This tour is about seeing the world, as much as it is about running and taking on a massive challenge. In doing this, Daz and I are determined to do some stuff we really love…like partying in different clubs and festivals all over the globe.
So with this in mind, we hit the coolest club we could find in Marrakech. Cooler than Pacha, cooler than the “First English Pub in Morocco”, cooler than partying with the crazy dude in the street trying to get us to swig home made alcohol from his decade old soda bottle… On local recommendations, we hit a club attached to the casino, called Theatro. To get in, you find a side door near the entry to the casino. You go through a few sets of big padded doors, seemingly setup for sound proofing. You hand over 150 Dizzies (about $20 Aussie), gaining you entry and a free drink. You’re stopped by Albeharad, who says he is your host for the night, a stylish young guy who says he’ll spot you a free drink too. You walk into the club and it’s dead…. 12:20am and not too many people here…. Cool club, eh?! Mmmmm… Albz says the club will be pumping in 1 hour and 20 mins. He introduces us to a massive bouncer called…Bill. Bill mans the entry to the VIP area. Clearly the place to be, with a few hot girls and a lot more not so hot blokes drinking bottles of champagne. Let’s hope this gets better.
We down our free drinks near the bar. I go to buy round 3 and I hand over a hundred dizzies. Not enough?? Hand over 50 more.. Still not enough?? 180 for 2 drinks, are you kidding me? We’re clearly out of our depth here. The club is dark and plush, the people are all very well dressed, but mostly look French and largely like they’re trying too hard. I’m annoyed already, but we try to relax and have a good time. Daz starts taking pictures, but the girls quickly turn their back and say no. Daz laughs and keeps going, but I can see that they’re genuinely annoyed, so I get him to stop. It’s a strange place. There’s a “light show” with guys in crazy costumes grinding metal to make sparks, then running about in other more ridiculous theatrical costumes. People are dancing on podiums, the way I remember them doing at the height of the Crobar and Stylus days, 2 very unfortunate clubs from my Melbourne youth. It’s all a bit 1995. The music is cool and really pumping by now. The place is packed, as Albz suggested it would be. But I’m over it. We hang with a couple of nice English people, a guy and girl that we’d earlier said hi to in a supermarket. I drink vodka, Daz drinks Bacardi, but after a few drinks we’re running low on dough, it’s 4am and it just seems a good time to leave. I’m not going to pretend I had a great night, but with loads of money and a love of glamorous (read – full of crap) clubs, I’m sure you’d have a blast.
Anyway, back to past tense…
The next day we were going to head to the Valley, an area with waterfalls nestled in the foothills of the Atlas mountains. Both Daz and I felt a bit ill though, even though we’d drunk relatively little. In fact, Daz started to throw up and then found himself sitting on the toilet on and off for most of the day. I felt sick, but not even close to that bad, so I just worked on the computer and tried to upload a video. It was a bit of a right off for a Saturday in a strange place, so kinda disappointing. I ended up in the square by myself that night, eating at Terrasses de L’Alhambra.. I sat above the busy square, ordered a surprisingly good bowl of spaghetti bolognaise and tried to read my book. I haven’t been able to focus on this book for a while and Saturday night was no different. The book is called Spark, by John J Ratey. It’s super interesting and was a gift from one of my favourite people in the world, the massive unit and even bigger intellect that is Josef Tadich. I’m enamoured with the idea that humans are purpose built running machines, so to keep feeding the fire, Joe bought me this book as a going away present. It’s slightly heavy going, with all the technical and bio-chemical references, but I love that it explores the body as a machine that we can feed and control. I studied philosophy (mostly existentialism) at university for a couple of years and even met my extraordinarily beautiful and talented ex-wife, Sarah Turner, in the first weeks there. We explored Socrates and Plato’s teachings, digging deep into ourselves to try to understand why/what/who we are. Mind boggling stuff at 18 years old. I haven’t thought about it much in recent years, though, so when I read the quote in the first pages of this book, I was taken straight back to those early years, when your mind is still sponging up every new idea thrown at you.
“In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.”
Sitting on this balcony, eating my spag bol, I didn’t get past this first page again. I am not particularly smart. Clever maybe, but not IQ smart. I don’t anticipate this year will make me any closer to being perfect, but I hope I’ll be a little wiser for it. I think that running over the last few years has already made me a better person. I feel like I am becoming more of the man that I hoped I’d be back when I was that gangly 18 year old, trying to impress a girl in philosophy class. I’ve struggled with my own expectations for many years and often get frustrated with myself for not achieving absolutely everything that I’d believed I should do. I’ve always had this nagging and sometimes debilitating fear of failure, that I know most people deal with on some level. Fear is the one hurdle that affects all of us. It’s our constant fear of failure or pain or destruction that prohibits us from standing up and taking on new challenges. Sometimes it’s even a fear of success and what that will bring that stops us from moving forward.
I watched these people move around the square, selling/buying, entertaining/viewing, wondering what drives each person to be where they are at that moment. Everyone has a different tale to tell and all of them have motivations to be doing what they are doing. Some are here to survive, gathering just a few dirhams a night, some will blow a hundred times that on a crappy Sheesha pipe for their own amusement. But what are the hurdles in their lives and how are they going about surpassing them? Maybe they’re not. Maybe getting enough money to feed the family will always be enough… maybe coming here to view the madness is the thing they’ve been working for. I know this is a ridiculous expectation of mine, that everyone will want to rise above, but I thoroughly believe it is human nature to try, so I sit trying to guess at their stories.
Because I really thrive on human stories. I love hearing what people are doing now, what they have been doing, what their dreams are and how they’re going about trying to achieve them. I love this most when I run up next to someone and ask them why they’re running a marathon. Why did you decide one day to take on this challenge and what are your expectations for the result and your life after? Everyone has a story and when prompted, they’re usually happy to tell it. It’s a great way to pass the time in a 3.5 hour run.
The following morning I woke up, very apprehensive. I didn’t feel good… not sick, just not good. I recognised that I hadn’t run at all that week, since cracking my PB in Gran Canaria last Sunday. I’d tried to give my body time to recover from the almost overwhelming beating I’d dished out the previous week. I think this was a mistake. Even though I was walking plenty, with about 20kg of gear strapped to my back, I hadn’t been running to see how my body had recovered from the stress. I’ve said before that marathons are all confidence, so I needed to be confident that my legs was ready for round 6. We walked a couple of kilometres to get to the start line and I definitely felt better, just for moving, but nothing could help shake the feeling that I was doing this one cold.
On the walk to the start line, we met a lovely Canadian couple, named Jamie and Julie. They’d flown in for this race and it was their first one outside of the States or Canada, so they were amped for a real international adventure. Julie had just had a knee operation in December too, so she had decided to only run the half… “Only?? Haha, you’re nuts!” They were a running couple and I’ve met quite a few like them. They travel to a place, run in the local festival, then wind down by hitting the beaches, or site-seeing for a few weeks. Running together is a really lovely past time, as it makes both of you appreciate the value of fitness and you spend some really quality time with each other. My ideal girl will run with me a couple of times a week. I’d like to have what Julie and Jamie have some day. The great thing about this run is that the half marathon and full marathon leave at the same time, only splitting at the 11km mark. Later in the run, you even merge with the half runners for a while, before splitting again. This meant for at least 11km, Jamie and Julie could enjoy their adventure together, side by side, running in Marrakech. I loved it. Very jealous.
The problem with the two races starting together is that it’s pretty crowded in the first 5-6 kms. We took off with a little cheer from the crowd and a lot of chatter in many different languages. I saw Daz as I ran out and he gave me a cheer, but it was significantly weaker than normal. The poor guy was barely holding himself together after yesterday’s ordeal, so I really appreciated him being there.
I took in the scene and was impressed to see a lot of locals getting into the run. Most of the runners were doing the half and I’d been told there were 3000 participants in the event, with the split being about half/half. I didn’t think that was true when I started running, because there were too many yellow bibs around me. There were also plenty of people running without any number! They were running alongside their family or friends, pacing them in the early stages, or just chatting away with excitement. I was also surprised to see quite a few women wearing complete Arabic running suits, covered from head to toe, except for their faces…. Wow, that’s some impressive commitment to the race and to their religion.
We ran through the city streets, most of which were pretty quiet in the early stages of the race. The race was to kick off at 8:30am, but the gun didn’t pop till around 8:45am. Very Moroccan – it get’s done, but when we’re good and ready. The police were out in force, guiding the runners through various turns, away from the old town and through the new city. There were a number of fellas draped in maroon flags, with a large green star, proudly displaying their patriotism. The kids on the side of the road went wild when they passed, trying to high 5 them like they were national heroes. Pretty cool.
As I ran through the streets, I took some pics and a nice young Englishman asked if I’d like him to take a pic. His name was Tim and we got to chatting. He was from Sheffield and had been roped into this on a dare. It was his first marathon, but not his first trip to Morocco. He’d agreed to do the run with a mate while they were drunk one night, saying they’d raise money for cancer research. Tim said he was ready to reneg the following morning, but his mate’s grandmother passed away from cancer that day, so there was no chance of pulling the pin then. In the end his buddy couldn’t make it, but he’d followed through on his promise, done all the training and had been raising money for a children’s hospice. I liked him already – committed for all the right reasons. And here he was bouncing along without a worry. Actually I though he was going pretty quick, but he said he felt good and my pace worked for him. At 5 minute kms, we’d be set to go close to 3:40.
By 5 kilometres in, I knew I was going to have a bad day. My left calf was locking up and I struggled to get it to loosen, even after a few efforts to stretch. I ran a few more kilometres, shortening my stride, so I wouldn’t put too much pressure on my legs, hoping they’d warm up in a while. Somewhere here, we passed through a gate and into a large olive grove. Immediately people were ducking behind trees and looking for somewhere to relieve themselves. There weren’t any toilets at the start and I’d been told there weren’t any on the track either. Everyone was making the most of the opportunity, though some people were already slowing to a walk here too. Looked as though quite a few runners had burned themselves out in the early stages and I even saw one young fella sitting with his head between his legs, throwing up his breakfast. His run was over.
Tim and I chatted away, but somewhere after this I lost him. I’d stopped to stretch and he continued on. As we past the 10km mark, we turned down another tree lined street and they started to split the marathoners and half marathoners. I continued down the right side of the road and began to run with a Moroccan guy with pretty good English. It was his first marathon too and he said his name was Abdelilah. In fact, I couldn’t get my mouth around his name to begin with, so I asked him to spell it. He did and I struggled with it again, so he said, “This is a common problem when people first learn my name, but once they have it they do not forget.” Ok, I said, trying again. He said, “trying singing it… Aabdeeeliiilaaah.”
“Aaaab dee lii laaaah… Aaab deliiilaaaah…”, I sang. Haha, I was running on a tree lined street in Morocco, trying to complete marathon number 6, singing some guy’s name I’d just met… Awesome! I thought of my brother Chris’ hand me down Celica, a canary yellow car he’d been given by all round superstar and heroic friend of ours, Dr Dan Fabulous, coz he kept smashing cars. He dubbed it Delilah, singing in a deep voice whenever he mentioned the car – DeeLiiiiiiiLah! – as though it was some sexy lady from Motown. That always made me laugh and I sang “Ab Deee Liiiiiiiiii Lah!”, finally getting his name right. Funny. I missed my brother. I think he smashed that car too.
Abdelilah was from Casablanca and said he’d run 3 half marathons, 2 of which were in Casablanca. He said the race here was much nicer and better organised, with less traffic to avoid than the busier streets of his hometown. He said that it was not uncommon for cars to enter the race track and try to navigate through competitors while running in Casablanca… Mental!
We caught up with Tim and all ran together for quite a while. Tim and Abdelilah even exchanged some Arabic sentences, as Tim had been a linguist for the British army in Iraq the year before. Tim pointed to some crumbling buildings and said, “That’s what Basra looks like..” Hmmmm…. I’m not going to run a marathon there.
Then we came up on a very strange scene.. Some guys in orange t-shirts were all crowding around some sort of trolley contraption. They were running, pushing and pulling. As I got closer, I saw that they were actually a pretty organised team. One guy was pulling, running between two arms, like a rickshaw. Two others were on the sides and two more pushing from the back and keeping it stable. There was also a whole second team, rotating into the different positions to help. It only had one wheel below, which I assume just created less drag. It looked like a super difficult balancing act at the best of times, but on top of this, the team were pulling the contraption for 42 kms… What the?! In the middle, nestled in the bucket, but sitting up to take in the scene, was a young boy of around 13 years old. It turns out these guys were a French fire brigade and the boy was a leukaemia patient. The had “Pompier” written across their backs and they were all chattering away, already 15km through their challenge and going strong. I was super impressed by their coordination and determination. I tried to talk to a couple of them, but my French is pretty rusty, so in the end I just shouted “Allez Les Bleus”, which got a bit of a hurrah back and I was on my way.
By now we were running on the outskirts of town. There seem to be a lot of private gardens out here, including olive plantations. Many of them were fenced in, but it still made for a nice space to run in. We veered back around and headed for town again. When we did reach town, we merged with the slower half marathoners. I thought this was a kind of kooky thing to do, but it was also pretty cool to run with more people again. We skirted the outside of the old wall and as I came up on the 20km marker, Daz gave me a shout. “Heeeey, bruv!” He’d grabbed a cab with a Belgium woman who’d come to support her hubby. I ran over, happy to see him. “How you feeling?” I asked him. “Haha, yeah man, I’ll be ok. How about you?”
“I’m running pretty quick buddy, on target for about 3:40, but my calves are locked…” He gave me a worried look, but I was already running off again. “I’ll be ok man, look for me around 3:40!” I do love seeing someone I know out there. It makes me feel that I can share the experience directly with someone. It’d be crap to be doing this alone.
Adelilah had said something about wanting to do a 3:20 today. I looked at my watch and told him he’d be pretty brave to try that now. If that’s what he wanted though, he’d need to speed up. So off he went. Tim and I ran together and traded some more stories. He was running extremely well for a first time and seemed like he was going to finish well under his 4 hour target. The half runners and marathoners were split again and this time we ran out to the “Palmerie”. As you can imagine, there were loads of palm trees out there and it’s basically where the nice houses are and many of the resorts. It was like running through Toorak back home, or what I imagine Beverly Hills would look like. Basically every home is huge, the streets are well maintained and there are large security fences and gates around each compound. It was in stark contrast to the Medina, but I think if I wasn’t doing this run, I probably wouldn’t see the “nice” end of town.
I ran past one stocky gent with two flags sticking out the top of a backpack. He was pretty heavily loaded, but was running at a very good pace. I immediately recognised that he was in training for one of the world’s most difficult races, the Marathon Des Sables. I wished him well as I past, saying that I was looking forward to that adventure the following year. He had a French flag and really didn’t seem to understand, but thanked me anyway. I was in awe of the fact that he was making such good time, even with his pack.
Then as I ran further along, I saw another fella with a pack. This time when I asked him about Marathon Des Sables, he replied in good English. His name was Clement, a Frenchman training for the great race. I asked him a whole lot of questions and it turned out that he had been over in New York for the marathon in November, when a colleague told him of MDS. He had been planning to do an Iron Man in 2010, but when he heard about the difficulty of this race, he got very excited and decided to take up the challenge. The gent that we’d passed minutes earlier was the friend from New York and his name was Albert. Albert had already run MDS, but wanted more. He was a very successful local business owner and had run more than 50 marathons in his life. Machine!
Clement had also run quite a number of marathons and his stories of running in New York and also in Luxembourg were truly exciting. He said that running in New York was such a buzz, that he couldn’t slow down, even when he knew he was getting injured. He posted a 3:04 (though he’d originally aimed for 3:12) and said it was one of the most exhilarating experiences in his running career. His fastest marathon was 2:55, which immediately made me jealous, but also duly respectful of this Frenchman’s running ability. He’d been divorced twice, but with a child to each ex. We chatted about this for a while and as I told him how my job made me redundant, he laughed that the same thing had happened to him the year before. He’d lost his job for one weekend, but on Monday he’d got it back on reduced pay. The Global Economic Crisis had forced the situation on him and he said at first he was devastated when he lost his job, but by Saturday night he was happy again, thinking about all the cool adventures he could train for. Then when the job came up again, he knew he had to take it for his children. I agreed that the responsibility came first, almost apologising that I had done the exact opposite. He was excited for me though, loving that I had taken my life into my own hands and freeing my spirit. I was happy to chat to him and we fell into a perfect rhythm. It was strange to see that we had lives with many tangents, though he was a Swiss banker and I was an ad sales guy from Australia. Everyone had been affected by this wave of economic madness. Clement believed I’d made the right decision, referring to how difficult many people’s jobs had become through the crisis. “Better to get a job when it settles down”, he said. I agreed, but secretly hoped I could always run around the world instead.. Haha, I’m so greedy!
We stopped to take some pics of camels and somewhere here I lost Tim. He went ahead and I hoped he would go well. I met another cool guy, spotting his Kiwi “Tiki” necklace. I ran alongside and asked if he was a Kiwi. “No, no, I am Italian, I just visited there”. His name was Alessandro and he was running pretty strong. He’d been to the Barcelona marathon the year before and sounded like a well travelled guy. I told him I wanted to do Verona and Rome in the coming months and he was excited by the prospect of running in Rome too. I hope he will join me, he was a really cool guy. I don’t know enough people in Italy, though it has always been a favourite for me to visit.
By now we were well out near the resorts. I kept running and stopping to take photos. After a while I fell into step with Clement again and we past the 33km mark. It’s about here when we started to pass runners that were burning out. That often starts to happen at about this point and I asked Clement about it. He said that it was his favourite part of the run, because he was passing people and feeling good. I agreed, knowing that for each runner I passed I could look at them and know I felt stronger. It helps the mental game and keeps you focussed on pushing forward when you are tired. When everyone is passing you, it’s a bad day and probably because you planned your race poorly. It’s happened to me in 4 out of my 11 marathons, so hopefully I’m racing smarter.
We chatted about Iron Man and work and training. Clement even offered to let us stay in his apartment when we hit Paris! He would be in the Sahara smashing his body at MDS, but he would leave the keys with his neighbour. What a generous gift to help our cause. But as the kilometres passed, we began to labour and the conversation faded. We didn’t part, we both just acknowledged that there was work to do. I was tired, my calves were sore and my body was feeling pretty weak. I tried to maintain the pace though and Clement ran right along side me. I kept checking to see that he was ok, but he seemed as strong as ever, even with 8kg attached to his torso. He was more machine than man and I was impressed. He said he was tired, but I really didn’t believe him.
As we entered the city again, it was plain to see that many runners were hitting the wall. We passed more and more competitors. It was good to know we were coming close, but I was beginning to count the metres, which is always a bad sign. I would look at my watch every 100 metres, wondering why the clock was slowing down, even though the pace looked the same. We were holding sub 5s until the last couple of kilometres, then 5:10s. Clement asked me if we’d slowed down and I lied, saying we hadn’t. He knew it wasn’t true, but kept moving. We ran over some speed humps and I groaned as we trundled over them. Then I started to laugh because they were just humps and yet they made me want to stop – ridiculous!
We were in the final kilometre and a friend of Clement ran out next to us. He started to take pictures and they spoke in French. I was glad for the distraction and smiled weakly for a couple of pics, but didn’t dare slow down.
We rounded the last turn and ran past a bunch of massive inflatable teapots. Interesting sponsor… The finish line lay ahead and it was all I could do to pull out my camera and get some final video of crossing the line. I was spent. Clement and I crossed in 3:37.35. I felt like it was a big effort by me, but a mammoth display of power from the gritty Frenchman. We shook hands and vowed to stay in touch. I met a couple of his friends too and we arranged to meet for dinner later.
Daz was at the line and got some great video of the finish. I was very happy to see him, knowing that finding Daz meant I could stop thinking and let him take over. We looked for a massage tent, but could see nothing. I think the race is quite well organised, but without isotonic drinks or too many water stations, they definitely have some work to do. Apparently two years before, they didn’t even have water stations! So I should count myself lucky.
Tim came through about 15 minutes later. He was pretty stuffed and said that the last 5 kilometres were way beyond anything he’d felt while pushing himself to the limits. He’d done some pretty crazy stuff in the army, so I reckon that was a pretty big statement! He even said that he was feeling pretty emotional, like how you feel when you’re going to cry. I told him it was normal, that he’s just taken every piece of energy he had, every bit of focus he could muster and battled with his own self belief to drag his body home. I knew he’d make it and he knew it too, but it was always gonna be a struggle and I remember only too well how much that first one hurt. Then Tim said he needed a cigarette! Haha, crazy dude.
I went back to the Riad with Daz. We walked back, even though it was a bit far. It was strange hobbling across the market, then through the bustling streets. I felt a bit silly as a tourist with running shorts and a singlet on. I got straight into the icy pool in the middle of the courtyard and tried to freeze my legs. It worked ok and Daz gave my calves a bit of a working over too.
Later on I caught up with Clement and his friends Thierry and Wendy. Thierry and Wendy are from Gabon and Clement was going there for a holiday with Thierry the following day. They would go spear fishing and enjoy some down time. Thierry’s life sounded like one massive adventure as a business owner in Gabon. He even showed me pictures of the ape that was hanging out in his backyard a little while back… It was great to sit above the square and get to know my new French speaking friends a little better. They have such different lives to me, but everyone has the same motivations to make the most of every new adventure.
I’m in Germany now. I’ve had a busy few days getting here and I’d like to write some more about it. This escapade just gets busier and more interesting every day. I hope you’re all enjoying the journey with me and I’m really loving the feedback, so please keep it coming.
One thing though. I’m a long way off my target of raising $10,000 by the end of February. I’d like to think that’s a good target to reach in the first couple of months, so I need to raise another $6,750 to get there. A lot of people have donated generously in recent weeks and I really appreciate that support – this is not directed at you.. If you haven’t donated, but you have been reading my updates and think they’re pretty funny or interesting, then I’m shaking my cap in front of you now. I’m hoping you’ll think the entertainment value of this grand adventure is worth supporting, even as little as $10 would help.
All donations go to UNICEF! Help Haitian kids in their time of need, before US missionaries nick them…Ha, Snap! The money goes directly to UNICEF via the EveryDay Hero profile we have set up. Click this link to go there now.
For every $10 you donate, you go into the draw to win a trip to visit us for a week in May – and you pick the destination! Come run a marathon with me, or get drunk with Daz, it’s your choice! C’mon, do it… Draw closes end of Feb.
Ok, I’m done.
Thermen Marathon, Bad Füssing, in the snow on Sunday. Wish me luck… I really need it.
And remember – You’re all Champions!