Marrakech Half Marathon
The red flags are flying, the drums are beating, everyone’s cheering, welcome to the start of the Marrakech Half Marathon.
Seventy per cent of the participants are Moroccans, all shapes, sizes and ages from the skinny, fit greryhound types to the much more sedate and well-cushioned amateurs.
Lots of Moroccan women run, some in teeny shorts and vests, others in modest tracksuits with headscarves on under their caps.
Everyone is in fine fettle, waiting for the race to start and there are lots of teams from companies or clubs.
I’m running with my two American flatmates, Serena for whom this is the longest she will ever have run, and Olivia, who is leaving Marrakech later this week after a year here so is full of emotion for the past and the future.
The route starts in the green lanes of the Hivernage, then through a mist-laden olive grove, down straight boulevards with the snow-filled mountains in the distance, round the ramparts, through the traditional craziness of the local Sunday market and then back to the start.
A group come past running with a guy in a wheelchair/cart, an Italian team get all the kids by the roadside hugely excited and cheering, two elegant, headscarfed women trot past me chatting, I meet up with the coach from the running club in Casablanca and we kiss each other hello and shake hands as we run and everywhere people are standing by the road shouting ” Bravo”, “Bon Courage” or in Arabic “Seer, seer! Bisahha wa Rahha” (come on come on, health and rest to you)
Food stops have dates, raisins and in-season mandarins. At one point a group of about 30 seven year olds from a local school join us, the girls all in pink, running with grit and determination.
I love the fact that Marrakech is now full of memories for me, and I can think back to other times I have run the route, and recognize the landmarks and points of previous pain.
We get to the end, to a chorus of cheers, Taha and Olivia spot me and shout me in, I cross the line with a clown in full make-up and costume who spotted I was flagging and ran the last 300 metres with me hand-in-hand. Welcome to Morocco.