Monday, January 28, 2008


I crossed the finish line at 2:52 and I made the 1:00 train to Meknes – as golfers retell every hole and fishermen recall every bite, runners also relive every step; you can read on, of course, but just in case it’s too much detail, you already know the pertinent info.

First, let me say that the bagels were a hit. I won’t relay the recipe – when I put the peanut butter recipe here, I thought nobody would ever make it because you can just go out and buy a jar of peanut butter. You can also go out and get bagels! It’s pretty simple – flour and yeast, mostly – and you have to knead it a lot and let it rise for a while and then boil them and then bake them – so it’s a bit time-consuming. We added cinnamon as well; the results looked fair and tasted pretty good – and were good for the bus ride and for a pre-race breakfast and for the post-race train ride and for breakfast today!

The bus ride down to Marrakesh is long – it’s just long. I was with Andrea and Sherwin – it was nice to have company – and I read an entire book – it was nice to have company and also to read. We had the very last seats on the bus, which isn’t ideal but wasn’t bad. I drank more water than usual – there was one stop that I remember bring a long one last time, so I went to the ladies’ room – only to come out and find that the bus had pulled away! I ran for it and jumped on it as it was moving – having friends with me helped, because they told the driver to wait – and I got a little practice sprint in. Still, I had a headache when I arrived, and promptly started to drink more water.

First stop was registration – Dominique was there at the same time to register, and Connie was there to keep her company, and then Laura and Jong joined us – only Dominique, Sherwin and I from my stage were running but the others, as well as Rob, had put in for the weekend to cheer us on. There was a significant discount for being a foreign resident, they never asked for the health certificate that I was told was required, and the T-shirt was just okay, but there was a T-shirt.

We all walked to the Jemaa al-Fna; maybe a half-hour walk? I remember walking home from the pasta dinner before the Chicago Marathon – it was a beautiful night, and a perfect temperature for walking, though perhaps resting would have been smarter. Well, in Marrakesh it was hot, but it was nice to walk and stretch out after being on the bus, so I think it was all right. I had made reservations in a riad so that I would have my own room with bath and shower – under other circumstances I would have been fine sharing with fellow PCVs but I wanted to do all I could to ensure a good night’s sleep. Met up with Rob and he, Connie, Sherwin and I headed out for a pasta dinner, joined midway by Dominique, Jong and Laura. There were some environment and health volunteers there too, and they gave us directions to the race start. Peace Corps makes an exception to the five-person rule for the marathon, but of the 20 allowed to be in the area, most aren’t there to run the race – instead, they come to cheer or party or both. Only about eight of us actually ran, two the full and the rest the half.

We lingered at dinner for a while – once again, I felt sad that people I enjoy spending time with are so far away, but I can go back, long trip and headache and all….and then we got ice cream; not sure if this is the perfect pre-race food but it’s become something of a Marrakesh tradition. We then headed for a bar – I knew I wouldn’t stay long because it’s smoky, but (Piffle) Aaron and Mic, who I had met back in Asilah were coming so I wanted to say hi. Mic recently ET’ed – he had been caught out of site. Two other health volunteers in his stage had recently ET’ed as well for the same reason (basically you can ET, the equivalent of resigning, or get Admin Sepped, the equivalent of being fired) – they were in Marrakesh as well. I think they are all staying in the country for a while – not ready to leave. As long as I am updating, the Ain Leuh volunteer in my stage is ETing – she won a Fulbright and is leaving for that, so that’s six total so far. The recent SBD/YD group was the first to get through training intact – since their swearing-in no SBDs have left – yet – and three YDs have, all with combination of homesickness, tough site, and somehow not having it be what they expected.

It was okay to leave the bar when it got too smoky for me – I realized I was tired, and I laid out all of my things, pinned my race number to my powder-blue Chicago Triathlon shirt, showered and went to sleep. Got up before the alarm, dressed and met Sherwin to walk to the start, passing the health and environment volunteers having breakfast before heading there themselves. I told him that the biggest difference between this time and the last time I ran a race this long is the word, “inshallah.” God willing, I’d do all right.

I had in mind that it would take me two-and-a-half to three hours to run the race. I’d heard it started at 8:30 but then heard that the announced start is 8:30 and the real start closer to 9:00. I thus had added incentive to run fast – I really wanted to make the 1:00 train so that I could get to Meknes before dark. We got to the start early – saw the snow-covered High Atlas, finally! Not as much haze this time of year; as they say in California, the mountains were out. Stretched and talked to other runners and closer to 8:30 than to 9:00 (I wish I knew exactly, but there was no timer at the starting line, and my running stopwatch is in storage) we took off. Sherwin left me right away and I found myself behind some runners wearing yellow shirts identifying them as a running club from Casablanca. They were a shade faster than I but I thought that if I could keep up with them for the first 5K I would be off to a good start. And I did, almost – my side started to twinge so I had to slow down, but I stayed within visual contact of the two slowest of the yellow shirts (who, like me, walked through the water stops) for most of the race. The weather was cool, the desert has no humidity, and we went through and by the Menara and Agdal gardens, which provided even more coolness and sometimes shade – not bad at all! Still, I am glad I switched from the winter-weight long pants I had been training in (bought for modesty but helpful for the training weather) to my quik-dri capri pants (even though I didn’t look as like as serious a runner in them).

There was water at the 5K mark; I had a bottle with me for between-water-stops sips and also Gu energy gel that I had brought from home. At the 7.5K mark they handed me a wet sponge – it was nice to cool my head, but I didn’t want to wash all of my sunscreen off. It was fun to see lots of colored sponges on the ground – looked like art. There were two other sponge stops, but by the time I reached them, there were no more being handed out – that’s okay, one was enough. When I run 5Ks there are plenty of people where I am, at the 11-or-so-minute-mile pace, so I never feel alone. When I ran a 10K a couple of years ago to make sure I could do 10K alone before signing up to do it in the triathlon, I was clearly in the back of the pack – the longer distances weed out the slower runners. So for the half-marathon I knew again I’d be in the back of the pack, and most of the time I could see people around me, but I had the feeling I was running solo, which was strange. I am sure that for the majority of the pack they held up traffic, and for us slowpokes they did make crossing traffic wait, but for a portion of the race after that 7.5K mark I was sometimes alongside motos. At times the race crossed to face oncoming traffic and I had to dodge motos, bikes, cars and a couple of donkeys – how many other marathons have that!

They tout the flat course and indeed it is flat. Very flat. Nice and flat. Flatter than Chicago, which is flat except for the overpasses that become mountains by the end. There might have been ever-so-slight inclines but it is flat. There are no port-o-sans anywhere – not at the start, not at the middle, not at the end (which is at the start). This wasn’t an issue for me at all but I did see people try to hide behind trees and I heard that people duck into cafes. Rob, Jong, Connie and Laura had said they would be at the 10K mark but they weren’t when I got there – probably thought they had missed me even though I had told them my expected pace. It was about there that I realized that my camera had a time stamp, so I took a couple of pictures to check the time – about an hour had passed, which might have been my best 10K split ever, but I don’t know exactly.

We then went through a long corridor of trees and I was feeling good. The marathon runners went right and the “semi” went left and there was a Gnaoua band playing at the split. We then went through a neighborhood – lots of spectators, just when I needed them - my IT bands and the knee I feel on were starting to get a little tight and I did a little walking but then a cheer or a smile or a hand slap from a kid or a “bon courage” from a policeman would get me going. I did have to confirm that I was going in the right direction a couple of times when I lost yellow-shirt contact and there was a lot of vehicular traffic. Andrea was somewhere in this stretch, and I’m glad that I was running at the time; I actually ran more and walked less than I was prepared to, partially with the train incentive, partially with the crowd motivation, and partially because I felt good! We joined up with the marathon again – it said 17.5 but I knew it was their 17.5, not the half’s – and then there were more runners around me and that was a lift. We went past a bunch of pottery and I thought again that you don’t get that at every marathon. We split off again and there was a definite feeling of heading back around towards the start/finish line. I was really looking forward to the 15K mark though, to know I was three-fourths done, and it seemed that it was a long stretch after the 10. There wasn’t one! The next marker (and water stop) after 10 was for 17.5, so it had seemed long for a reason. Almost done!

Not really though – the last 2.5 K also seemed long. Right about then I found myself running stride for stride next to someone, and without talking we knew we were pulling each other along. We then started talking – she was nice. Then her husband came, medal around his neck, to help her – he took her hand and she took mine. I had to break off to walk a bit, but they slowed down and called for me and I would run to catch up with them. Somewhere in the last kilometer, Rob, Jong, Connie and Laura were in the middle of the street cheering, and then I found myself running next to one of the health volunteers. I lost both her and the couple when I stopped to take a picture of the finish line, but I finally crossed at 2:52 – and there Aaron, Mic and some of the volunteers who had finished earlier were, cheering. And I got a medal! I didn’t expect there to be one at this race.

Let’s say it took five minutes to get to the starting line. 2:47? I don’t know – and I looked at the web site and my results aren’t there. I was careful to run through the electronic-chip-check stations, so I’m disappointed. All I know is that I talked to some of the health volunteers for a few minutes and I ate a couple of clementines and I walked back to the hotel, taking my time, and it was 11:50. It’s maybe a 20-minute walk…so what was my race time? Not that it matters…what does matter is that I had time for a shower before leaving. I had thought I would miss the 1:00, giving me more time with friends before taking the 3:00 and calling the duty officer, but since I could manage it, I thought it best to get going.

I was focused on getting to the train but not so much on other post-race things. I had the bagels, of course, and I had brought some oral rehydration salts from the medical kit. I knew that the best thing would be RICE – rest/ice/compression/elevation – but that those would be hard to get. I did rest, but the train was too crowded for me to put my feet up. I tried to stretch and to self-massage, but by the time I got to Meknes I was stiff. I limped down the stairs and up the stairs and found a hotel and went to McDonald’s (nearby, and a sundae seemed appealing).

I had gotten permission to attend a trade fair in Meknes today – the weaving cooperative and the rock-carver were there. I had a bagel for breakfast and slowly but surely walked there. There weren’t a lot of customers and there wasn’t a lot for me to do – I recommended that they make signs (which I can help with) and bring business cards (which they already have but didn’t bring) and scoped out the competition and stayed for about an hour talking to the artisans. Then I decided to walk along that long corridor past the palace to the granary, finally getting to the other end of the imperial city. It was impressive – huge granary and cisterns and stables for 12,000 horses – and then I walked back (leaving the prison for another day because it was closed for lunch, and not going to the medina either for the same reason). All in all I probably walked about two hours today – stiffly, but I think it was good to walk. Though I have a tiny blister on my foot from the run and a sorer spot from the shoes I wore today! Went to Marjane – I wanted to buy some frozen peas, which make good ice packs; didn’t find them but I did find ice. And I had compressed my legs today by wearing pantyhose. And now I’m home! Resting and elevating and icing some and going to bed early. Contemplating an April half-marathon (or 10K) in Casablanca…or perhaps a massage here this week, if I can get one.

Congratulations - one great goal beautifully accomplished!
Thanks! The fanny pack that my friend Debbie sent me was perfect for the water bottle, Gu, ibuprofen and lip sunscreen that I had with me!
well done sharon! i'm loving the marathon running.
Thanks, Kareem! It definitely helped to know there were well-wishers out there!
Congratulations! I had lost track of when the race was, but it's great to read about it. I know you had been looking forward to it!
Thanks! Yes, it was nice to have something to aim for and then get to!
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?