Running in Crazy, Chaotic Marrakech…
The strict custom entrance and pristine floors, so clean you could see your reflection in them, is somewhat amusing to the chaos and magic of Marrakech. Enveloping you like a big coloured piece of cloth from the Souk, the smells, sounds and sights are so far removed from what we are used to, they are wonderful. The best way to cope with the sensory overload is to welcome it.
I’ve been to Marrakech 8 years ago, and like any country, it’s changed a great deal. Now, if you stay outside the walls in the Ville Nouvelle or La Palmeria areas your home comforts, Starbucks, familiar foods and Wifi will be safely available. Yet, I’ve never been one to play it safe and like to immerse myself. And if you do too, traditional Riads are the best way, and these range greatly from very basic (& often cold) to the more luxury ones, which feel like a home from home. Finding your home on landing can be tricky, with locals finding amusement to getting the tourists lost! I recommend a taxi organised by your Riad, just once, so you get your bearings and find your flow. This time I found myself staying in the old Jewish quarter, again outside the walls, yet very much traditional. Down winding lanes, Dar Sharmes Riad appeared. And once inside a tranquil, relaxing environment with the obligatory mint tea appeared. It was good to arrive.
The purpose of my trip, whilst exploring is a given, was to run the Marrakech Half Marathon which I discovered in Women’s Running Top 100 Races to experience. Last year I headed to Romania to do the Bear Ultra Transylvanian Race, and the year before the Sierra Leone Marathon. So running and adventures have become something I love to experience, write and share with you. Hopefully filling you with inspiration and possibility for yourself.
Once I arrived I headed to registration, simply done on Morrocan rugs, I felt excited, if a bit apprehensive as I was told there were about 150 people taking part. Ladies were okay to run in shorts and a vest, the rest of the time the knees and shoulders were covered for respect to the locals. Good Luck shouted the organiser, run like a carpet man is selling to you! Wise words.
After registering, I had a couple of days to explore. If you ever go to Marrakech I feel it is well worth visiting Jardin Majorelle with its bright colours, an array of 300 plant species from five continents, creating a peaceful oasis. In 1964 Yves Saint Lauren & his partner Pierre Berge bought the blue villa to preserve the area, and prevent building on it. As well as creating this tranquil space to escape the hustle and bustle outside the walls, there is a brilliant Berber museum, café and you can feel good as your entry fee goes towards sustaining the local community and environment.
Heading into the Souks next requires one of two choices, firstly a clear plan and look at the map before heading in, or a completely open mind to get lost, explore and feel the buzz of the locals. Don’t be afraid to get involved in local conversation, haggle for ‘good deals’ and try the local delicacies . A little Arabic (or basic French) from your Lonely Planet phrase book will go a long way in building rapport. Morocco is really clean, yet the environment is different so just be mindful about washing your hands, eating in recommended places (or choosing wisely) and staying hydrated, then I promise you will stay well. And if you don’t a trip to the local Apothicaire Tuareg in the Souk will sort you out! Bottles and bottles line the walls, like something from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Magic energy teas, ‘sex every night teas’, no snoring salts to sniff, anti stress tea are nestled around mounds of turmeric, cumin, mint, jasmine, which lies in front of colouring dies for clothes and natural make up and bath salts. Truly you could spend hours there, so fascinating they heal everything naturally. No parabens, plastic, synthetics. It’s such a different culture, that I find fascinating to compare what we wear, how we dress and feel pressure in our society, compared to them. Comparison I think is good, when you use it for observation to improve your quality of life.
Outside the Tuareg a delight of coloured clothes and wool dying streets, caged tortoises for food and eating of bugs in your home, wooden boxes, coloured plates, motorcycle repair shops, snake charmers, donkeys and henna tattoo artists lie. It’s a sensory overload for sure and a day within the Souks will cause you to need to pause. And if you are a vegetarian its best, if you can to avoid the meat sellers, fresh, yet pretty graphic pieces of meat hanging in the allies. As for chicken, well, you couldn’t get fresher. Choose your chicken, wheeled in that morning and it’s life ends in front of you. Nothing added to make that last… I do have to admit I stuck to mainly veggie tagines, humus and lentils for they were so tasty.
From the Souk Day I needed to lie down for around 16hrs to let my neurology calm down, hardly surprising yet totally required before the Half Marathon. I woke the following morning feeling calmer and ‘better’ but possibly the most unsure I have been if I could start, let alone complete the race. Yet I managed my breakfast and wandered out to the start. 150 people I think had got lost in translation, as it was definitely more like 1,500 for the half and many more for the marathon, yet at a guess 5-10% women.
A mixture of locals and foreigners merged together at the start, some had arrived by camel, horse and cart, scooter or just walked. The attire for the race varied from the usual sporting outfits, to any array of knitted and woollen clothing and head scarfs. Somehow in the chaos, the race was brought together efficiently and on time. Police lined the streets to manage the traffic which was literally stopped just before the runners passed. I have no idea how they managed to control the variety! I ran past one round about to see a line of donkeys, a horse and cart, three motorbikes, a cousin of a tuktuk, and three little cars, with layers of the same behind them. The whole effect made you want to run just that little faster…
The route is fairly flat throughout, with the great snowtopped Atlas mountains in the horizon. Closer to the route the view is sparce, running outside the wall to the Souks, and predominately filled with male runners and supporters. It truly is a unique experience, the male supporters and runners all cheer and pat each other on the back, with the shout’s of ‘keep going my brother’, combined with Bravo and Courage. For the women, they watch in a quiet, reserved, almost shy manner. A simple smile was returned with the hugest smile from them, and made me feel welcome to be running as a girl. The drinks stations, interspersed with cold sponges and oranges were well supplied, and the markers appeared every 3km or so. The odd band were playing as we headed into the final km, with a carnival atmosphere as you crossed the finish line to receive your medal and a pat on the back. The post race goodies were a banana, two oranges and two bottles of water, in a cloth bag. Perfect really and if you wanted too you could stock up on orange juice boosted with mugs of sugar for energy!
After the race I passed the Royal Guards who congratulated me, and I felt this was a real compliment and showed how their culture is adapting to allowing women freedom to show more expression. I would highly recommend the race experience, it’s a good course for a fast time and despite the chaos of Marrakech, the event is exceptionally well organised in every way.
I think the best way to recover from any race is a good stretch and massage, and so when in Morocco, it’s surely best to have a Hamman. I had one of these in the Atlas mountains with the Berber people, this truly was traditional. So I kind of went half way, a true Hamman, but in a warmer environment. Pummelled, scrubbed and washed to an inch of my life with eucalyptus oils, hair scrubbed and then covered in rose oil I felt rejuvenated. I think everyone should have a Hamman post a big endurance event, or just to ‘wake’ your body up! Okay it’s a little different to the polite etiquette of our washing culture, and for sure I felt as a good as having warm my compression tights for the afternoon!
That’s such a snippet of my four days in Marrakech but I hope it brings to life a spirit of the magical city it is. I hope it sparks curiosity within you to go and experience something different, far away or close to home. It doesn’t matter and often closer to home can bring us the best experiences which we sometimes miss. So this February I challenge you to make a change, to have Courage and commit to making that change happen. A change of your habit, your thought and your well-being. And if I can help you, just pop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can have a chat.
So with Marrakech I bid you goodnight and Shukran.
Below are a few places I visited that you may like if you choose to visit:
Hammam de la Rose, Marrakech – the best Hamman, and a wonderful range of beauty treatments, well worth a visit. Booking essential in busy periods. Info@hammamdelarose.com
Enter the Marrakech Half Marathon directly (which I did and it was totally fine) or visit 209 Event’s which organise a great package from the UK
Take a copy of the Lonely Planet Pocket Marrakech with you, invaluable 8 pounds spent!
Yummy places to eat & stay which are true to the local meals
Salon de The, Souk Kafe, Restaurant, 11 Derb Souk Jedid
Marrakech Henna Art Café supporting the El Fenn Marco Charity – marrakechhennaartcafe.com – owned by a lovely American lady, Laurie, who moved to Morocco 3 years ago after over 50 in the USA, when she fell in love with the city.
El Fenn – the most wonderful Riad, restaurant and spa, beautiful location, delicious food and well worth a visit & owned by Vanessa Branson. www.elfennmarrakech.com
Dar Sholmes, Marrakech – the Riad I stayed in, simple and very well looked after, right in amongst all the locals (find on Booking.com)
La Cuisine de Mona – yummy mixed Moroccan & Lebanese food, served in a tiny, shaded cafe, hidden from the road. Well worth finding and Mona will great you joyfully – www.lacuisinedemona.com
Nomad – the best views of the city we found, and a great atmosphere, plus great food! www.nomadmarrakech.com
I spent the whole time in Sweaty Betty current SS17 Collection which has a Moroccan Ibiza Vibe to it & I love it! Really worth a visit to their site for practical, functional training kit, layers to keep your warm & relaxed, chilled day wear too – http://www.sweatybetty.com. I ran in my Mizuno Wave Riders, & Shock Absorber Run Bra too, fueling with Sports Energy Beans and hydrating with Nuun, recovery with Bounce Balls & PhD Nutrition, Grid Travelling Foam Roller & PhD Vegan Protein and Hion Purple Powder! For any advice or training plans, do just pop me a message email@example.com I would love to help you.
Wishing you a wonderful Fearless February, filled with adventures, running and love, Kim xx
ps, any suggestions for my next race welcome…coming soon the next blog about Self Love & Strength 🙂
For my TEDx Talk about my Brain and how to Be Brave click here – https://youtu.be/E2p86KJU8hw