I know this is a little late but better late than never.
This year was my second time to run the Marrakech International Marathon. Every year on the last Sunday of January, Marrakech hosts a full marathon and a half marathon (or semi-marathon as it is called here). After hitting the wall pretty hard around mile twenty in last year's race I was determined to do better. From my experience running the full in 2013 I was pretty excited to try again on what has become the marathon in my back yard. Since I live in Marrakech I have the advantage of running the race course all year long during my marathon training cycle leading up to the big race.
The 2014 Marrakech International Marathon turned out to be a great race for me.
Last year I chose to register online for the race but on race weekend I found out that since the race doesn't typically sell out registering for the race at the expo is a lot easier. So race weekend started out with me and two friends, who I coached to run their first half marathon, going over to the marathon village (think small expo) to sign-up. We got there filled out the paper work, got our race numbers and shirts, and we were all set. This year the village was actually a bit bigger than it was last year, there was even a vendor selling nothing but Garmin GPS watches. After seeing everything we headed home to rest for the Sunday race.
*One side note about registration. I would recommend bringing a photocopy of your ID with you. I wasn't asked for one last year but this year I was and had to walk about half a mile to find a place with a photocopy machine.
Race morning came and my wife dropped me off about a mile from the starting line fifteen minuted pre-race, perfect for my warm-up. The starting area is quite a sight. There are two corrals, one for the professionals and one for the rest of us. The regular people corral is set just far enough back from the P.A. system that it is difficult to hear anything other than muffled announcements, but this is fun because it keeps everyone on their toes waiting for the start.
Once the race started it took me about a minute to cross the starting line (thankfully this is a chip timed event). The race starts by going from the starting area in a slightly false flat uphill to the train station before it turns and heads to the Manera Gardens. Running in the gardens was really the first time we were away from the main roads and since I didn't see any porta-toilets at the start this was the first private area to relieve yourself. It honestly looked like a scene from a zombie movie or show. People stumbling in or out from between the olive trees trying not to lose too much time. Just before we ran out of the garden was the first water stop.
From here until I reached the Agdal Garden there was nothing unique that happened. I fell in behind a group that was running about my goal pace, zoned out, and just ran (I couldn't talk to them they weren't speaking English or Arabic). Last year it was right after the Agdal Garden where you run around the backside of the city, Sidi Yousef, that my race began to fall apart. So this year during this part of the race I made sure I was taking my gels and drinking the water bottle I'd gotten from the last aid station.
One really nice thing about this race is that they give out bottled watter at the aid stations. This is really great in that you can carry the bottle with you and stay a lot better hydrated than you can with a small paper cup.
At Bab Al Khmis the marathon turns right to leave the city and the half goes left to run into downtown Guiliz. Just before the split the first place wheelchair racer in the half caught up to us and the police and race officials sent him the wrong way! As I was taking the right, to head out of town, he came flying past me in the opposite direction not looking at all happy that he had gone the wrong way.
Running in the Palmerie is possibly my favorite part of the race, no cars, palm trees everywhere and small rolling hills. Other than dropping my orange (the aid stations give out unpeeled oranges and dates) and stopping to grab it, leading up to the 5 mile run on the Route Casablanca I did great on the portion of the run where last year my race had really fallen apart.
The last 5 miles of the race are "uphill." I know many people would laugh if they heard I said this but after training on mostly flat roads running the last 5 miles of a marathon on any kind of uphill is a challenge. After about two and a half miles of it I took my first walking break of the race. I power walked for about 30 seconds before I began running again. About a mile later I did it again. Then I decided that I was only two miles from the finish and there was no reason that I should be walking. So I ran and I ran my fastest mile of the race, 7:37ish.
Finally I turned the corner and saw the finish line less than half a mile away. As I crossed the finish my wife and son ran over to congratulate me. I finished in 3:32. Just 2 minutes over my goal but a personal record by 25 minutes! I'm more than happy.
A funny thing happened about five minutes after I crossed the line. While I was waiting for some friends to finish the half marathon I noticed that two of the large inflatable arches began deflating. Somehow someone must have accidentally tripped over the power cords for them and cause the ensuing chaos. Because one was directly over the finish line dozens of race workers began had to come under the arches and support them so people could still cross the finish line. While it did not cause any problems for the runners it was something else to make the race more memorable.
The Marrakech International Marathon is a great race. They are well organized and I never had an issue with traffic, registration, directions, or anything else. The only problem I heard from other runners was that toward the end of the half marathon the aid stations were running out of water, but I didn't have that problem. I can't wait until next years race to see if there might be a new PR in the future.