This was my third year in a row running the Marrakech International Marathon here in Morocco. Since I live in Marrakech I chose to use this race as my main marathon, my "A" race, for the last three years. And each time I have run the race I have set a new personal best time and this year was no different. The weather couldn't have been nicer on race morning and the crowd assembled to run the race this year was excellent and as always I'm amazed at just how many non-Moroccans show up to run the race.
I decided this year again to wait until race weekend before registering for the race. The worrier that I am always gets very nervous in the weeks leading up to the big race not because I'm nervous about the race but because I'm worried about the race filling up and there not being any spots. This is a completely unfounded fear since the marathon, while having a large number of runners, in my experience is far from filling up. That being said I've never found a maximum number of runners allowed so in theory It could fill up (notice the worrying side of me).
So, with these worries in mind my family and I returned to Marrakech from a few days of traveling just in time to head down to the Marrakech Marathon Village (their version of a marathon expo). Registration went with out any problem. I got my race bib and t-shirt, wandered around for a bit then headed home to rest up for the next day.
One of my dreams is to qualify and run in the Boston Marathon so every year my goal is to try to get my marathon time down a little more in effort to reach a qualifying time for Boston. I know I'm still far from qualifying for it but I figure little by little I'll get there. So, again this year I was aiming to improve a little more towards my goal. Okay not a little, a lot. I was hoping to knock 15 minutes off of last years PB and finish with a 3:15 - 3:18.
Since the race start is only an eight minute drive from my house I drove down to the old city (the race start/finish area is just outside one of gates in the old city walls) and found parking just a few minutes before the race start. While Marrakech is a big city, more than a million people, the race isn't really that big. So, the starting area was not overly crowded as is the case every year. However, the line for the porta-toilet was very long.
A few minutes after eight o'clock the pros were off followed immediately by the rest of us. The first few miles of marathons are always the most fun to me. Your running with hundreds or thousands of other runners just like you. And at most races that aren't wave starts you get to weave in and out of all the slow people that lined up at the front. Making you feel faster than you really are.
The first half the race was the most enjoyable 1/2 marathon I've ever run. As we ran past Marrakech's awesome train station then through the historic Menera Gardens, then past the pit area for the Marrakech Grand Prix race that's held here every year, then to finish out the first half the race the course runs down a road through the Old Royal Agdel Gardens and off to a short detor out of the city, I was in my zone. Relaxed. Focused. On pace. All the training I had done this year was paying off and I was enjoying the moment.
Then came the turn after Bab Al Khamis, around mile 15. It wasn't that my race fell apart it just began to slow down and not even by a lot but the week of traveling and the tons of walking we had done the week prior was wearing on my legs.
So, while I was slowing down the race took its turn into the Palmeraie area of Marrakech. Possibly the most beautiful part of the entire city. There isn't a single place that could have gotten me distracted from my tiredness like running through the palm groves and past camels. Its really an interesting place and you never really know what you might see out there. This helped me pick my speed back just enough.
For me the hardest part of the Marrakech Marathon is the last 6 miles of the race. This sounds like a rather stupid thing to say because most people would agree that after running 20 miles the last 6 would be the toughest, but while I agree there is also the added fact that this section has the only "uphill" section of the race. Once you leave the Palmeraie the last 6 miles to the finish line is all "uphill". Notice that I put that word in quotes. For most people the amount of elevation change would hardly justify calling this section uphill but after running on flat road or downhill for 20 miles I've discovered that any amount of incline can be difficult and for the last three years this is where the race has really taken its toll on me.
Eventually I made it back to the center of town turned the final left and ran my hardest to cross the finish strong. I finished with a 3:22, not the 15 minutes I wanted to shave off but a solid ten minute personal best. And that makes me happy.
Post Race Thoughts
So, after running another year in the Marrakech International Marathon I walked away (very slowly and tenderly) happy with the race, the excellent weather, and ready to run it again next year.
My only recommendation is to be careful at the finish line area. Every year they are making huge improvements on this but there is still some area for improvement. Since the two races are finishing at roughly the same time there are a lot of people crossing the finish line all at once and for the slightly more tired people it can be a little difficult to find a place to catch your breath.
I'd recommend getting your metal, water, and banana they offer at the end and moving done the street a little ways to find a place to sit.
Other than that I really recommend the Marrakech International Marathon be your next destination race. It's budget friendly, it's a great flat course, the weather is awesome, and you couldn't be running an a more awesome city.