Race report – Marrakech marathon
It all started around 4 years and one pandemic ago when Oli said he wanted to run a marathon around Marrakech. ‘Count me in’ I said and this year we finally decided to give it a go although I still have no idea why Oli picked Marrakech – maybe I should have asked.
And so it was that on Thursday morning we headed to Gatwick to board a plane into the unknown and our first African marathon. Having landed and got a taxi to the outskirts of the car free city centre it was a slight surprise when an aging man threw our bags into a metal trolley and set off pushing them through the crowds in the central square. Luckily, we followed in a mild panic and eventually ended up at our Riad and thus began our experience of the organised chaos that is Marrakech. Having handily given ourselves a couple of days to ‘acclimatise’ to the area pre-marathon we cleverly decided to walk over 15 miles a day exploring the sights and sounds of what we both agreed is probably our favourite city. There were palaces, mosques, souks, tanneries, museums, and myriad chances to practice our bartering skills (some more successful than others *cough* Oli) before we found a pizza restaurant for a pre-race meal and grabbed an early night.
We left the riad early on race morning as we had to walk to the car park and hope that our best French of the night before was understood and that we could extract our hire car out and head the 45 minutes south to Lalla Takerkoust and race HQ. Luckily all was well and we arrived early to enjoy the sunrise and get set for the race. We quickly realised that we were the only British runners in the field but everyone at race HQ made us welcome and as we lined up we were confident of not getting too lost. As the countdown completed and we set off southwards into the Moroccan sand we discussed finish times and thought a gentle 4.5 to 5 hours sounded reasonable. This prediction seemed accurate as we ran round the reservoir and up a few mild undulations (think North Foreland hill) then headed through villages along a river valley. We knew the middle of the course was going to be a little lumpy and as we turned north towards the hills all looked good until we hit the base if the hill/mountain and realised that when the organisers said it was an extremely technical course they were not lying. The next 3 miles were 26, 29 and 27 minutes respectively as we climbed, slid and precariously balanced up paths towards the mosque at the summit. We soon realised that a PB was probably out of reach and as we reached the half-way check-point and the worst of the climb was behind us we started down to the finish in good spirits discussing the incredible scenery and how kind the locals were with their support. Perhaps the highlight of the race was soon upon us as we found a mud football pitch carved into the side of the hill so stopped for a quick kick around which Oli definitely won.
As we headed down the hill it dawned on us that a highly technical ascent would probably lead to a highly technical descent, and this was indeed the case. We bounced across rocks, jumped boulders and tiptoed across scree until we came through a village at the bottom of the hill with an unfathomable 3 general stores and were in time to hear the call to prayer as it echoed across the valley from various villages which was quite moving. We had finally conquered the mountain and were ready to coast the last 9 miles back to the start. Unfortunately for us the course designers snuck in several other lumps and bumps which worked the quads even further. There was then the small matter of running along a stony, sandy dry river bed for the final 2 miles to the uphill finish. Despite us coming in at a speedy 6 hours 39 minutes the support at the finish line was still amazing and we were cheered all the way in, with high fives a plenty – then a top-notch complimentary risotto and fruit bowl which confirmed how amazing the event was.
Having savoured the finishers’ village and been interviewed by the organisers it was time to head home. This sounds nice and easy but tired legs and high kerbs don’t work well with hire cars and led to Oli politely pointing out that once the car is sideways on it is more likely to roll over and that would probably invalidate the insurance policy. Oh well – it was an exciting way to finish the day.
There followed another morning of souvenir bartering before heading back to the airport for perhaps the highlight of the weekend – a brief chat with Gillian Anderson. On the plane we both agreed that everything from the race to the bartering to the chaos of the Marrakech main square were completely incredible and we would strongly recommend the race to anyone interested in trying something new. Oh – and we managed top 40 finishes which was quite exciting.
Thanks to Pete Gough for the race report and massive well done to Pete and Oli for proudly flying the TRAC flag on distant shores !!