Monday, 20th July 2015
With the Mediterranean Sea in the North, the Canary Islands to the bottom left, and Spain’s Gibraltar almost touching Morocco’s tip at Tangier, you wouldn’t quite believe that you were in Africa. But it’s not uncommon to feel lost and disorientated when you land in the city of Marrakech; because here, you’ll be greeted by a confusing maze of loud noises, strange smells, bright colours, curious people, and a never-ending world of clutter. With the Atlas Mountains serving as a backdrop to your trip, there’s also an element of calm. Marrakech is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting cities on our planet and every corner is worth exploring if you have the time. But if you’re only here for a couple of days, you can still capture the essence of this mind-blowing Moroccan capital. For the ultimate itinerary, read on for our tips on what to see, where to go and what to do with 48 hours in Marrakech.
WHAT TO SEE:
Start your first day in The Old Town area of the city. It’s a fantastic introduction to Marrakech. Here you will find a number of souks and tanneries, which pretty much help you capture the vibe of this colourful capital. As soon as you walk into the souks, you will be met with amazing smells and colours. The Medina is just north of the main square, Jemaa El Fna, and you will find never-ending alleyways and winding paths all brimming with stalls jam-packed with product upon product. It’s a spectacular sight even if you’re not planning on spending your Dirham. If you’re planning on buying a few souvenirs to take back home, we would definitely recommend getting your bearings and simply window-shopping on your first day, rather than buying the first thing you see – because you’ll always find a better price elsewhere. The two main routes of the souks are Rue Semarine and Rue Mouassine. Both routes offer a fine selection of clothing and textiles, spices and potions, pottery and souvenirs, woven carpets and baskets.
Your next stop simply has to be the bustling Jemaa El Fna, the famous square in the heart of the city. Quite simply, this is where it all happens; everything and anything. During the day, it’s the meeting ground for pushy animal hawkers and orange juice sellers and at night it transforms into a magical bazaar filled with locals meeting their buddies for a chinwag. To fully experience the square, it’s important to see it at every time of day.
WHERE TO EAT:
The square is a great place to find somewhere to sit down and grab a bite. The cafes surrounding the square are quite tourist orientated – so perhaps not the best food in town – but this is the place to be for people watching. For an outstanding rooftop view, go to Café de France and get a coffee for 12 Dirham (less than 3 Euros) or a mint tea for 15 Dirham (less than 4 Euros).
WHAT TO SEE:
If the intensity of the souks has taken it out of you, wind down for the afternoon in a nearby garden. The city is a contrast of ying and yang; not too far from the square is the Arset El Mamoun Garden, a peaceful retreat where visitors can enjoy the tranquil views from the ice-cream pavilion or the restaurant terrace. A part of the La Mamounia 5 star hotel, the gardens are open to the public – a must if you’re in need of some post-shopping down time.
If you have a little more time to kill, why not book yourself into a cookery class so you discover the real soul behind Moroccan cuisine and culture? You’ll pick up some great cooking secrets and discover a lot about the Moroccan way of life. It’s perfect for the whole family or if you’re looking for a group activity.
WHERE TO EAT:
Enjoy a peaceful lunch at one of La Mamounia’s 4 restaurants or head over to Les Trois Saveurs (at La Maison Arabe) which is 20 minutes’ walk for traditional Moroccan cuisine. The menu offers a choice of authentically cooked tagines with cous cous; a true initiation into Moroccan food.
WHAT TO SEE:
As the sun goes down, you must go back to Jemaa El Fna. Seeing the square in all its glory at night is a must, and you’ll be blown away by the contrasting atmosphere as soon as twilight sets in. Gone are the monkey men and pushy hawkers; now you’ll be met with endless stalls selling delicious snails and other amazing street food snacks, snake charmers, street artists, and live musicians setting the scene for the evening. But even more notably, the square is bustling with locals as they come out to socialise with their neighbours. The atmosphere is truly magical – you’ll be pleased to have witnessed it.
WHERE TO EAT:
If you haven’t stuffed yourself with street food at the square, finish off your first day’s Moroccan experience at a modern lounge bar called Le Comptoir. This trendy establishment may feel miles away from the vibe in the souks and tanneries; a window into modern living in the city, this is a great place to eat and drink. The menu is traditional food with a modern twist and there are regular belly dancing performances to keep you entertained. Le Comptoir also has a fantastic bar/nightclub area so you can carry on the evening with drinks from their stylish cocktail menu.
If you’re looking for some fine dining, you can visit our restaurant at Dar Ayniwen and enjoy everything from traditional savoury dishes to exotic oriental pastries. There is also a fantastic tasting menu at just 450 Dirham per head.
WHAT TO SEE:
There’s no better way of nursing a sore head from the night before than visiting a relaxing Hammam spa. The city has a number of luxury Hammams and you can’t leave Marrakech without visiting at least one. We would recommend spending the morning at Heritage Spa (40 Arset Aouzal Road) or Les Deux Tours (153 Douar Abiad); you will be blown away by the whole experience. The Hammam culture is something that the locals indulge in almost weekly. You’ll first be washed and scrubbed by an assistant before being covered in a natural clay which works wonders for your skin. The next part is the most relaxing; your wash and scrub will be followed by a massage which includes a number of essential oils to help you really wind down.
WHERE TO EAT:
If you didn’t grab breakfast before the spa, the best places to get brunch are the cafes dotted around the streets coming off the main square. You’ll find various cafes offering Moroccan pastries (Petit Pan) which come with tea or coffee, or you can try the traditional breakfast soup and eat like the locals. The soup is called ‘Bissara’ and can be bought from local street vendors. If you’re looking for a light brunch, we would recommend Le Jardin, set in a 17th Century riad, serving brunch between 11am-3pm.
WHAT TO SEE:
After a relaxing morning in a Hammam, no doubt you’ll be refreshed and raring to go. This is the perfect time to do a spot of sight-seeing. If you missed the tanneries on your first day, make Dar Dbagh Tannery your first stop. It’s a complete assault on the senses as the pungent smell of leather and dyes fill your nostrils but the colours are spectacular and it’s an interesting process to witness.
Next, take a tour of Marrakech’s museums, an essential part of your Moroccan education. Visit Dar Si Said Museum to explore the arts and crafts of the Berber culture, or go to the Marrakech Museum to look at some of the city’s more contemporary art.
If you have time, take a detour to the famous Jardon Marjorelle at Avenue Yacoub El Mansour. This spectacular garden was designed by French artist and painter, Jacques Marjorelle, taking him over 40 years to complete and is the perfect example of French Colonial Morocco between the years of 1912 and 1956. The garden was later bought over by the world famous designer, Yves Saint Laurent and is now open to the public for a 40 Dirham entry ticket.
WHERE TO EAT:
From the Marrakech Museum, you can take a 5 minute walk over to Café Des Épices (it’s also not too far from the Jardon Marjorelle if you have time for a leisurely 30 minute stroll). The well-known Café Des Épices is one of the traveller favourites, especially for an al fresco style lunch. This rooftop establishment is well recognised for bringing together the new and the old – so you can get a real taste of Moroccan cooking in a contemporary way. The menu is perfect for groups or families as it offers a number of sharing platters and small dishes, perfect for those who don’t have the luxury of time to explore each individual dish in fine detail.
WHAT TO SEE:
A trip to Marrakech isn’t quite complete without an evening designated to exploring its very unique nightlife. The drinking culture in Morocco is a rather strange one; Muslims are forbidden to drink so there’s sometimes a certain ‘faux pas’ surrounding the bar and nightclub life within the city. But many of these establishments opened their doors to welcome tourists during the boom of the industry – and today you will also see many locals frequenting these places.
But believe it or not, Marrakech does have a reputation for great nightlife and many have said that there’s a hidden Ibiza within the city as soon as the sun goes down. What you won’t see is drunken groups sprawling out onto the streets; what you will see is confined areas where people can relax and enjoy plenty of drinking and dancing late into the night (or early morning). The underground feel of Marrakech nightlife is what makes it feel so incredibly unique.
Some of the best bars include Café Arabe on Rue Mouassine in The Medina where you’ll find a sophisticated wine and cocktail menu, Café-Bar de l’Escale on Avenue Mohammed where you can find a good selection of wines and spirits, or Le Bar Churchill where you can sit in the most lavish art deco surroundings.
If you’re looking for a nightclub to finish off the night, head over to Diamant Noir Nightclub for a bit of Moroccan glam (with no expense spared on the interiors) or Pacha Marrakech on Avenue Mohammed VI where you’ll find some great resident DJs channelling the party vibes of the White Isle.
WHERE TO EAT:
The food hawkers at Jemaa El Fna don’t start to disperse until around 1am (the locals love to eat and stay out late) so it’s the perfect place to grab a pre-nightclub snack if you’re feeling a bit peckish. The electric atmosphere of the square is sure to put you in the right mood for hitting the city’s vibrant nightclub scene. So mingle with the locals and make sure you get your hands on some of the must-try street food eats including camel spleen kebab, deliciously filling Beghrir bread, deep fried liver, spiced sardines, Brochette sandwiches, tasty French snails, or the moreish aubergine fritters for vegetarians.
Or if you’re looking for a fine dining experience to set you up for your bar crawl, go to La Maison Arabe for the most amazing local delicacies, Al Fassia Gueliz for some relaxed luxury, or Le Salama for a touch of old Hollywood glamour. Another one of our favourite places to dine is Gastro MK on Derb Sebaai by The Medina. Not only is it fantastic for afternoon tea in the day but it’s also a wonderful place for dinner at night. The restaurant can be a tad on the pricey side compared to other places but it serves the most amazing fusion cuisine, bringing together the best of French and Moroccan cooking. The kitchen was headed up by Andrew West (one of Gordon Ramsay’s chefs) before being taken over by the established chef Omar El Ouahssoussie, and it’s now one of the finest places to enjoy a tagine in the city.
To book your next holiday to Marrakech, take a look at our rooms and special offers. To speak to a member of our team, get in touch via our contact page and we will help you book your perfect stay in the city.
Monday, 28th April 2014
Dar Ayniwen sponsoring ARC Association
I am sorry it has taken so long but I wanted to make sure that I gave you a complete account of my Marathon des Sables Challenge 2014 … So that you can re-live what I went through and in the hope that it may help others in the future thinking of taking on the MDS. Enjoy!
Monday 31st March: Arrival in Ouarzazate
To spend a few days with my mum and get used to the heat. To my great surprise, it was colder than Paris !! … A shame but at least I had a good few days rest before such an intense sporting challenge!
Friday 4th April: Direction – the unknown
The meeting point for competitors already there was at 8am in front of the COS Hotel. Upon my arrival, we were greeted by members of the organisation wearing vests branded with “29th Marathon des Sables”. We were dispatched between a number of buses and given the official road book detailing all the 6 stages of this years race (length, terrain elevation, navigation chart …).
Patrick Bauer, the race director, had announced a few days before, that this years edition of the MDS would be difficult as it has become part of Ultra-Trail World Tour. As soon as I open the road book, I see it is true! Here the length of 6 stages: 34, 41.5, 37, 81.5, 42.195, 7.7! A total of 244 Km through the Moroccan Sahara, self sufficient n food and material.
The 82 km stage does not leave us indifferent… “82 km, absolute madness!”
But I’m told by a fellow competitor who completed last years edition “It’s nothing, it’s the marathon the day after that will do you…”
We talk, we laugh, we compare our training programmes to reassure one another, we get to know one another you. I have to say I felt a bit ridiculous with my 100 km/week training sessions when some of the other runners told me they were running 150-200 km per week! Inevitably I ask myself am I properly trained? Have I underestimated this challenge? There are people who have taken part in the MDS dozens of times! Or who did the MDS once then went off to climb Mount Everest, take part in the Diagonal des Fous, the UTMB and have decided to come back to give the MDS another go … The pressure started to mount but there’s no time for regrets, it’s for a good cause it’s time to get started…
The bus hits the road for a transfer of 350 km southeast of Ouarzazate ( Erfoud ). We go through many villages, separated by wide desert plateaux. As we journey on, the landscape becomes more & more arid and desert. No doubt about it, we really are going into the heart of the desert! During this trip, I met: Mick Ramayet, a 68 year old sportsman who is taking part in the MDS for the 19th time! What determination!; Isabelle , for her 10th participation; and Michel from Quebec & coached by Isabelle on the internet, who after travelling ” over 18000km ” by bike through the three Americas came to take on the dunes despite having titanium hips! After all this, only one word comes to mind: respect!
I also had the opportunity to meet Ahmed Tahiri, also participating for the first time, and forming a team with the Moroccan Olympic champion, 2 times winner of the New York City Marathon and the London Marathon in 2:06, Mouaziz Mr. Abdelkader. It turns out that Ahmed was a former student of my dear Father: first coincidence…
After about 7 hours and a few km of track , we finally arrive at the bivouac, located a few km from the highest dunes in Morocco, the Merzouga dunes.
It is almost 5pm, and I ask Mick and Isabelle if there was room for me to join their tent…after reflection and a head count, there was one place left, that of “Blue” as they called me – the new one – and we took tent No. 10.
So at the end of the day, we were 7 in the tent:
– Isabelle Valera the Northerner with bib No. 59 , so natural and totally in her element with a big heart, 10th participation the MDS and her eternal phrase “puta madre”
– Mick Ramayet with bib No. 135, what more can I say about this monument of the MDS, 19th participation, hats off my friend
– Giles Clain bib No. 138, his 8th participation, big hearted, who accompanied Didier, a blind runner during the 2013 edition. This year he is taking part or himself….and under the threat of Isabelle :)….
– Michel Baudoin bib No. 446 the Canadian, the second novice of the tent
– Denis Dadoun bib No. 134, a second coincidence, a urologist in the same tent and I, running for Prostate Cancer, it’s huge.
– And to my surprise, there was Odile, a blind lady who came to sleep for the first night in our tent but who left the next day to join her guide Silvain so they can live the whole adventure together .
– And finally my bib No. 120, a novice discovering the MDS adventure for the first time!
Dinner was served in the camp canteen, all the competitors together, the atmosphere is very friendly and the reunion between runners is touching.
We go to bed around 9pm. I make the most of all of my things (we still have all our luggage with us till tomorrow). The night is a bit cold so no regrets for having chosen a warm sleeping bag (minimum comfort temperature : -3 ° C) and my mini inflatable mattress chosen by my wife.
Saturday 5th April: medical & material controls, acclimatisation
After admiring a beautiful sunrise, I emerge from my sleeping bag around 7am. It’s a little cold in the morning, but quickly the temperature becomes unbearable. We have our breakfast at the camp canteen. The bivouac commissioner had already told me that I was to be ready at 8:30 am for the control of the bag.
So I check my backpack for the last time: my enemy is the weight! I remove some clothes judged to be unnecessary and some excess food. I don’t want to forget anything, it could be fatal. I will live for the duration of the race with only the contents of my bag – material & food.
Giles gives me a helping hand and especially advice as an experienced runner because despite the efforts and the reconditioning of my food, my bag is heavy … At which point Aline pops into our tent -“Aline Pierrond who has come this year to try for a place on the podium this year, she finished in 4th position – Bravo – she was very friendly and helpful”. She helped me to empty my bag a little and especially reduce the number of energy bars I had.
At the control tent, I give them my travel bag – which I will recuperate on Saturday at the end of the race. A race official controls the mandatory equipment as well as the total number of calories I have with me. Everything is fine and the total weight of my bag is 10.75 Kg. It’s hard to do less – most runners were carrying between 8 and 10 kg. Next stop: the doctors. They check my electrocardiogram and ask me about my training programme, my overall preparation and in particular my feet. They warn me about the extreme weather conditions of the race: high temperatures and potential dehydration. “Caution! Don’t forget to regularly take the salt tablets & be careful to manage your exertion in the early stages”. I take my distress rocket, provided by the organisation, and leave the control tent with only my backpack for the whole week.
Lunch is again at the camp canteen. I am not that hungry: the heat reduced my appetite but I must eat to build my strength. Lunch is followed by a good nap in the shade! Some took the opportunity to do a little jogging, with my tent mates we decided to go for a mint tea in the local inn ” 3km” away from where I managed to send to you the first pictures of me with my bib number.
At around 5pm, Patrick Bauer gathered all the competitors for the presentation of the 29th edition of the Marathon des Sables. 1045 competitors, 139 women, 54 nationalities. Many journalists & international TV channels are at the heart of the caravan to follow the event. For this edition, Patrick Bauer emphasises the message of peace to be conveyed, & the message of all charities represented by the numerous competitors including ARC Association. My flag will follow me from start to finish.
Patrick recalls the safety rules on the camp and throughout the race, taking the time to emphasise the ecological aspects of the caravan. He then showed us how to use a distress rocket and informed us of the novelty this year: sit down toilets with a touch of humour obviously! …
I have network coverage, so I make a final call to my little wife, to get some energy and courage before the big day .
Dinner in camp canteen is served around 7pm. We try to stock up on calories as it is the last meal before the start of food self-sufficiency! After which for the next 7 days I will only eat what I am carrying in my backpack. A coca-cola to unwind and off to bed! Tomorrow is the start of the marathon des sables …
Sunday, April 6 : The start of the 29th Marathon des Sables
I wake up around 5:30 am, it is already daylight. I keep warm in my sleeping bag until the rest of the tent wakes up. The logistics teams are already busy dismantling the Berber tents ! We then get a move on to pack away the sleeping bag and leave the tent. It is quite cold. We have breakfast; our first self-sufficient meal. The morning meal is important because the next time we will eat a full meal will be this evening. Slowly, we get ourselves ready: packing away and final adjustments of the backpack, fixing of the bib to the front and back, a real professional job !
We go to collect our 2 bottles of water to start off the race, the next bottles of water will be given to us at check point # 1 step after running through 12km of sand dunes. It is 8:30 am, the temperature is already 28°C. My shoulders are already sore. I am filled with emotion, thinking of my father – it is for him, in his memory, that i am undertaking this challenge. Gilou whispers that despite my cause – the fight against Prostate Cancer – I should try to enjoy the ride.
Patrick Bauer quickly briefs us on the stage. At 9 o’clock the race begins. Behind my sunglasses, I can’t help but shed a few tears of emotion, after training so hard here we are! I quickly focus again and start to think of my friends Rodolphe, Denis, Yoan and Rachid who are currently running the Paris Marathon flying the ARC Association flag in aid of the fight against Prostate Cancer.
Let the adventure begin! I adjust my backpack and my water bottles and off I go for 34 km ! I run at a steady pace, I can really feel the weight of my backpack. During my training programme, I carried a bag weighing only 11 Kg and today I have 13.75 on my back!
After a few kilometres, the runners are spread out through the course. After 3km, we enter the Erg Chaabi dunes and here we go for 12km of sand dunes, a long single file naturally forms as there is not much footing.
I initially followed course 127 ° on my compass and in the end I follow the runners in front. It is getting hotter with temperatures approaching 40°C, I make sure to drink regularly. My watch shows 15km but still no sign of the 1st check point (CP1), 2km later, I’m out of water and I finally see the CP1 and I understand that I did an extra 2km in the sand dunes .. not great news!
I take my long awaited water bottles, I fill my water containers and I take advantage of unfinished water bottles left by other runners to cool myself down and drink a little more. I set my compass to follow course 184 ° and off I go for another 10km80 until CP2, crossing wadi, rocky plateaux, a million miles away from my usual workouts and training ground…So I alternate between running and walking to avoid hurting my ankles which would prevent me from finishing the MDS.
I sail through to CP2 without difficulty moderating my efforts; it is not worth wearing myself out after the first stage! Keep some reserves for later. The course is sublime, in the heart of the desert, it is moving to run in a place like this ! My water containers fastenings and gaiters are impeccable : But as the more experienced runners told me ” the MDS is a race management.” In front of me there are guys who are going to be exhausted tomorrow because they have given too much on this first stage. Caution, caution, the race is just beginning there are still 220 km to go. For the moment, everything is going well, I am not hungry, thirsty, tired…I don’t feel ill, I don’t have any blisters or injuries … But as we advance it is going to get harder & harder…
In the distance, I can see the finish line: but there are still 3km dunes left to go before I get there! My watch tells me I have been running for 6 hours 10 minute. That says a lot about the difficulty of the MDS and an idea of the time needed to complete the next steps ! It’s at this point I start to enter into the spirit of the race, you just can’t compare it to another races done before. But it is encouraging, I was prudent, took my time and I finished the first stage after 6 hours 54. But I completely miss the camera upon arrival! A shame for my wife and my entourage who were eagerly watching & waiting for me to arrive.
I take my three bottles of water and head to the tent #10. Isa the northerner is already there lying down on her sleeping bag and trying to recover, but we were wondering where Gilou was as he was still not back ! He finally arrived after everyone else in the tent after over 10 hours 30. At which point we find out that he had to have 6 infusion bags… a worrying start to the race but nothing serious …
I quickly dug into my dried bananas – lovely – followed by a nap in the shade under the Berber tent – the temperature is 44 ° C in the shade. At the moment, I have no blisters, my feet are intact, lets hope it lasts!
To my surprise I had network coverage, so as not to call and disturb the other competitors, I send a message to my wife to let her know that I am ok. Then, around 5pm, a camp official brought us the messages from our nearest & dearest sent via the Internet. The media team receives them via satellite transmission, prints & collates them in order to distribute them to the competitors. Thanks to the talents of my wife, all my family & friends knew they could send me messages & she took care of updating them on the progress of my adventure on a daily basis. I am pleasantly surprised to receive around twenty messages and hasten to read them. It is very moving to receive such beautiful messages of encouragement & support in the depths of the desert. I read and reread and decide to keep them in my backpack: they will bring me luck, the only downside was that I didn’t receive my wife’s messages …
We eat our dinner in the tent around 7pm. The night was already falling, it is time for bed. I feel physically fatigued; unwinding after the stress of managing my water and the effort required to get through those large dunes. Nothing will prevent me from getting to the end of the race, nothing. It’s official the race looks to be very tough and we all know it.
Monday, April 7 : The 41km stage – Erg Znaïgui / Oued Moungarf
I woke up at 5:30 am after a good nights sleep ” thanks to Dornomyl (sleeping tablets!).” The camp is already stirring. The sun breaks through the dunes and we feel the first heat rays. I stay wrapped up in my sleeping bag to watch the sky; a wonderful day lays ahead. My tent buddies start to gradually wake up; with dark circles under their eyes, sun marks on their face, beards… they look like real adventurers ! The logistics team dismantles the Berber tents. No time to dawdle ! We prepare our breakfast. For me, the menu is: Chocolate muesli and apple compote and my much needed dose of coffee! Around 6:30 am, the organisation distributes the allocated water bottle for the morning. I still have about 1L left from yesterday which means I can then have a quick wash, luxury! Then we all start to get our bags ready for the day’s stage.
The start is given is 8:30 am and the course is simple: direction – Erg Znaïgui, with dunes and more dunes throughout this 41km stage, we will cross dried riverbeds, rugged land again with little footing but at least this time I will have 600gr less weight in my bag and at the start only 1 water bottle which is not negligible. So I try to increase my pace, whilst remaining cautious, for the rest of the race – no point in pushing myself too hard! I feel physically apt, my morale is good & the scenery is sublime what more can I ask for ! We make the most of the hard ground to run at a good pace before getting into the heart of the dunes where the sand reaches just below the knees. It is simply impossible to run in these conditions!
After 11km50, I arrive at the first checkpoint. The doctors & controllers are there, advising us to manage our energy reserves as we ill need it for the rest of the race! I take my bottle of water and continue on my way towards the next checkpoint which is in about 14.5 km. The course takes us through river Ziz, rocky and stony peaks not forgetting the sandy valleys …
I can see CP2, it is only a few kilometres away behind a dried-up lake. It’s getting warmer and in the depths of the dunes the temperature is just overwhelming ! I take my time to arrive at CP2; the punch my card and give me my allocated bottle of water. Despite the gaiters, the sand has made its way into my trainers but I refuse to take them off until I get back to the camp and into my tent.
I head towards CP3 which is 8.1km away and it appears that as a rule of thumb when the CP gets closer the route becomes more difficult: a steep slope down towards the plateau of the dry lake & I am take by surprise by the headstrong wind. I think to myself; “the struggle will commence if the storm rises because navigation will become extremely difficult…it is better that I try and join a group of runners as I do not want to find myself alone navigating through the desert!” I look ahead, there is nothing or no-one on the horizon – I can’t see any other runners. So I decide to up my pace in the hope of catching up with other runners and to stay on course. If ever there is a storm, the only solution is to follow the compass.
A lull in the wind allows us to relax a little, the thermometer reads 49 ° C. I come upon an English runner and we decide to chat as we run 500m and walk 200m.
At CP3 we feel the exciting of knowing that the finish line & thus the end of this stage 2 is not far away ! Awesome! I linger a bit at the CP to drink a bit of water. ” The camp awaits you at 6 km away and the view is splendid, see you later!” Off we go again. I can’t wait to get back to camp & to see my tent buddies and to send news to all those who are supporting me.
On the latter portion of the day, the landscape is different again it is slightly mountainous on both sides. A little over an hour later, I cross the finish line of this 41km stage. I still have a lot to give, but I am holding back for the big 82 km stage when I will really need them. I remain cautious. The first dropouts from the competition remind me that I am never far aware from a potential injury. After this stage filled with sand dunes, my first blisters appear. I take care of them and hope that tomorrow everything will be ok
I get back to my tent with my 3 bottles of water and to my surprise I am the first one to be back. So I prepare the wood for the fire, I eat my dried bananas and I wait for my teammates.
Tuesday, 8th April : Stage 3 – OUED MOUNGARF / BA HALLOU – 37.5 KM
For today’s stage, I thought you might be interested to read the extract from the road book for this stage. I ran for a part of the route with the Zambeau brothers (2 tent buddies). The main difficulty was to recover from the difficult stage filled with large sand dunes on day one, the 41 miles from yesterday and prepare for the big non-stop stage tomorrow ! Anyway, I enjoyed the scenery whilst trying to enjoy the present. I arrived, my feet were cover in blisters, but happy to find Gilou back in the tent before everyone, he is gradually getting back on track.
Km 0 : Go S/SW (course 195°) on flat, slightly stony terrain.
Km 2,7 : Hilly, stony terrain.
Km 3,7 : Touh Ilh Jebel to the right. Go S/W (course 221°) until CP1.
Sandy passage then variably stony terrain.
Km 5,4 : Sandy terrain, sand mounds with camel grass then small dunes. Stay on course.
Km 7,7 : Enter dunes. Take course 221° until CP1.
Km 10,6 : CP1 at dune exit. Go W/SW (course 253°) to follow large dunes on the right-hand side. Sandy, rolling terrain.
Km 14,8 : Sand ends. Go West (course 264°) until km 17.1. Variably stony terrain.
Km 17,1 : Start of climb up Foum Al Opath Jebel (average slope: 12%). Rocky gorge.
Km 18,2 : Jebel summit. Go West (course 277°) until CP2. Sandy descent.
Km 20,4 : Enter dunes. Take direction 277°.
Km 23,5 : CP2 at dune exit. Go N/W (course 325°). Variably stony terrain.
Km 23,9 : Take direction 325° and cross dunes.
Km 26,9 : End of dunes. Go N/W (course 312°) until km 27.5. Stony terrain.
Km 27,5 : End of stony terrain. General direction North (course 356°) until CP3.
Follow marking to keep Rheris Oued on the left. Oued vegetation and dirt track.
Km 32,5 : CP3 at foot of a hillock. Stay on course (course 357°) until Ba Hallou ruins, leaving Rheris Oued
to the left.
Km 35,6 : Ba Hallou ruins. Same direction. Sandy terrain, small dunes and camel grass.
Km 37,5 : B3 finish line.
Wednesday, 9th April : The “BIG” Challenge
Wake up at 6am after a good nights sleep. Today, the program is a intense: it is the 82 km stage – the “BIG” stage of the MDS Challenge. A lot of participants hesitate to sign up to the Marathon des Sables because of this stage ! I ‘ve never run that far in one go, and given the extreme weather conditions to run two marathons one after the other – it is complete madness ! But here I am, absolutely no question of abandoning! My goal is to cross that finish line, flying the flag for the fight against Prostate Cancer. I cannot even consider disappointing my father and all of my supporters who are following & believe in me.
I am very motivated this morning, I have the will to win ! I didn’t really eat anything yesterday, or this morning even. I know it sounds crazy but I just can’t seem to eat anything. But all your touching messages of encouragement have given me strength & energy pushing me along for miles and miles through the desert with the objective of crossing that finish line.
Just before heading off the starting blocks, the camp official informed us that this morning we were going to danse to “HAPPY” on the starting line. What better way to start on such an important date, I’m thrilled. I feel that nothing can stop me. I feel physically & mentally strong & I start to realise that I am about to do (& hopefully achieve!) something HUGE (because for me it really is!). I am quite simply determined to push myself & exceed my limits during this ultra endurance stage of the MDS.
The organisers announce that due to high temperatures, the start will be brought forward half an hour. Since the start of this year’s MDS we advanced our clocks by 1 hour so instead of 1 hour difference with France we were 2 hours, & instead of the same time as the UK we had one hour less. we arrived the first day of one hour. So the starting time was fixed at 8:30 am for the majority of the competitors and for the top 50 runners, three hours.
Patrick Bauer presented to us the stage: 82 km, with 6 checkpoints, over a varied terrain (slopes, small dunes, wadis, gravel, earth … ). He warns us about running during night; we should fix our light sticks to our bag so that we remain visible from a distance by the organisation and the doctors. He also advises us that there will be a large laser beam lit at the checkpoint number 5; which will give us the course to follow during the night. After this stage, we have a day to recuperate, relax and regain our strength – the amount of time we have is obviously dependant upon the time we take to finish. Given how I feel coupled with my motivation, I expect and hope to arrive at the camp before midnight so as to make the most of the day off …. BUT we will see how it goes ! My strategy is to run in the morning when the heat is less important – but it also depends upon the terrain – then brisk walking from noon to 2/3 pm and then to start running again for the second part of the race …
To the sound of HAPPY, the start is given and off we go for 82km. My main concern for this stage is dehydration, I know that it is going to be difficult so no need to rush, we have to get through 82 km! At this pace (about 11 km / h ) and taking into account stopping to rehydrate and walking I should get back to camp around midnight, it’s just a matter of time !
The pack of 950 competitors still in the race is already spread out over hundreds of meters – each running at their own pace. The main motivation for a stage this long is to get through to the finish line. The terrain is rather nice, clay soil and relatively easy to run in. A headwind allows us to forget the already high temperature (37 ° C). After a few kilometers, small groups start to form. I am running in my stride with my headphones on listening to the sound of London Grammar, I feel an immense pleasure to run, it’s a certain euphoria. Approximately 1 hour after the start, we arrived at CP1 located at the 10th km. Controllers punch our allocation cards and give to each of us our bottle of water. Doctors are watching to make sure everything is in order. After a few minutes of downtime in the shade of the Berber tents we head off towards CP2.
The wind picks up, and as I raise my hear I can see the famous Jebel El Otfal – we climb a mountain with a 30% slope, where as I try and avoid the long queue – taking a different route from everyone else! – I encounter a beautiful black scorpion … I am in my zone and continue on remembering every now and again to take my salt tablets which prevent us from sweating & wasting fluids. I eat an energy bar and I only have one thing in mind – to run a max of miles before noon.
I arrive at CP2 then CP3 where they give us only one bottle of water, with the next CP 13km away. Everyone agreed that 1.5litres to get us through 13km of very sandy & rocky terrain was just not enough. Proof, I had no water left 3km away from CP4. So I decide to stop for 1 hour in the shade at CP4 to rehydrate & take some more salt tablets. Everyone else is eating, but I still can’t eat anything !!! I have done 43km, I have less than half of the distance left to go, I leave telling myself the sun is setting and it will get better from now on. The only issue is the sand, there is nothing but sand, but I guess this is what we all came looking for.
I arrive at CP5 following the green laser & with a beautiful sunset and I rest for a while. I had the shakes & I needed to recuperate. And I remember I have M&M’s in my bag – how happy I was to eat some chocolate! It is actually the only chocolate that does not melt in the desert! I drink, I take off my bag to give my back a rest and 3 hours later I hit the road again more determined than ever to sleep in my tent. My headlamp is not powerful enough and doesn’t really light up that much but I don’t care, I just keep going forward. I am alone, surrounded by my thoughts & my loved ones and I alternate between running and walking. I can see CP6 in the distance, I continue, it is cool but it is out of the question to refuse your allocated water supply or to stop taking the salt tablets and answering “yes” with a smile to the dr’s question as to if all is ok. I am fine and I take pleasure in running at night .
It is 1:15 am and I finally cross the finish line of this long stage. And in celebration, and as promised to my wife, the “Happy” danse in front of the webcam, especially as I knew my wife, my father in law, Sébastien and maybe some other friends would be in front their computers waiting for me to arrive. So I reassure everyone with this dance and with a smile to thank them all for believing in me – It’s thanks to all of you that I made it!
I take my 3 bottles of water and I head to the tent No. 10, and to my pleasant surprise Gilou is already there which is great news he took the bull by the horns. We chat a little and I told him that I wasn’t feeling so great but I preferred to get some sleep – tomorrow is another day. We were a little concerned for the others because the stage was very hard; Isa arrived 3 hours later suffering with a pain in her ankle – we suspected a fracture but she wouldn’t listen for her all matters if the finish line and nothing else …
Thursday, 10th April: Day of rest
As soon as I wake up I head over to the Doc Trotters medical tent. I am no longer able to treat all my blisters myself and I’m afraid of infection. It takes me literally 20min to walk 200m – unbelievable! I hardly slept last night as the constant stream of runners arriving back to camp during the night kept me a wake. I still haven’t managed to eat anything , it’s worrying!
I check up on other buddies from other tents & also with the “professionals” Rachid Elmorabity, Mohamed Ahansal, Abdelkader Elmouaziz & Aline, who are at the top of the ranking – they are really friendly & I can’t hide my admiration for them. They run at an average 12 km / hour throughout the marathon des sables, its just awe inspiring they are quite simply super men/women ! Then I go to the media tent to send an email to my wife to reassure her, my mother, family and entourage that I am ok.
After a nap, the camp official brings the mails for our tent. The majority of emails are for Isa the northerner ! But it’s more than enough with the few emails that I received – I feel more motivated. I take a nap and then try and force myself to eat but it’s hard…then I discover the joy of eating a Babybel in the desert! Denis arrives and sets the atmosphere in the tent, especially as Gilou spend half the night being sick and Isa in pain with her ankle. Denis our urologist, puts everyone in a good mood despite Gilou reminding him that the only time he is nice is when he sleeps lol ….. Mick gets back around 5pm, tired but happy and it make us happy to see that all five of us are still in the race…super..
The day passes quickly, despite the inactivity. Tomorrow is the marathon stage , Given my lack of food and my blisters I am really not looking forward to the marathon so around 7pm bed time. Tomorrow is sort of the last stage, so we try and motivate ourselves. ” Guys, another 42 km tomorrow and then it’s celebration time, we are almost there!”
Friday, April 11 : The harsh reality of the race
Wakeup as has become the norm on the camp. I have a temperature of 38,5, my feet are killing me and as a result of the bandages I can’t get my feet into my trainers, so I have to cut them! No matter what I will get through to the end of this marathon stage, in pain if necessary. The camp officials announce that today will be even hotter and advise us to not forget to drink regularly. We will leave at 7 am followed by the top 200 runners at 8.30 am. Some runners are suffering & limping heavily, there will surely be some more dropouts.
Patrick Bauer’s brief stresses the high temperatures that await us. I am impressed with how I feel after this recuperation day, it did me good. Despite my temperature, I feel fine, I have a few aches & pains in my legs, but it is mainly due to the lack of food. So here we go for this final Marathon stage, I push on saying to myself let’s get to the finish line especially as my wife will be there waiting for me.
My mental is recharged, I have only one thing in mind – the finish line – so I push on without thinking too much and after almost 1 hour 30 minutes I see the finish line and Sébastien and Nabil running towards me with the ARC Association flag to run the last metres by my side. I raise my arms to the sky thinking of my father, and tell him that I did this for him and thank him for everything … I see in the distance my wife filming my arrival, I blow her a big kiss and I thank her for putting up with my training and all the stress. I thank Nabil and Seb for having made the journey and I cross the finish line with my flag saying to myself I’ve made it! What a feeling!
Patrick Bauer is at the finish line to present us with our medal. Yes I got my medal and I am proud of it.
I stay a few minutes with my wife, Sébastien and Nabil, then a 4×4 comes to get me to take me to the medical tent where I stay from 5pm until midnight where they pumped me with antibiotics, painkillers and salt water, because when I arrived I had acute diarrhoea which completely dehydrated me. Which meant that I missed out on the awards ceremony for the winners, and the outdoor Opera recital.
I got back to my tent around 0:30, everyone thought I had been having a good time with my wife and friends, but seeing the survival cover on my shoulders they understood that it was anything but fun …
Saturday 12th April: The Charity Stage – Unicef:
An non-recorded but mandatory race. Olympic champion Hicham ElGerrouj world record man for the 1500 and 3000m is there to pay tribute to Mr Mohamed Mjid the father of Moroccan Tennis. Nabil and Sébastien run this step for Unicef.
It is tough, everyone struggles on through the pain to cross that final finish line.
Upon arrival the bus is waiting for us to return to Ouarzazate. The 2014 editions of the MDS is already over…
The most moving moments:
The moment I heard my wife’s voice at CP3 … indescribable …
The night of the long stage, I found myself alone, you reflect upon your life which unfolds before your eyes; we cry, we laugh, and grit our teeth in order to reach the final goal, the finish line. Thanks to love, our will and a strong mind, the human body can go be pushed really far despite the physical pain …
The most encouraging email
I received a few emails out of many more that never reached me, from many different people. Friendship, admiration, encouragement, love, sympathy … Thanks to all of you who wrote to me, you participated in the realisation of this challenge. I am really touched .
The most beautiful moment
In the big dunes of Merzouga (the highest dunes in Morocco, 300 meters high) during the first stage. Before this endless expanse of sand, I forgot that I had sand up to my ankles, 14 kg on my back and the overwhelming temperatures. A beautiful landscape. Physical exertion in such a setting, it’s really unusual and I loved it !
What would I do differently?
Nutrition: I really struggled with my food. I didn’t eat for 3 days. I would take more salty things as I seemed to have taken too many sweet things – following advise on the net. There were contestants that took japanese noodle meals, crisps broken up and compacted, babybel cheese! Things that you can chew it is so important!
Backpack: My bag weighed 10kg75 without water & almost 14kg with water. It was too heavy and I had a handicap from the start. The first day was a nightmare I just didn’t know how I was going to put my bag back on for stage 2! I would try and reduce my bag to 7 or 8 kgs without water. The choice is between comfort on the camp and comfort running.
Shoes: My trainers weren’t adapted to running in the desert.
First experience in the Marathon des Sables
It is a wonderful race without a doubt one of the finest in the world. With experience you can aim to be in the top 200 or even 150. I am closing the MDS chapter and this amazing experience engraved forever in my mind, and let’s focus on the next challenge ! !
I run at a good pace until CP2 – 2 hours 50 & 23km into the race, not bad. But from there on it is a slow descent to hell – my temperature rises, I start to have blurred vision, I feel dehydrated and lack energy, all I want is to get to CP3 but it just doesn’t seem to come. I regret not having forced my stomach to accept more food and to top it off I have lymph nodes in the groin & I can feel that my feet are infected. And then upon arrival at CP3, I hear out of nowhere “Loulou, Loulou”, and yes it’s my wife accompanied by Sebastien and Nabil, what a breath of fresh air, a natural energy boost, it was magical. I take her in my arms and I tell her that I don’t feel well. So I head into the medical and I ask for painkillers for my feet, a fellow competitor offers me an energy bar which I accept with pleasure. I stay & rest for around 2 hours, even in the shade it is really hot, but with my wife and my friends at my side it gives me strength … I drink, I freshen myself up and wet my hat, I give my wife a kiss and give them rdz-vous at the finish line 10km further on.
A big thank you to our official sponsor – Dar Ayniwen – without whom this adventure would not have been possible. Thank you !!
source : http://www.arc-association.com/blog/2014/4/27/my-mds-challenge-2014