Morocco Tizi n Trail 2018

Tizi means mountain pass in Morocco, but this event could easily be called ‘Sahib n Trail’ meaning friends & trails. Imagine a lovely long weekend away in the sun, running undiscovered and remote trails in a country full of culture and colour. Add to this the security and comfort of a fully supported event where you sleep in traditional Berber tents atop mattresses and kept warm with blankets, with showers and facilities at the ready with 3 meals a day provided. Yet you are away from the modern world connectivity where your entertainment is watching the sun rise and set, partake in some relaxing tai chi and making new friends.

Tizi n Trail has been holding 3 day events in Morocco since 2013. After attending Tizi n Trail in 2017 and having the most amazing experience I couldn’t resist returning in 2018 with some fellow trail runners. There was 7 in the group of us; Suzan my cousin from The Netherlands; Annabel a friend via twitter from Australia; Angie, Michaela and Grace all running related friends based in Edinburgh and Danielle a friend of Grace’s from Cheshire and myself. One of the great things about the Tizi n Trail organisation is that they change locations every year, so you can keep coming back year after year and experience a totally different part of Morocco. The 2018 edition was in Essaouria, a port city on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. Its medina (old town) is protected by 18th-century seafront ramparts even used in series ‘Game of Thrones’.

 

The official start line. (photo courtesy of Paul Vilcot)

Strong “Alizée” coastal winds have allowed this quaint seaside town to retain its traditional culture and character. For most of the year, the wind blows so hard here that relaxing on the beach is impossible meaning that most tourists bypass this hidden gem, although a renowned location for windsurfers from April to November, luckily for us this meant a tail wind to help us through the race!

Tail winds keeping us moving (photo courtesy of Paul Vilcot)

There were 140 starters and we all wandered to the main square in the port for the official start photos before we headed to the beach for the actual race start. Day 1 was 16 miles of  beach running with a few dunes towards the back half to really test us out. After a long UK winter it was enjoyable just to be running in the sun and soaking up the rays as we ran along the endless stretch of beach. The participants soon spread out as we found our own rhythm and pace; the race caters for all levels whether you are a first time multi stage runner, would prefer to walk or are a seasoned runner. Just over 2 hours of running and the finish line is in sight and Michaela, Angie and I cross over hand in hand after a fun day out. Lunch of sandwiches and fresh local fruit is provided and we head back to the beach to watch the rest of the runners come in for the day.

Having way too much fun! (photo courtesy of Paul Vilcot)

The camp is a bivouac nestled up in the dunes with tents set up to sleep 8 along with a communal dining area, shower and toilet facilities with the entertainment being of everyones stories of the day as the sunset before we tucked into a delicious, hearty dinner of spaghetti bolognese and salads with Berber tea (mint) before we all retired to our beds for a comfortable nights sleep.

Sunset in camp

Waking naturally to the sounds of the waves, everyone was ready for breakfast from 7am consisting of Moroccan pancakes and breads with a selection of jams and honey all washed down with tea/coffee and juice. After packing our stuff away & bags stored on the trucks; no self sufficiency here; the organisers transport your luggage from camp to camp, we were ready to face Day 2. 12 miles over amazing scenery with river beds and high coastal paths, technical and challenging with donkeys and camels as living obstacles along the way. We finished the day together again on a deserted beach, apart from our camp, absolutely idyllic and some of the runners and myself braved the Atlantic Ocean for a rather quick dip to soothe our tired muscles. It may be a warm 20 degrees celsius outside but the water was only about 18 degrees but it was perfect recovery for the next days final stage.

Magical spot for our camp (photo courtesy of Paul Vilcot)

Again the sunset captures our attention and we enjoy another evening chatting away with friends, new and old, before we enjoy a Moroccan feast of couscous, tagine and barbecued meats before settling back into our tents for another comfortable nights sleep. This event is such a lovely introduction to multi day running, with comfort and warm hospitality making the recovery of the body that much quicker and easier to manage than other self-sufficient races, its definitely more of a holiday than a gruelling adventure such as the likes of Marathon des Sables.

Tai chi on the beach (photo courtesy of Paul Vilcot)

The clocks go forward during the night but this matters to no-one as we awake and indulge in a tasty breakfast before congregating on the beach for our final start which will take us straight up a jebel (mountain) to begin wth before heading inland over rocky terrain and flower fields for 14 miles before a final stretch along the beach to the finish line.

Michaela leading the charge through the flower fields with Angie and Rachid

People like to challenge themselves with everyone running for different reasons and it is simply amazing to see people of all walks of life complete these events and whilst doing it learn something about themselves and become better people.

Happy bunch of finishers!

The final night consists of the awards ceremony and a banquet of delicious Moroccan food, and the bar is open! Additional celebrations ensued as one of our group; Suzan won the ‘Encouragement award’ and was called on stage to applause and had to give a small speech, richly deserved and fully appreciated by a runner that just absolutely loves to run.

Suzan receiving her award

We were all sad to leave the next day, the 3 day event had gone by all too quickly but what a fabulous experience was had by all with new friendships forged through the camaraderie between us all. We all promise to return for a reunion next year for Tizi n Trail 2019 which is going to see the event heading to the mountains, starting at Lake Takerkoust (only 30mins from Marrakech) before heading to Asni and finishing up at Oukaimeden where we will be in the shadow of Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in the Arab world. Perhaps we should tag a few days on to climb this mountain.

Sunset in Essaouira (photo courtesy of Suzan Haring)

If you are interested to join me next year please get in touch as I am the English speaking contact for the event and will help you in your planning and organisation and of course be there as well. It’s a life changing event and you won’t be disappointed. For further details on the event visit
http://www.go2events.fr/transmarocaine-tizi-n-trail/programme-tizi-ntrail-2019/

 

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Morocco Tizi n Trail

Something for everyone!

Run for fun, race for time, challenge yourself with a multi day event, or simply walk & explore the beautiful trails of a stunning and mystical country that is close to my heart, Morocco.

Morocco Tizi n Trail is a race each year consisting of 3 stages between 20 and 28km between sea, mountains, desert and canyons. This years race began from the picturesque lakeside location of Bin el Ouidane before heading into the trails and mountains surrounding the lake. Each day was completely varied from running through fire track trails, to hiking up small mountains and descending into gorges with the most beautiful blue rivers rushing through them, into local farms where running alongside donkeys or kids was just part of everyday life. Temperatures during the evening were cool and the days were delightfully warm and sunny, enough to guarantee a tan line that’s for sure.

Having way too much fun on the sunny trails!

If you’ve ever wanted to experience Morocco in a unique and active way then this is for you. Whether it’s your first multi day event, your first or hundredth trail running experience or you are an experienced Marathon Des Sables runner give Tizi n Trail a try. The race is fully supported so that means you only carry what you need for the day; a small rucksack with your essentials like water, food, phone (for the amazing photo opportunities!) and any safety essentials is all you need and the organisation transports your luggage. Arriving at the end of each day to magnificent camps set up with traditional bedouin tents that sleep up to 8 of you including mattress, pillows and blankets; delicious Moroccan food catered for 3 courses each day, along with fully operational showers and toilets. This is living!

Home for the night (Photo: Paul Vilcot)

The range of abilities of the participants ranges from those that are there to compete, to first timers and those like me who went for the winter sun escaping the UK tail end of winter and to challenge myself with some decent trails to run or even those who choose to walk each stage. You will make friends for life after spending 3 days together exploring the trails and then enjoying the conviviality of camp life, lounging around on sprawled cushions and dancing to traditional Berber music after enjoying the delights of the country such as couscous and tagines.

Dinner & music

2018 will open in the region of Essaouira and promises even more beauty and thrills. Essaouira is located on the coast line of Morocco, which you will recognise from the acclaimed series ‘Game of Thrones’. Essaouira is so unique with its mix of European, Arab and African elements with many of the scents shot on the Scala, the old Portuguese Fortifications.

Essaouira harbour

Check out my video of 2017 below and see for yourself how beautiful this event is. For only €680 which includes your 2 nights accommodation in a hotel before and after the race, accommodation during the race with all the catering along with transportation of yourself to and from the start/finish and your bag throughout the week, medical assistance and the finishing awards ceremony this price is too good to pass up. All you need to sort out is your airfares and getting to and from the airport.

If you are interested please get in touch with me at runningdutchie@hotmail.com or send me a message via twitter or instagram as I am proud to say I am the UK representative for this event and will be hosting you to assist with all arrangements from the UK and throughout the days in Morocco to ensure you have the best time without any hassle whatsoever.

I hope you will join me for 2018 from 22 to 26 March for the time of your life. Registrations open from Sunday 14th May 2017. Check out more details at the event home page here.

Running Hard – Going That Little Bit Further

Here’s a piece that I wrote for Run ABC for the June/August 2015 publication about getting into ultra running which might interest some of my readers.

I hadn’t heard of ultra running as I started my first ever marathon on the streets of my city of birth Amsterdam in 2010. As I was slowly churning the miles out, to take my mind off the task at hand I got chatting to a fellow runner who mentioned that he runs 100km races for fun. 30km into 42km this seemed impossible to contemplate, but a seed had been planted. Fast forward to 2013 and with only a handful of half and full marathons under my now decreasing belt size I was nervously toeing the line of the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series 33 mile race at Whitby/Ravenscar.

Finishing my 1st ultra!

Finishing my 1st ultra!

The event was a revelation, gone were the big crowds of the big city half/full marathons I had become accustomed to, replaced with a small group of about 40 runners who all just seemed to be there for a good chat (someone mentioned cake!) and to have fun running on the stunning coastal trails. Trail running allows you to access those special and spectacular natural landscapes that you would otherwise not have the opportunity to experience on foot. Your runs are an adventure every time you head out so why not go that little bit further and experience even more. Although I went out too quick on my first venture into ultra running and paid the price in the latter part, I finished! And enjoyed it!

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I’ve never been sporty or fit, so how does an average girl with no running experience come to running such distances, crazy distances as some of my friends call them? It’s all down to wanting to test yourself and pushing to find out if you have any actual limits. Remember that feeling after you’ve run your first 5km and you start wondering to yourself could you run further? Then you do! That 5km turns into 10km, half marathon and into a marathon. Your long run becomes your short run and you find yourself agreeing with others that ‘yes you are a runner’. With the size of the world decreasing through social media and the Internet we are surrounded by hearing other people’s inspiring stories of different challenges they have embarked on and ultra running is one that is accessible to everyone, so why not make your own fantastic story. You can choose to do some amazing races and events in the most untouched parts of the world but you would also be amazed at what is on all of our doorsteps to truly challenge us and your eyes might just be opened as to how beautiful your part of the world actually is when you explore it from the running aspect. Whether it’s a long training run on your own or with friends or an organised event the options are endless. It’s not just single stage events you can participate in, but why not make it a real adventure holiday and take on a multi day event.

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Keeping Motivated

The resounding factors that keep drawing me to run ultra distances is a mixture of the amazing and inspirational people I meet from all walks of life, the absolute stunning landscapes you are privileged to run through experiencing the magical feeling of being immersed in your surroundings and the sheer sense of achievement you get when you finish such a challenge.

Stunning landscapes make it worthwhile

Stunning landscapes make it worthwhile

What do I need to do?

That all sounds wonderful and even idyllic you may be thinking, but how do you train for such a distance? We all have day to day commitments of families, jobs and can’t spend all day training but if you plan smartly you don’t need to. Stepping up to your first ultra is similar to training for a marathon but may require a few additional tweaks.

Training should always be quality over quantity and designed to be specific to the type of event you will be running, if it’s a hilly route, incorporate some hill reps; if it’s a flat route you may focus more on some speed sessions for example. If you’re planning on running a 100 miles longer back to back runs will need to come into play. Don’t just train by running though look to incorporate some cross training or yoga to help strengthen your body and prevent injury.

Running through a muddy paddock trying to mimic sand training

Running through a muddy paddock trying to mimic sand training

Eating on the run becomes imperative, you might get away with running a half marathon without taking on any food but you will need something to get you through the longer distance. I like to practice on training runs by making them fun and stopping for tea & cake along the way. Or mix it up with your non-running friends by running to a pub to meet them for lunch and then run back!

Talk to people! There are so many fantastic people out there involved in the sport that are more than happy to chat things through with you to share ideas and help you along. Twitter is a great source of information, hook up with some of my favourite ultra runners to hear more.

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Learn to recover. These distances can take a lot out of your body and rest/recovery days are just as important as training and events. I love nothing better than getting a chocolate For Goodness Shake into me as soon as I’m finished, hot bath, slip into my stylish compression tights and enjoy a tasty and nutritious meal before getting a good night sleep. I always give it a couple of days before I treat myself to a sports massage and find this makes all the difference.

The main key is you need to try out and test everything from your individual training style and plans, clothing, kit, nutrition and recovery to find out what works best for you.

Final Tip

Have fun! Life is too short to be doing things you don’t enjoy so mix up your running, run with friends or use your run to explore and sightsee in a new place and take lots of photos to keep it light & fun.

Couch Endurance – MdS from afar

This time last year it was me out there running Marathon Des Sables (check out my story here) but this year it was up to hubby, Dion Leonard, to go and run the ‘Marathon of the Sands’ again whilst I sat back and watched, and watched and watched! There wasn’t a minute that went by that I wasn’t either thinking about MdS, talking about it to someone, tracking Dion and other runners I know on the live tracking system and ultimately glued to the webcam to watch them cross the line each stage. There wasn’t much work getting done all week with the webcam on constant refresh and I could feel the tingling of nerves everyday when the race would be starting.

Dion having way too much fun at MdS

Dion having way too much fun at MdS

Having been through MdS myself I could at least understand the all encompassing preparations that takeover everyday existence in the lead up to the race so I could lend an ear for more discussions on calorie per gram and whether the 20g of wine gums was too much to carry for a treat without getting to frustrated. I can appreciate for non running partners of other MdS runners this must be quite alien and frustrating to deal with. The house for the 2 weeks before Dion departed was strewn with kit, and food bags meticulously weighed and labelled, being check, double and triple checked. The preparations had started the year before though, as soon as we were back from MdS 2014, Dion was training for this race. His dedication and consistency was inspiring to watch, and seeing the hard work he put in through the cold winter months and the excruciating heat chamber sessions he went through in not only our homemade heat chamber but also the one at Edinburgh Napier University, I knew he meant business and results were bound to come.

And then he was gone, in a whirlwind of pre-race excitement, Dion was off to Morocco…..without me! It was the first time we have had separate ‘holidays’ and done a race separately so it was strange to see him go, and I have to be honest and say I was definitely feeling jealous and wishing I was going too. I had a good selection of plans to make sure I was kept busy whilst he was away, kick starting with a weekend in Holland visiting my family (and stocking up my Dutch cheese supplies of course), though I must have drove my Aunty and Uncle crazy making them watch a documentary on a Dutch presenter, TomTesterom, that did MdS in 2013. Combined with my regular updates of Dion would be having his last meal served to him now, waking up now putting his pack on, race starting etc it might have been a bit much for non runners to deal with. The night before the race started I couldn’t sleep myself, I was worrying about Dion in the tent, wondering how he was feeling, how my other friends were feeling and I felt as nervous as if it were me out there about to race the next day. I flew out of Holland whilst Stage 1 was underway but was back on the live tracker as soon as the plane hit the tarmac again in Edinburgh. The week was busy enough with work and my own training in between following the race constantly, but unwinded from all the excitement while Dion was running the last stage, the charity stage, by heading to The Lakes for my race recce for the 110km Ultimate Trails race I am doing in June, so 36 miles of brutal climbing certainly sorted me out!

Dion at the camp site before the race starts

Dion at the camp site before the race starts

It was certainly exciting following the stages, especially having a loved one in amongst it, made all the more real with the live tracking system introduced this year which meant you could literally follow any runner live and ensure you were then at the ready for their appearance over the finish line for the webcam. It is all encompassing though, my life revolved around the race even though I wasn’t there, and being Dion’s PR machine for the week I was busy keeping his twitter and my Facebook updated. But my obsession didn’t end there, I was following loads of friends out there running and couldn’t tear myself away from the webcam until I knew they were safely across the line. The most moving of all was seeing friend, and last years tent mate Cheryl finishing the MdS as the last runner (she didn’t finish last year so this was even more poignant).

For the long stage I arranged a night out with a friend I had made at last years MdS, Helen, and we pitched up a table at our local Italian, Taste of Italy set ourselves up complete with the laptop on the table, food taking 2nd place to webcam viewing. We were excited, the other diners must have been wondering what on earth we were watching as we shrieked and clapped as people crossed the line. Even after Dion had come over we were still glued to the screen ‘look there’s another one’ ‘who’s that?’. It was an exciting evening of viewing. The next day, which was rest day for those like Dion that had already finished the long stage, however some of my friends were still out there so I didn’t get a rest day, the excitement continued, I even missed my running club that evening as I had to stay and watch Genis & Tanya Pieterse our South African friends finish.

Can you spot Dion in the front line ready to take the lead on the long stage?

Can you spot Dion in the front line ready to take the lead on the long stage?

Dion had a fantastic race which made it all the more exciting as well to see how he was placing, he had gone back with high goals which he well and truly smashed! Stage 1 he finished in 79th, stage 2 in 48th, stage 3 49th (putting him into 63rd overall) and then an amazing stage 4 which was the longest stage in the history of MdS with 91.7km crossing the line 3rd in 11hr 29min although in 23rd for the stage (the top 50 runners start 3hrs later) which put him in 32nd for the overall rankings. At one point he was leading the race! I was so excited for him, at that stage I was jumping out of my chair at work and couldn’t sit still, I had Marina on Whatsapp constantly and Princess Peter on Facebook messenger non stop as we were both glued minute by minute to the race. Stage 5 he finished in 57th but kept his placing overall at 32nd. An absolutely stellar result!

Dion's overall results

Dion’s overall results

It was hard going watching and not being there it actually physically hurt so bad that I wasn’t there amongst it, so hard I had registered and paid my deposit for MdS 2016 before Dion had even got back! (And in all the excitement building up I also convinced Marina to sign up as well #TeamLuRi for MdS 2016). The beauty of Dion having done so well means I now have a live in personal trainer to get me ready for next year! Next stop for me however is Transvulcania in 3 weeks on 9th May, 73.3km with 8,500m of ascent on the beautiful island of La Palma.

A minute with Dion Leonard:

What was the highlight/best bit of your week running the MdS?

Impossible to highlight one but the whole experience from start to finish is second to none, the morning start line blast of “Highway to Hell” gets you pumped up no matter how tired you are, sharing time with some amazing people, running in a brutal but beautiful country, seeing your tent mates coming in every day and what they’ve gone through & their own achievements and of course finishing 32nd for myself.

Tent 169

Tent 169

What advice would you give a runner looking to compete at MdS themselves?

Train hard, be organised and confident with the kit you take, get there and enjoy the race and results will follow. Don’t be overcome by all the hype!

What, if anything, would you change in your kit/food that you took?

I try and take 4/4.5kg of food and make up the other 1.5kg with minimal kit, at times on a rocky campsite a mattress would have been nice.

Are you going to go back?

Other desert races to run in 2016 but I’d like to go back in 2017 and see if I could finish in the top 20.

What’s next for you?

West Highland Way in June which is a 95 mile race in Scotland, North Face Cappadocia 110km in October in Turkey and a bit undecided for 2016 except a definite will be Atacama and Mohican 100 miles in the States.

Dion's finishers card from me

Dion’s finishers card from me