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Maybe it was because it was only 1o miles.
Maybe it was because there were camels at half way.
Maybe it was because I was singing along to ” All night Long, All Night, ALL NIGHT, All night Loooong…”
Maybe it was because I saw a cool girl riding her bike hands free whilst wearing the full veil.
Maybe it was because all the orange trees are in blossom so you run through clouds of perfume.
I really don’t know, but the fact is….. I ENJOYED a run. I left the suffering behind. Hallelujah! Now just need to apply that to 156 miles across the desert. Two weeks to go.
After my crushing and humiliating last place at the Marrakech Marathon in January, I bring glad tidings of GREAT news. 50km Nomad’s Run in the Agafay desert and who was first lady back? Me!
Imagine my delight – and my exhaustion – but let’s go back to the beginning. The Nomad’s Run is a mixed biking and running event – organised locally at the beautiful La Pause guesthouse in the Agafay Desert.
With just over a month to go till the Marathon Des Sables, it was a perfect chance to have a bit of a dress rehearsal so Charlie and I turned up for the 50km run with our packs fully loaded and our water/electrolytes and food rations as we would have them.
Charlie, of course, knew everyone, and it soon dawned on me that this was going to be a pretty experienced crew, and I was likely going to be running alone at the back. Four of the other nine runners were also doing the Marathon Des Sables, and they all took one look at my pack and firmly told me it was way too heavy and I was mad to carry it this early on and for this event. I had decided that I really wanted to give it a try, but I did unload three kilos in weight – a good move as I had miscalculated and this still left me hefting 8kms on my back for the day.
The gun went off at exactly 8 am and off we went. The first 17km was along a river valley – all stained red by the morning sun. It was sunny but still cool and even though I know I need to face that heat, I was pretty relieved. By the end of the 17km, I had been passed by the leader of the 20km sprint – who had paused long enough to wish me “Bon Courage” and give me a Twix, and two of the mountain bikers.
After the river valley, we turned off into the wider desert and navigation was to ensue via les petites pierres bleus. About ten minutes in, the 20km female leader came sprinting back towards me as she had lost her route – her petites pierres were orange and there were none in sight. I had Fred the Organiser on speed dial so after a hasty call to him she re-traced her route – calling wildly “Mais j’etais la premiere” I really hope she won, even though she had gone off course,
The next couple of hours were uneventful for me. I wasn’t drinking as much as I thought I would – and by the end of the day had only got through about 3 1/2 litres, and had eaten one of our nutritionist, Diana’s, Epic Boost bars every 10km (www.mymealplan.co.uk) so my energy levels were high. I trotted along playing the usual mind games and trying not to think about my back, my legs, my snail’s pace, the fact that I would have to do another five of these in a row…..
Then I hit a snag. For those of you who know me, it will come as no great surprise, I had missed a turning somewhere and was now lost – a junction with the little blue stones but no ongoing signs. So, I once again called fabulous Fred and after a few detours, started to retrace my steps. Far in the distance the bright orange 4×4 of the organisers loomed and I was picked up and set straight. I reckon I had done an extra 4-5km and as it turned out the race was only to be 44km so I probably came in at around 48km in total.
After that, I was tailed by some very kind men with very large moustaches who assured me that they would stick behind me, no matter how slow I was, and see me through to the end. This was really a very honourable offer as I am very, very slow and we were still a long way from the end.
I had been on my legs for about 7 hours now but was still feeling pretty chirpy and had launched into a long and initially welcome descent. But those descents can really knacker your hips and quads and, of course, the jolting meant my backpack was moving a lot. BUT I have to say that in general it is excellent – it is the Marathon Des Sables pack.
The afternoon light was working its magic on the desert at this stage and far ahead I could see a man walking with a blue jilbab on. He was actually going to rendezvous with his friend, who had brought a picnic for them to share. As I caught them up, they kindly offered me some mandarins but I wanted to keep to my own supplies so had to refuse. The kindness lifted my spirits though.
At the bottom of the hill, Charlie was waiting, having completed his own run in a magnificent 5hrs 15 – which would put him in the top 100 for MdS. So he relieved my moustachioed escort and tailed me for the last – and increasingly grim – kilometres.
That last 10km took a long time. Not helped by the very long climb. But really I think that I had just been out for too long. My slowness does catch up with me but I am where I am with that and am afraid that sucking it up is the only option.
At last, I was on the last two kilometres and Charlie ducked out to meet me at the finishing line. And what a great finish it was. There were still some people left and they all turned out to cheer me on, which was amazing. I felt like a champion when I got over that line and threw my backpack gratefully to the ground.
And – I was in a way! I was in fact the first woman back from the 50km – the fact that I was the ONLY woman who had entered, and that it took me nine and a half hours – I reckon is neither here nor there. For the first and the last time in my entire life, I have won a race. Woo Hoo!
So here I am at 6.30 in the morning, in the pitch darkness on a long, icy descent in the middle of the woods in Tblisi, Georgia, thinking, ” I am sure my Mum warned me about things like this.”
It has been the first morning since I arrived that I have been able to run outside as the roads have just been too icy. In two months, I will be running the Marathon Des Sables, and I can not afford an injury at this point – or at least I have to TRY to avoid them.
I am here to help Maestro TV with the relaunch of their news and current affairs offering and in particular their nine o’clock flagship show.
6.15 start out of my hotel which is near the brow of a steep hill and the first obstacle was the death inducing cobbles. They feel like a skating rink. Then on down to the river as I reckoned that even I couldn’t get lost with a river on my right hand side.
And I didn’t get lost exactly, but I did manage to meander through some dense woodland and a housing estate in trying to get down there. Fortunately, in spite of various movie themes unhelpfully spooling through my head, no mad axe murderers were around.
The run along the river was great – there is something really soothing about dark waters. There was hardly any traffic and my only company was the street cleaners who were all assiduously sweeping up the leaves from the pavement. Most of them were women, which felt strange somehow. But I did meet one male one – who shouted after me, “Beautiful Womans!”. Since this is what I looked like – I think he was being VERY generous.
Trekking through the Atlas is definitely the fun part of my training for the Marathon Des Sables. In fact, it is so much fun I am beginning to wonder if it counts as training at all.
Last week, I was around Sitti Fatma for two days with Noureddine Bachar, and as well as clambering over rocky high passes, I took the chance to try out my cooking system for the race.
It got to lunch time and Nouri and I were pretty hungry. My meal of choice was vegetarian cottage pie. I whipped out my titanium pot/mug which takes 75 ml of water, enough for a cup of tea and to rehydrate a meal, and put it on the amazingly teeny weeny stove which is just three legs and a place for a cube of fuel. Two cubes of fuel should heat 75ml of water. The fuel lit immediately and all was going well.
I forgot though, that water boils more slowly at altitude and we were at around 2,500 metres. So, the water wasn’t quite hot enough.
I opened the packet and we had a look. It looked a bit like a beigey/grey porridge and smelt like pot noodle. Nouri gave me a look reminiscent of a scared camel but I was feeling pretty confident. I poured in enough liquid to cover the freeze dried food, stirred and repeated twice more, then I sealed up the bag and settled down to wait for 7 minutes.
By the time I opened the bag, we had a very interested audience. Four little boys from the nearby village, had come up to keep us company and hang out. First impressions were not entirely positive. I heard a whisper….”It looks like diaorrhea!” Nouri was baulking so I took the first spoonful – sorry, sporkful.
Admittedly it didn’t really look or taste or smell like cottage pie but it was fine. It just tasted very soya-y and the texture was mushy. I did my best “this is delicious” face, and passed the spork onto Nouri and the boys.
Hilarious! One quarter of a spoonful each and they were rushing off down the hill making vomiting noises. I (wo)manfully ate another three spoonfuls to the admiration of the crowd and then admitted temporary defeat and Nouri broke out the bread and tuna, with little pastries for dessert. The boys were VERY appreciative of the pastries.
But at 800 calories per 160 grams, it is Extreme Adventure Foods all the way for me come April 6th – although I might give the vegetarian cottage pie flavour a swerve.
Now we all tell ourselves that it is the taking part that counts and we all know that someone has got to come last. BUT it is a totally different caboodle when it is you – or, rather, ME!
I had actually been dreading running this one a bit because I knew that the organisers were shutting everything down after five hours and I knew that unless I grew an extra leg overnight, there was no way I would make it in that time.
The course itself was really, really nice. Along some of the glorious wide boulevards with views to the snow-capped mountains and then back towards the minaret of the Koutoubia, a whizz through the olive trees, a trot round the Palmeraie complete with picturesque camels and then a long drag back down to the starting point.
From Team MdS Marrakech, Amine and I were the two starters – around 300 were running the marathon in total we estimated. Charlie’s ankle needs resting so he can be really strong for the race in April and Nadia was not there. Charlie and I think that Amine has just made her up and she doesn’t exist. Amine is a bit of a God and has done MdS ELEVEN times (that definitely deserved capitals). He finished up today’s marathon in a very good 4.38 and still feeling strong.
Unlike me……my time was 6.17.37 and I can exclusively reveal that I feel anything but strong. But am hoping that the large quantity of nurofen that I have just popped and a nice cup of tea will alleviate the pain.
On to coming last…. I realised things weren’t good when I was about 21km in and the people who were behind me (yes, there were some) had dropped out of view and I could only see two pairs ahead of me. Both of whom were walk/running. I wasn’t feeling too sore, but I found that the only gait I could maintain was a little jog/shuffle run. I tried walking fast and my legs went all bendy and wobbly.
I knew I was going to make it, but I also started to realise that I might be the very last person, which was not the most positive and encouraging thought to inspire the legs over the miles. And I was still 12kms from the end.
Then help arrived in the shape of Youssef, my very own police motorcycle escort.
Youssef and an ambulance and then a race car, stayed with me from the 12km mark, right to the end. Youssef was magnificent – riding fearlessly into the middle of the busiest roundabouts, and stopping all traffic so I could trot across. If he felt any car was infringing too close to my run route, the whistle came out and they were summarily dismissed to the other side of the road. Every km or so, he and his marvellous moustache would approach me and he would ask, “Vous voulez montez” to which I would reply, La! Hashouma (no, shame on you). There are only X kms to go!” And he would giggle then zoom off to bully more cars.
My escort also meant that everyone realised I was still running the marathon and struggling so I got cheers and horn honks and Allez! Bon Courage! all the way. That helps SO much!
The end came at last. I got my medal and kisses and then Youssef gave me a ride on his big police motorbike to the nearest taxi rank, where we said a truly fond farewell. I don’t think coming last bodes well for MdS but on the other hand, I completed and I hope I’ll be ready to run tomorrow. And whatever happens, this marathon was actually a wonderful and truly Marrakchi experience.
Rewind to a very dark, cold and hideously wet day in December. I needed to kit up for the Marathon Des Sables and rather than do it piecemeal, I decided to bite the bullet and embark on an 11 hour round trip drive from the High Peak to the Brecon Beacons to visit Likeys www.likeys.com
Likeys is famous for being the all seeing, all knowing purveyors of kit for marathons, ultras and running adventures and they have a whole kit list for MdS. It is very difficult when you haven’t done anything remotely like this before, to really understand what is going to be best out on the road in the actual conditions you will face.
As I found out from my Tour D’Afrique experience, kit can make you – thank you Dave for my handbuilt and fantastic bike. And break you – no thanks whatsoever to TerraNova and my disastrous sail of a tent!
Martin and Sue, won me over immediately when I arrived cold and weary, by showing me where the loo was and then giving me a nice hot cup of coffee.
Then our five hour marathon together started. Martin whipped out a 7 page list of options and we went through it line by line. I won’t list absolutely everything I bought but if you email me firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook me Alice Out There, I can send it on to you.
But here are my highlights:
- Compressport veino-muscular compression technology: They are going to hold my calves in check and make me much more energy efficient (well we can but hope!)
- The Lamborghini of lightweight sleeping bags: The Marmot Plasma 30F/-1C. Very, very cosy.
- PT750-TI Casserole en Titane: for those delicious dried food dinners.
- Raidlight gaiters: These hold the sand out. I am a bit worried about them as they seem loose around the ankles, but will try out when we get some dry sand.
- Venom pump: I thought this was just something we had to have for form’s sake but now that I have seen a snake in the desert, I will definitely take enough time to see how it works.
- Under Armour long compression tights: Apparently they will do for my aching glutes what the calf guards do for my calves and are to be worn overnight.
- Innov8 Backpack. This was not a good choice and I am defaulting back to the official Raidlight MdS bag. Need something tighter to my back. It is so impossible to judge by just running round the shop a few times. A lot of the packs seem designed much more with men in mind and do not take account of breasts!
- The Injinji liner sock worn with Bridgedales over the top: So far, I have loved running in these.
- Hokas: Controversial but I decided to go for it. I think they warrant a whole blog on their own.
What was really great about going to see Martin and Sue, was the extra advice and the tips based on their own experience of running MdS and other ultras.
Here are just a few of Martin’s words of wisdom:
1. “Mix up your electrolytes, so you get a surprise when you get to refill, it breaks up the monotony.”
2. ” Buy all three sizes of Compeed, you will need them. Don’t go near Doc Trotters unless you are desperate (Doc Trotters is the brutal but efficient foot clinic on the race). If you get a blister, prick it with a needle, squeeze the water and blood out, then put a needle and thread through it and leave both ends of the thread out, so it can drain.”
3. “Tie your knife, mirror, compass, whistle and survival blanket together on a lanyard so they are in one place.”
It took me all the hours of the drive back to try and digest what I had learned and to try and get my head round the thought of sawing through my own blisters. Whatever the race brings, I am sure I am going into it better prepared, and certainly with a lot more confidence in what I am wearing and carrying. Cheers, Martin!
I came across this chap about 5 minutes into the run – he seemed happy to keep to his side of the path and you can probably see the very top of my shadow in the foreground as I gingerly took this shot.
Today was the first desert run. Charlie drove us out to the Agafay desert which is about 45 minutes from Marrakech, into the sands and rock and off we set. We had agreed that we would run out for an hour and back for an hour as our paces are so different. Guess who is slower…..
The path was quite clear and with the mountains in one direction and wooded hills in the other, navigation didn’t seem like it would be too difficult. The conditions are very similar to what we will be doing in terms of the rocky terrain and the altitude at around 1000 metres so it was a brilliant chance to see how I felt. I also wore my Hokkas with the two sock system, second day in a row after yesterday’s 12.5 miler to see how that would go. And I carried just 75ml of water and no food.
I felt very heavy legged as I got going and felt all the hills up but didn’t seem to benefit from the downs. I tried to only drink every fifteen minutes and let myself slow down then to walk for a few paces while I slurped. Half an hour went by quite quickly, and then another quarter but the last quarter till half way dragged. I was looking at my watch every 30 seconds which is not a good sign. I also felt quite clumsy in my shoes which are a size and a half too big for me and have very thick soles. But I did feel that they sheltered me a bit from the stones on the path.
It wasn’t really too hot. The sun was very fierce but the temperature wasn’t bad – I reckon around 70.
The half way point was nirvana. Although, I was disappointed that I had only just got over the 4 mile mark. In an hour I should get to 5 miles even at my excruciatingly slow pace. I stopped for a wee and a good drink – rationing myself still to half way down the bottle as I had to get back. When I got up though, I felt really sick and dizzy. I’ve never really felt like that on a run before and it wasn’t a huge amount of fun.
I wasn’t totally sure what to do, but thought it was best to press on so set off at a brisk walk, which felt so much easier than the running. And then after a mile, I felt better and started off at a run again. A miracle happened – I got some flow! I suddenly felt like a runner and speeded up. I felt a rhythm and a real sense of joy and ease. My pace increased dramatically – remember it starts off at a very low base. It was a truly great feeling and made me think that maybe, just maybe, one day I will feel like that for longer than 20 mins. Still, every little helps, as they say.
So, 8 miles. Four of them trudging, one of them struggling and three of them flying.
Total excitement today. I was asked for directions by a Moroccan lady in a taxi, and I knew the answer! I feel like in some small way I have arrived. However, this mini-triumph of communication, has been trumped by lots of enjoyable and meandering mishaps.
The Moroccan lingua mix of Arabic, French and Berber has resulted in a dialect which sounds like a flock of starlings and is comprehensible only to Moroccans. My Arabic is a bit of a dire mixture itself but is mainly Egyptian with a bit of Levantine thrown in. Luckily most people here watch Egyptian films so can understand me, but I am still getting a bit lost in conversations.
On Sunday, I went to the local flea market/centre of making things called Bab El Khamis to buy some stuff for the house. After lots of rummaging, I came up with a zebra skin rocking chair, a slightly wonky side table and a battered old brass mirror I liked the look of. An hour of bargaining later, and we struck a price that made us both happy – I am pretty rubbish at bargaining so it was probably way too high.
The young guy in the shop, then asked me if I would like him to clean up the mirror, so I said yes, and then smiled and nodded at the next bit. What I didn’t realise, was that I had agreed to a total refurb by adding a new layer of brass, and rehammering in the indentations and decoration.
An hour later, and my shabby chic find, was gleaming and new and being presented to me proudly by the shop owner.
The fact that he spent an hour and a lot of brass remaking it when we had already agreed a price far, far outweighed the fact that I rather liked the shabby chic.
I didn’t expect to be running a half marathon round Marrakech just three days after getting here to train for the Marathon Des Sables but what a great way to spend a Sunday morning! Amine (in the dark blue) met me yesterday and very kindly took me under his wing. He is a VETERAN of MdS with 11 under his belt already and is a mine of information. As well as showing me all his kit and photos from his decade+ of MdS runs, he invited me to join him and a group of runners for a half marathon the next day and to make it even more appealing there was a pasta party the night before.
The half was organised as part of a very cool project masterminded by Ali Aloui Mdghari (standing next to me in yellow). He is running sixteen half marathons in the sixteen different regions of Morocco in sixteen weeks in aid of sixteen different local associations/charities for health, education, environment …. https://www.facebook.com/courirlemaroc
At 9 am, we assembled outside the Mamounia Hotel and off we set. I was nervous because I know how slow I am and also I was using my Innovate back pack for the first time and had filled it with about 8 kg of stuff as part of my training. I had also forgotten a few pretty crucial items – sunglasses and a hat! Ho hum. Preparation is clearly not my strong point. My biggest worry was either slowing everyone down, or getting left behind and horribly lost. We had a route map but because I don’t really know Marrakesh, it didn’t mean very much to me. Needless to say, both fears were groundless.
With endless generosity, Yassine stayed with me the whole way, adapting to my tortoise pace with grace and good humour. He did almost make me sick at one point though with a graphic description of how the ligaments in his knee had almost been severed in a serious car crash.
The backpack was always going to be uncomfortable but it was great to try it as I now know that it is not the right one for MdS – it bounced around too much and needs more straps to keep it in place. It will be perfect for the mountains though, so nothing is lost and Amine has kindly offered to lend me one of his extensive range.
The route looped us through the city, with views of the mountains in the distance and some pretty passages through gardens and palm-flanked streets. It all got a bit crazy round Bab Doukalla, jostling for position with taxis, donkeys, scooters, and bikes. The last few kms, my legs felt really heavy and my eyes were streaming from the car fumes. I didn’t realise quite how spoiled I had become with the pure air of The Peak – time to toughen up! The good thing about suffering at the moment though is I just think, “Great, remember it is going to be a million times worse on MdS.
At the finish, there were oranges, a yoga session and lots of mutual congratulation. The icing on the cake was that I won a Garmin 110! The girls in the group drew straws for it, and I came up lucky. It was a really wonderful morning out: great run, fantastic company and some lessons learnt.