside a truck, accompanied by a number of people from my neighborhood», the Tangier-native said.

On his arrival to the other bank, he called his family, «who did not know of[his] plans». «They were difficult times, traumatizing ones, especially for my mother», he said.

Karim El Hayani traveled from Algeciras to Madrid, where he sought refuge with the police, who took him to a shelter for unaccompanied minor migrants.

«There I was faced with two options, either behaving to be able to live in good conditions or resort to rioting in the streets. But I passed the test and was transferred to a center owned by a Spanish family that housed abandoned Spanish children or those in a difficult situation. There, life felt better, we were receiving a lot of attention and we lived a normal life».

Karim El Hayani

Karim found the family warmth he had left in Morocco in his new home, which helped him return to school.

His career in running started by chance and without any prior planning, as he had dreamed from an early age of becoming a well-known football player. In fact, those in charge of the preparatory school in which he was studying, asked him to represent the school in one of the running competitions. He accepted the challenge and came second.

His coaches were surprised by his victory, especially as he managed to defeat a professional runner without even training.

«My coach believed in my talent and invited me to join one of the best clubs in Spain. I was fourteen when I started running professionally. I won several medals, which motivated me and I was crowned champion of Madrid several times», El Hayani said.

The young runner was distinguished from the rest of the contestants in his sportswear, as he wore sandals and sometimes ran barefooted.

From plains to mountains

In 2013, he decided to move from running in flat lands to jogging in the mountains, and he started winning competitions until his name rose to fame in Spain. He then received an offer to participate in the Spanish national competition for running in the mountains and was able to win the title.

After that, the doors were opened for him to participate in international competitions. Indeed, in 2015, he joined the ultra-trail Javelina Jundred competition for 100 km in the United States, in which he run sandals.

«I participate in competitions with sandals, because I have grown accustomed to it since my childhood in Morocco, and it makes me feel more comfortable than sports shoes».

Karim El Hayani

After his return to Spain, he injured his leg, which forced him to leave the racing world temporarily, and in 2016 he decided to return to the United States in order to search for a new life and focus on his health. «It was a very difficult period», he regretted.

In 2017 he returned to the world of competitions through the Coldwater Rumble Championship in Arizona. He was crowned champion, and in March he traveled to Canada, and decided to settle there, where he began working as a chef in a restaurant.

«I moved away again from the atmosphere of official competitions for about 3 years, but without breaking up with sports», said the athlete who decided recently «to participate in the half-marathon on snow around Beauport Lake», in which he set a new world record.

«It was a challenge for me, I had never run in snow. Before participating in the half marathon, I practiced on my own in the snow, and I went from jogging 5 minutes to 10 minutes, then more until my bare feet got used to it».

Karim El Hayani

Karim El Hayani wants to change the atmosphere and move from snow and cold weather to sand and high heat, as he plans to participate to the Sand Marathon, which will be organized either in Morocco or in Peru. There, he is to run more than 250 km, competing with other world champions.

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