Marrakech Marathon 2015
Seems an age since I’ve written a proper race report!
The trip to Marrakech was all about the marathon really, although coinciding nicely with my birthday so a bit of a treat from Sally. We registered for the race online and had a couple of emails short of detail, but at least that matched the website which was similarly low on detail. We at least knew where the “Marathon Village” was, where we had to go to collect race numbers, and where and when the race started. What more do you need? We turned up at the “Marathon Village” on Saturday, sort of expecting a bit of a low key expo sort of thing – you know, a few shops/stalls etc. This is an international marathon, attracting some very fast runners from Ethiopia, Kenya and of course Morocco, as well as runners from all over the place (although it turns out that of the 7000 odd participants, most do the half marathon). So, we were a little surprised to find a couple of tents where you could sign up for the race then and there (the day before the marathon) and a tent to collect pre-registered numbers. That was it, apart from a bit of a market right next to it selling all the usual leather goods, rugs, pots, etc. We discovered that there is no bag drop at the start of the marathon – literally no facilities at all. Not a problem for a lot of people who stay at the big hotels near the marathon start, but we were staying in the medina (old town) a taxi ride away. We’d also both forgotten to bring any gels and had hoped to pick some up there – no such luck. After looking in a sports shop, pharmacy and a supermarket, we gave up and bought a couple of bags of Haribo to stuff our pockets with.
We had an early night, with alarms set for 6, breakfast arranged for 6:30 and a car and driver taking us and two french guests staying at the same riad to the marathon start, leaving at 7. Sally and I had brought the bare minimum – vests/t-shirt and shorts and a long-sleeved top to throw away before the start (coincidentally, we both wore Chester Marathon tops), socks, shoes, haribo and some money for a taxi back to the riad afterwards. It felt really cold when we arrived at the start at about 7:15, but we knew it would be warming up later in the morning – the average had been about 20 deg C. We bumped into Ed Catmur, Dave Ross, Kate Jayden and a few other familiar faces at the start which was nice and had a couple of quick chats with other brits who recognised our tops. One chap asked me what I was going for.. I replied under 3:30 and tbh I hadn’t given it a lot of thought. Both Sally and I had barely talked about race aims – it’s a fast, flat course and cool to start but gets warm later on. Rather than put any pressure on ourselves we had only talked about running a sub-3:30 and more or less left it to how we felt on the start line to see how we’d approach the race.
8am comes, no countdown, the race just starts! It was kind of what we had come to expect from the laid back organisation of this race. There were a few portaloos at the start btw, dotted here and there, but nothing else really apart from that and fencing, advertising banners from sponsors and a very royal and plush looking spectator ‘box’ right by the finish line. Anyway, we set off on closed roads heading through the edge of the new town on the west side of the city. The 5k mark came as we headed through the Menara gardens and bottled water was on offer, which was a relief! Sally and I were running together and settled into around a 7m/m pace. I mentioned our pace to her after around 5-6 miles and wondered whether I’d be able to hold on to this – far too soon to know, but it would be healthy PB pace. As we headed south along the closed 2 lanes of a dual carriageway, I started to feel like I was working a little too hard too soon, so eased off slightly, letting Sally open up a gap. It turns out in hindsight now I can look at the elevation profile, we’d been heading steadily uphill from 3 to 8 miles. As soon as we turned sharply to head back north at 8 miles, I could tell we were now heading very gradually downhill and sped up, feeling really good here. I’d been gradually reeling in and passing runners without anyone passing me for the whole race and spotted a fair few UK club vests here and there.
We headed east to the south of the city, past some of the big out of town golf resorts. By now we could see the effort put into staging the race – the roads were closed and there were police and national security forces everywhere, enforcing the road closures and holding queuing traffic back at roundabouts and side roads, occasionally letting traffic go across the closed roads where there were gaps between runners. Given how busy a city Marrakech is, this was a massive operation. We turned north along the east side of the city after about 12 miles and whilst the water stations had been regular at every 5k, and in between sponges were available to help keep cool, we were now being offered snacks too. No gels or energy drinks here – bunches of whole oranges, still on the branch, and small cellophane packets of raisins and dates. I’d been munching a haribo or two every 2-3 miles but did take some raisins which were a nice change.
I’d kept Sally in sight and as we headed north outside the medina walls, I was feeling great and could see that I was slowly closing the gap on her. She was probably a minute ahead of me, maybe less. We’d had little bits of support here and there but much more now. It was noticeable though that the african runners got loads of cheers, and the more ‘european’ looking runners receiving less cheers, although still some nice shouts of ‘encourage’ (French) and plenty of kids to high-five. We headed towards the north east of the city, into the palmeraie, an area full of posh resorts and palm trees. It was starting to feel hot now, 18 miles or so in, and I was trying to find those little bits of shade where they were. Pace was still good though, a steady 6:50m/m or so. Saw a fair few camels here. After about 21 miles we turned west and then south west onto what I knew was a long straight stretch of dual carriageway looping around the north west of the city and back down towards the start/finish. These last few miles were all uphill – not steep but noticeable, and added to the fatigue and growing heat, it was getting hard to hold onto the pace. I’d kept the pace in the 6:xx zone from 8 miles to 22 miles but then it dipped to 7:2x and even 7:3x. Up ahead I could see Sally and she didn’t seem to be slowing which I was very happy to see as she moved gradually further away. I had known for some time that sub-3 wasn’t happening – those few slower earlier miles and the dropping pace now meant that was impossible. However, I knew that unless I completely fell apart, a PB was almost a certainty, and that coveted GFA of sub-3:05 was the goal.
We were all very spread out now – the faster runners long finished, dribs and drabs around me (in the last 3 miles I probably saw only about 5-6 other runners, passing them all), and presumably bigger numbers further back. The last few miles were really tough – the breeze had dropped, it was getting really warm and I was feeling pretty done in. I was amazed though that although I felt like I had slowed a lot, my watch was still saying 7:2x and 7:3x. I just had to keep going. Mile 26 was straight as you like, with an inflatable Red Bull arch over the road just before the turn onto the finishing straight. I picked it up and found a burst to run the last half a mile or so at 6:34 pace and crossed the line as the clock said 3:05:20ish. My watch said 3:04:54 Wow, that was close.
Medal, water and some more oranges thrust at me and I met Sally where we’d settled on as a meeting point. Big grins on both of our faces Sally had run 3:03ish she thought, although possible just a 3:02. We quickly found a taxi to take us back to the riad where we sat by the pool with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and looked up our chip times….. 3:02:55 for Sally (just over 2 mins knocked off her PB) and 3:04:56 for me (nearly 3 and a half knocked off mine).
The splits on the timing website are interesting – I can’t work out exactly what distances the timing mats were at as the don’t seen to be spread evenly throughout the race, but you can see how I was passing runners for the entire race. I was in 145th place at the first split, then 124th, 88th and finished in 73rd place. Sally finished in an excellent position as 18th lady!
My result/splits: http://www.racetimer.se/en/runner/show/ … ce_id=2375
Strava record: https://www.strava.com/activities/247033366
I guess the haribo approach worked ok – just as well really!