The One Where I Was in Morocco

Hello!  How is everyone?  I am uber-bored at work; it’s my first day back after my holiday and I thought I’d be super-super busy but in fact I’m waiting on my colleagues to get back to me on various matters so I’m sitting here trying to think of things to do.  While I think, I’ll update you on my last week of running.

Essaouira 4

Way back, my besties Harri, Romy, Tom and I decided that we’d do a quick weekend away over the first weekend in June.  We go somewhere every year and it’s often for about 4-5 days over a weekend, it’s usually somewhere hot, and it’s always somewhere where we can all wander off and do our own thing.  We’ve been all over – Athens, Moscow, St Petersburg, Chamonix … loads.  One place where we’d been before, but all really liked, was Essaouira in Morocco.  When we discovered that they had a sale on flights, we were literally like “SOLD!”.  This was way before I’d ever even heard of the Wadi Rum Ultra, and I hadn’t thought about the training opportunities it would afford at all.  However, as the holiday came closer I realised that the beach at Essaouira would be the perfect perfect training playground – it’s super long (I have no idea how long; I never managed to get anywhere near the end of it), it’s very windy, it’s got dunes (small dunes, but dunes) and it’s obviously sandy terrain.  Therefore I packed my hydration pack, wrote out a training plan for myself for three days, popped to Whole Foods for some run nutrition and was ready to rumble!

Essaouira 5

We were literally only in Essaouira for three nights (because EasyJet only chooses to fly there on Saturdays and back on Tuesdays, eyeroll), so I had three mornings to play with.  My first morning was very much a recce – even though I’d been before, it was like three years ago and ultra-running was the last thing on my mind.  In addition, I hadn’t really run on sand before other than a little bit in the Atlantic Coast Challenge, so I had no idea how much harder it would be.  Therefore my training plan was super conservative – I had myself running:

  • 10km on the first day, 5 of which was to be on sand and the other 5 on the road;
  • 10km on the second day, 7.5km of which was to be on sand and the other 2.5 on the road; and
  • 10km on the third day, all of which was to be on sand.

Essaouira 7I hauled myself out of bed at 05:30 and tooled myself up on the first day, all ready to fight with the sand.  I zipped over the square in the sunrise and headed onto the beach … only to discover that the sand really wasn’t all that bad!  In light of that discovery, I decided just to see how I was feeling and take it from there.  I absolutely loved my run down the beach, I felt so centred and grounded and I spent ages ruminating on how marvellous it was that I’d somehow really managed to gain fitness during the course of my injury and how the cross-trainer/elliptical really was the most amazing bit of kit, how excellent I felt and how really easy this whole sand business was.  Then I turned around and realised exactly why my run down the beach had felt so good … the 45-mile-per-hour tail winds had practically been blowing me down the beach with zero effort at all on my part.  I felt considerably less grounded and zen on my way back when they were head winds, let me tell you!  All in all I ran 13km on the first day, mainly on the actual beach but with a little expedition into the dunes at about 10km.  Jeez they were hard!  I hadn’t realised that every single footfall is different in the dunes, like, I expected to sink into the sand with every step – and I did sink in on many steps, but on others I hit hard ground or rocks underneath the sand cover.  My core was absolutely killing me by the time I got out, and I only did about 500 metres!

Essaouira 6Therefore, on the second day, I decided that a technical run would be the thing to do.  I ran on the softest sand I could find up to the dunes, which was still okay if I’m honest, it wasn’t nearly as hard as I’d expected it to be.  I then spent six hard kilometres in the dunes … erm well, I spent 1.5 kilometres taking pictures, and then I spent 4.5 hard kilometres in the dunes.  They’re only 1.5km long, so I had to double back twice, but I took different routes each time and tried to take the hardest routes on each occasion … an niche strategy, but one I thought would be good in light of the fact that I don’t get to train on sand dunes often, and I’m not sure how big the dunes in Wadi Rum actually are. I’ve never been so glad to have 6km over and done with, it was not an easy run!  I ended up at the furthest end of the dunes, so I had about 3km to play with going back.  I remembered that George had mentioned that when he was in Wadi Rum, a lot of the terrain was rocky, so I decided that I’d try and run on the rocky part of the beach for part of the way back … a decision that lasted all of about 2 minutes, because I was literally terrified I’d break my neck. The rocks were so loose and so impossible to gauge, since sand was being blown over them constantly, that I got off them as fast as I could and headed back along the soft sand.  Since it was a short day, I annoyed Harri and Romy by doing half an hour of core (just an AMRAP of rotating core moves for 30 minutes) when I got back.

Essaouira 10My final day was just an out and back.  Partly I wanted to explore the end of the beach that was further away, and partly I just wanted to go for a long run.  I really wanted to go 20km but I actually ended up running out of time (I left a bit late and I forgot how much I would have to struggle against the wind coming back) so I only did 19 in the end.  It was literally one of the most beautiful runs I think I’ll ever do – the beach is super-wide at the Essaouira end, but once it winds past Diabat (the next town over), it narrows dramatically and becomes far more varied, with bright green algae covering rockpools on one side and huge sand dunes on the other.  I have no idea how far it goes; all I can say is that I ran 9.5km from Essaouira and I couldn’t even faintly see the end of the beach in the distance.  It was, however, a bit of a struggle – I was tired anyway from running the two days previously, not eating very well (Moroccan food tastes nice but vegetables and protein are not really a priority … unlike fats and white carbs, which make up most of every meal), and sleeping in a strange bed, plus generally being out of routine.  I was also very bad about eating again!  I was really full from the previous night’s meal and I didn’t eat anything before or on the run, which was completely stupid.  I really need to force myself to eat on the run or I’m going to have real issues in both Race to the Stones in July and in Wadi Rum.  It’s definitely my next focus point.

My real take-away points from this were:

  • running on sand isn’t that bad;
  • running on dunes is that bad;
  • sand gets everywhere in your shoes – under the insoles, into your socks, into the lining.  You need to practically vacuum them to get it out;
  • core and strength work is key to getting through the dunes.

Anyway I’ve rambled on for absolutely ages, but I hope you’re all getting to go on holiday soon!  This is my last one until August, when I go to Croatia for a week.  Two whole months!  How devastating …!

Have a lovely weekend – I will be blogging again soon about the seminar I went to with Elisabet Barnes and others last night, which was specifically for newbie desert runners.  It was fantastic, so I’ll update you on that in my next post!


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