This gallery contains 6 photos.
This afternoon, there was a violent rainstorm. As it drew closer, the whole family, sprang into action, covering the tent with a big sheet of plastic, doing the same to all the piles of provisions, bringing in anything that might get ruined by the rain and making sure the firewood had somewhere dry to sit.
There we were, our motley crew of foreigners and Berbers, with no languages in common but masses of goodwill. So, we did what all good people do when stuck in a rainstorm, we played a game guessing how many stones there were in everyone’s hands. In the UK it is a drinking game, here we did it with just mint tea. Everyone loved it.
Rain and water is the big preoccupation for Zaid and his family. There has been a drought in the region for the last three years and it has affected him badly. This year he spent over €1000 on feed for some sheep he had in his flock, but he lost 35 of them through starvation. Goats eat anything, but sheep are fussier. I am holding the lone survivor up above. We could see the lack of water even in the little wells and springs that dotted the route. All were just puddles.
For Zaid and his family to survive, everyone works and does their share. From first thing in the morning, even the little ones are working. The tea goes on, the family sit together and eat bread and olive oil or butter, then they are packing up the tent and provisions and getting the animals ready. The chicken is strapped to the mule, Zahra, picks up the little sheep, Zaid and Izza count the goats out of the enclosure and everyone sets off.
Sharing is instinctual here. On the walk, I had lent my poles to Maymoun to try out. He loved them, he was so proud, walking in front like our guide, checking back to make sure we were all following and joyously prodding every piece of dung on the route. But when I looked up 5 minutes later, he had made one of the poles shorter and given it to his little brother, Hassan, so they could both enjoy it.
It is a small illustration of the core value of this culture. It is completely communal, everyone sleeps in the same place, eats from the same bowl of food, takes their share of the work and sits together in rest time. It would be very hard to be lonely.
Tomorrow: Herding and endings
To do this walk: http://www.shepherdswalksholidays.co.uk
210 goats, 1 sheep, 7 mules, 10 camels, 3 donkeys, 2 dogs, 22 people and one chicken. It was crowded in the early morning light as we kicked off the first proper day of the migration. Izza and Zahra left before us with the goats, the dogs and Shaun the Sheep. Their job was to take the slow route and find as much grazing as possible on the way.
We set off in grand convoy, up to the first pass out of camp and down past the last road we would see for days. We were a motley bunch from Mohammed El Kabir, resplendent in robes, turban, and proper moustache to us with our fleeces, hats and walking poles. Mohammed El Kabir was very taken with my solar recharger and wanted to swap it for his enormous dagger (no, that is not a euphemism). After a spirited negotiation, he was even willing to throw in a donkey, but I wasn’t sure my landlord in Marrakech would go for that.
Our route was undulating with some rocky, sharp passes. The rhythm was completely new to me as I have never walked with a big convoy of animals before. We were slowing down and speeding up with them. Sometimes, it was hard even to watch. One small donkey was very heavily laden. Twice she fell over a boulder as she was going uphill and had to be hauled up to standing again by Zaid and the muleteers.
I was fascinated by the camels, especially by their feet. They walk very elegantly and precisely, and the soles of their feet puff up and down like little hover crafts. No obstacle seemed to phase them, and whenever they caught up to us, they would just stop and wait till we had gone a little way ahead, and then start again.
We got to camp by lunchtime. Then the rest of the work day started, the tents were put up, bread was baked, the chicken was taken off the mule and tethered in a little home made chicken hut and we all had tea and a siesta.
In the late afternoon, we walked up to a ridge and looked down onto a tiny farm which supported one family. Everywhere there is water, there is life. There, we appointed our tribal leader for the week, Paul became Dada Atta and for the rest of the trip, he was to hold sway. It is amazing how a well-wrapped turban can bestow authority.
We didn’t see Zahra and Izza with the goats till much later. around six, as they had spent all day foraging, Izza walking with Aisha slung round her back. By sundown and shortly after supper, we were all ready for bed.
That night, it was cold so I was in the mess tent with the boys. I drifted off easily and in the middle of the night, felt warm breath on my cheek as someone moved in for a kiss. It felt lovely, a little peck and nibble – nibble??!!! I sat up with a yelp to find the little lone Shaun the sheep looking at me earnestly. He had come into the tent to try and get warm and clearly thought I was his best bet.
Tomorrow: prodding camel poo, spinning, and the economics of goats.
To do this walk: http://www.shepherdswalksholidays.co.uk
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.
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.
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 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.
First day in Marrakech – I was up and at ’em, turning out for a run at 8 am. Admittedly the alarm went off at 7 but I reckon a half hour on the snooze button is allowed. I just ran straight out along the main road from my villa for 2 1/2 km and then straight back. Given my appalling sense of direction, it seemed safest. The traffic wasn’t too bad and the sun was shining but the air was cold. Lovely conditions except for the pollution which I am just not used to and which started to sting my eyes and my lungs a bit.
Got back to No 74 Sharia Saska Al Hamra (the street of Saskia the Red – who is Saskia I wonder) and put my key in the lock. Our caretaker, Mustafa, had warned me that the key was stiff, so I kept trying long after I had a very red thumb and bulging eyes. I was beginning to be viewed suspiciously by the students standing opposite when it occurred to me that I actually live in…..no 72!Oops. Abashed, I shuffled next door, found out the key was still really stiff and decided to just climb over the wall. Those evenings at Rope Race with Cat weren’t wasted after all.
Safely in, I headed straight for the shower, shampooed up, singing blithely and loudly as my flatmate had still not arrived for the weekend. At which point, the shower exploded. Hmmm, I was very suddy, but fortunately could use Alex’s and then call Mustafa for repairs.
Coffee next. Into the kitchen, congratulating myself for having brought my cafetiere and Ugandan Fair Trade from Tescos, only to face a large and active cockroach in the sink. It looked at me piteously and waved its antennae so I didn’t have the heart to kill it, but liberated it out of the window into the garden. That merciful attitude won’t last long!
So, a day of mini adventures – and all before 10 am……..