A day in the life of an Ultra journalist
2.30 am Wake up with a full bladder. I need the loo but two things make that impossible: I am in a room full of blokes who are racing the 105km or 42km the next day and I daren’t disturb them, and I haven’t worked out how to navigate down off the top bunk yet.
4.30 Thank the Lord Above, the alarm goes off and I sprint for the loo. All bar one of the dorm mates are up and out at breakfast within ten minutes. I meet up with Charlie, Neil, Colin, Richard and Alex who are all racing. #teamUK
05.50 Finish taking pictures at the start line and gratuitously hugging the competitors to wish them luck and get in the press 4×4 to get to the top of the first col. As we are going up, grinding through in the lowest gear, I can’t believe I ran this last year (well walked too, obviously).
07.00 The sun crests over the mountain and the first runners race past us, heads down, faces focussed. Some manage a wave and Andy Symonds gets gent of the day with a “Good Morning.” For the next hour and three quarters, we cheer on the runners, take photos and I shout myself hoarse every time one of the #teamUK gang goes past.
09.00 Back down the mountain and in to mobile range. I tweet, Facebook and Instagram like a demon. Send out the first press release of the day to the English-speaking specialist runner magazines and sites.
10.00 Back in the 4×4, we head for Setti Fatma and CP3. Some of the Moroccan journalists I met earlier in the year are there and we are a merry bunch in several languages. Marion, our excellent press co-ordinator, falls asleep elegantly in the front. No drooling.
11.30 We are at the check point and by now it is boiling hot. I am SO glad I am not out there on the piste, as I watch the runners come down. More cheering. Most people just grab a bite to eat and refill their water bottles but a couple are in the tent, heads down. The views are truly magnificent. I go down the hill a bit to get different shots and a French guy comes trotting past and then pulls up. His camelbak is leaking, so we take his pack off, screw the lid on properly and then strap him back in. I get two big kisses and a thank you. I think I am in love.
13.30 Back at the press room in Oukaimeden, it is time for the second press release announcing that Rachid El Morabity has won the marathon! Rachid is a fantastic guy and a great competitor. I am starving and also anxious for news of #teamUK, so down to the tents. I keep rushing out of the food tent every time I hear a runner finishing to cheer them on.
14.45 First #teamUK finishers. Alex and Richard, ex TeamGB rowers who have switched to running, come in together. I am so excited. They have done brilliantly and would have done even better if they hadn’t missed one of the turnings. Later, we hear a rumour that one of the boys in the village thought it would be a laugh to hide the marking stones and then direct runners the wrong way. Unsubstantiated, but it goes round camp like wildfire.
15.30 There is a bit of a lull and so I pop off for a tea with Louise who is going to run the 26km the next day. In the distance we spy Charlie, speeding towards the finish. We sprint down to catch him as he comes in. He had a horrible time on the second climb but pulled it back for a great, strong run in.
16.30 There is going to be a bit of a wait till the first 105km finishers come in. I keep updating the social media feeds regularly and am chuffed when Trail Running Magazine picks stuff up. We hear that Andy Symonds is now well ahead of the Frenchman, Julien Chorier, who is the hot favourite. Cyrille, the race director, comes running in and confirms he has a 45 minute lead. I prepare a press release.
18.15 Do a quick turn on Moroccan radio for Adil, hope my Arabic wasn’t tooooo pidgin.
19.30 Andy Symonds is getting near. Everyone gathers at the finish. We see a dark figure going between the two flags at the top of the pass. Is that him? Then, suddenly the cheers crescendo and he is running through the arch. I try to take some photos on burst but he is going so fast, all I get is a blur. Fantastic job, Andy! 13h41 for 105km with 6500 of ascent. A great come back from injury for him and I can’t help but be over the moon that a Brit has come in first.
20.00 Social media frenzy. #teamUK reunite for supper. I seem to be eating as much as Richard and Alex who have just finished the mountain marathon. Journalism is hungry work, clearly. Just wish it burned off as many calories as running. It is great hearing all the tales of derring do from the day. We wonder how Neil and Colin are getting on out there. At least the heat of the day is over. I try to work out if there is any way I can predict when they will finish and so get up to welcome them in. There isn’t…
21.00 Send out the last press release of the day. Transfer over the latest pictures from the photographers and have a final word on Twitter.
22.00 Bed time for Bozo. And Joy of Joys, I get the bottom bunk. My bladder heaves a sigh of relief and I settle down ready to get up for the 26km and the return of the 105ers the next day. Next year I’m running inchallah….
#teamUK: Andy Symonds (105km); Neil Bryant (105km); Colin Barnes (105km); Charlie Shepherd (42km); Richard Dunley (42km); Alex Cawthorne (42km); Louise Scholl (26km)