This year was my first time having the opportunity to run the Casablanca Marathon (Grand Marathon International de Casablanca) here in Morocco. Casablanca is one of those cities that I've come to learn that for most people here (locals and expats) either love or only visit if they have too. I'd fall somewhere in the middle and because I've never gotten the chance to do any running there.
It's a huge city with a population of over 6 million people. They have one of Africa's largest malls several Starbucks, and tons of cultural things to visit like the old walled city. But since I have tended to avoid Casablanca for the most part of my time here in Morocco I thought it was time that I got to know the city by running it and what better way than by running the city's only marathon.
Typically the January marathon in Marrakech is my main race that I train for each year but this year I decided to focus my efforts on running the Casablanca marathon for a personal best. It's advertised as very flat. It's at sea level and it's in the late fall making the temperature perfect for a race. So as October 25th approached I felt strong and ready to run a PB in Casa.
I had planned on registering for the race via the Casablanca Marathon's website (casablanca-marathon.com) but some how I missed the deadline. So, I was in the predicament of having to wait until he day before the race and hope that there were still spots available. Very few races, from my experience, ever sell out here in Morocco, but I had never been to this particular race and I didn't know if the number of runners they advertised as running the race was for just the full marathon or both the full and half distance combined.
As race day got closer my nervous side began kicking in so I attempted to contact the people from the race via the phone number and email on the website but neither got me any response. Finally I sent them a message via Facebook and almost immediately I got a response informing me that it was unlikely that they would run out of spots, as it had never happened before, but that it would be a good idea to try and be there as soon as possible to be on the safe side.
On Saturday afternoon, the day before the race, I made my way to Casablanca from Marrakech and went straight to the marathon village where registration was located. The marathon village was located basically in a dirt parking lot adjacent to the huge Hassan II Mosque. Filling out the forms, paying, and getting my bib ended up taking me all of about 5 minutes and I was left to wander around the 6 or 7 boths that comprised the village advertising an assortment of races in Morocco from distances of 5km to ultras of more than 65km .
I spent the night in a hotel about 4 miles from the starting line so I drove over to the start rather than walking. I ended up parking about 1/2 a km from the starting line which was nice as I was 2 hours early for the start. The morning of the race was also the day time changed and locally it typically takes a day or two for everyone and everything to catch up to the new time. So, as I had been unable to get a satisfactory answer the day before about the exact starting time I showed up early, sat in my car, and took a nap.
The race started right on time without much fanfare and after the very sudden sound of the starting gun we were off and running. The Casablanca marathon is set up as a two loop course with each loop starting and ending at the same big Hassan II Mosque. Much of the first loop ran us through residential areas that had small slightly rolling hills except for the occasional overpass we ran over. There were even a few locations were there were live bands or djs playing along the route, nice distractions. As far as any marathon I've ever run this first half of the marathon was perfect. Perfect weather, there was a very light rain for about 20 minutes that was really nice. Perfect route. Perfect splits. I nailed each mile exactly as I had trained and planned for. Then came the second 13 miles.
As we started the second loop, which only the first 4 miles are run on the same streets as the first, I could see up ahead that I was catching up to a very large number of people. I had not known that the second half this race was run along with the half marathon runners who had stared just a few minutes before I had started the second loop.
At first this wasn't an issue as most of the people I was passing in the beginning were walking or jogging slowly off to the side. But the farther I went the larger the crowd got and groups of runners were running down the street 5 to 8 across making it difficult to continue running in a straight line but I began to have to weave in and out of these groups. After a few miles of this, the route turned to the left and led down to the coastal road that follows along Casablanca's beach area. This was a nice change of scenery but I was still having to weave between runners and it was taking a toll on my pace.
Then we hit the hill. Yes, I've given it the name "the hill" for two reasons. 1) It was the bigger one of only two hills of any significance that we had to run. 2) It came at the end of the race and it had to be ran up twice. In all honesty, it really wasn't that big but since I wasn't expecting it and because it came at the end to the race, twice, it ruined me.
After descending "the hill" we continued down the coast and got to run through a brand new adventure park that has a zoo in it. I can honestly say this was a first. Running past huge lions and tigers and giraffes was really awesome. After leaving the zoo the course doubles back on itself and we began running back down the coast the way we had come to the finish line which was also on the coast in the shadow of the giant mosque but first we had to reclimb "the hill".
By this point I had lost the ability to set a new personal best. Now I just hoped to finish well. About half way up "the hill" for the second time I slowed to a very brisk walk but a walk nonetheless, it had beat me. I had done no hill training whatsoever. Marrakech (where I train) is so very flat. And this hill at the end just 2 or 3 miles from the end got me and the thing that bothers me is it wasn't even that big of a hill it was just big enough.
After making it over my new nemesis it was a straight shot to the finish line. No other obstacles and the crowds had thinned enough to make the last few miles an easy run in. I crossed the finish line with a time of 3:28. Not my best but a time that still makes me happy.
Post Race Thoughts
I really enjoyed running the 8th Annual Casablanca Marathon this year. It was very well organized. The route was lined by volunteers helping to point you in the right direction and cheer you on. The organizers did a great job working together with the local police to control Casablanca's notorious traffic, there was only one spot that I remember where there were cars I had to run around, which amazed me.
I can definitely recommend this race as worth doing if you are going to be in the area next year. Am I going to run it again? Next year, no, I've got some other races I'd like to do and Casablanca just doesn't fit in the schedule but I do still have some unfinished business left there with "the hill". So, I will be back to run this race again but I will just have to wait and see when.
Did you run the Casablanca Marathon or the Casablanca Half Marathon this year? If so what were your thoughts or if you're planning on running it next year let us know in the comments below.