A couple of weeks ago I traveled up to Rabat for the 9th annual Rabat Semi-Marathon (or the Rabat Half Marathon). Although I lived in Rabat last year, because of a nagging injury resulting in a lack of training, this was my first year running this race. I had decided not to train specifically for the Rabat Half this year but just to use it as an aggressive long run in my training. As such my personal goals for the race were not very high. My first goal, as it is with any event I participate in, was to finish having had a good time. I run because I enjoy it and if I stop enjoying races...well that would not be fun. Second, I wanted to set a new P.R. (personal record) for the distance. Seeing as how I have only ever run one other half and did not train for that either I went into the race thinking I had a good chance of accomplishing my goal.
On the Rabat half marathon website (which is of course in French (Google Translate does a good job with making it readable) there is a page that allows you to sign up online. However, unlike the when I ran the Marrakech Marathon back in January I decided not to do the online registration but rather just sign up on race weekend in Rabat. Interesting side note: if you are in Rabat anytime in the few weeks leading up to the race there are certain places you can go to sign-up in person in advance of race weekend, like the park near the Sofitel Hotel or the Marjane in Hay Riad.
So, we arrived in Rabat on the Friday before the race, checked into our hotel, and headed to where the starting line would be on Sunday hoping to find an expo, a race village, or somewhere I could register. This was the one thing I could not find on the website, information about a packet pick-up. Luckily we saw a lonely white tent set up about half a mile from the Rabat train station. I filled out the registration form, paid (50 moroccan dirham), and was given my bib. That was the entirety of the race packet, nothing else, but when you only pay about five U.S. dollars you can't ask for much. (The website said that the fee for foreigners is 20 euro but I wasn't going to argue with the lady).
On race morning I headed down to the starting line from our hotel in the old medina (market). It was about 3/4 of a mile walk to the Rabat train station where the starting line was. Once we made it to the starting area I said goodbye to my wife and son and worked my way into about the middle of the crowd of runners. Unlike some races there are no starting corals or people with signs saying where people going for certain time goals should meet. Instead there was just 1,500 runners all mingled together. Some slow in the very front and some fast in the very back.
As race time neared the pros came out from somewhere and entered the starting are in front of us age groupers and began their last minute warm-ups. Remember that unlike many races in America, races here do not have elaborate pre-race speeches or countdowns. It normally goes like this; the music on the PA system is turned off about five minutes before the start (if there is music), then the pros line up for a few minutes (normally the crowd is big enough that you can't see them), and finally you hear a gun go off and the race starts. This year at the Rabat half there was almost a stampede when the pros lined up and then took off doing some extra stretching, causing the age group runners to think the race had begun. That was an interesting experience.
Eventually the race began and we headed out on our 13.1 mile run.
The first few miles lead us out of the old city walls and up toward the part of the city called Agdal. From there the race turns back toward the old market and the gate Bab El Had. This was, in my opinion, one of the neatest sections of the race because after you reach the gate you turn around and follow the same road for about a mile or so. Since it was still early in the race I was able to watch the pros and all the lead vehicles and camera crews coming back up the road. It is not a group of people I get to run with everyday. After the turn around the race heads out of town toward the soccer stadium.
The Pros Again
The Turn Around Close to Bab El Had
Other than a quite a few rolling hills there are really only two hills of any significance in the Rabat Half-marathon. One comes almost immediately after the half way point. After running past all the car dealerships in the city, the race route turns and you have to run up quite a large overpass that goes over the auto-route and the train tracks. It is not a long climb it is just steep and comes out of nowhere if your not expecting it.
The climb up the overpass
The view down to the auto route
The other hill is actually a down hill section that leads the race back into the old city walls and to the finish line. I mentioned about a hill section in an earlier post
this is that area just down hill. It begins going down at Chella (the old castle that has Roman ruins inside) and really does not stop or return to flat until the finish line. I mentioned this because for me it was one of the hardest sections. I was chasing a PR and had been pushing myself so to then see this steep down hill was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it was not an up hill but a curse because as I picked up my pace my quads began screaming at me (I have done NO hill training recently).
City walls at the start of the down hill section
The finish line is about a quarter mile from the starting line but in the same area as the train station. As I crossed the finish line I was surprised how many people were still hanging out watching people come across the line. After catching my breadth for about 30 seconds I was given my finishers medal and directed to get in line for some water, a finishers t-shirt, and a hat.
Finish line area
Post race thoughts
I had a great time running this years Rabat Half Marathon (Rabat Semi Marathon). While the half is not my favorite distance, it is races like this that I enjoy running because they take you places in the city you normally could not run or could not run without risking being hit by a car. Will I run it again? I'm sure one day I will but like I said the half is not my distance and so I do not know when that day will come. However, I can say that I would recommend this race to others.