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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Muddy Monkeys

Looking for something that will challenge you but at the same time fun? Involving loads of glorious mud and even more laughter? Then Total Warrior is for you!

Clean monkeys before the start

Clean monkeys before the start (Photo: David Hickey)

When Dave Gaffney from Total Warrior first approached me with the idea to join in the action, I was a bit sceptical. Yes I’ve done obstacle type events previously but this was before I took my running more seriously so I’ve shied away from them preferring to focus more on ‘proper’ running events. You know what they say ‘A change is as good as a holiday’ and true it was, I tried it and then went away on holiday too! In all seriousness though it was a refreshing and fun change to be running around with a group of like minded friends, drenched, muddied, exhausted with my sides hurting from laughing so hard. Don’t let the mud put you off…..even I’m known for being a bit of a Princess and not getting myself muddy, but take off those shackles and jump straight in, literally!

Jump straight in!

Jump straight in! (Photo: David Hickey)

My Total Warrior event was Edinburgh, and this was held out at the Balgone Estate in North Berwick a 45 minute drive from the city centre on the 12th September. Registration is really slick, alphabetical lines where you get your number, drop bag, head and wrist band and your tattoo, yes your tattoo! Preferably adhered to your face of course before you start the event naturally! A great set up at race HQ with plenty of stands to buy a coffee, bacon roll or even a beer.

Crawling under barbed wire sporting my Total Warrior tattoo nicely!

Crawling under barbed wire sporting my Total Warrior tattoo nicely! (Photo: David Hickey)

The obstacles start before you even cross the start line with a tunnel entrance to crawl through to get you warmed up. Then you’re off, 12km of terrain to cover but don’t let that worry you as there are over 30 obstacles to get through so even if you’re not really into your running, there’s plenty of opportunity to catch your breath in between whilst you hang on to ropes, jump over burning fires, plunge into swampy icy waters, climb walls and slip and slide your way through muddy bogs to highlight a few.

Did someone yell 'FIRE'!

Did someone yell ‘FIRE’! (Photo: David Hickey)

I was in a team with my local Crossfit crew, 5 of us in total (Shona Currie, Sandra Dailidyte, Scott Currie, David McLaren & I).   Crossfit Monkeys was our name and we had a monkey call that we used continuously throughout the course to keep track of where we all were, much to the amusement of fellow competitors. Our rule was that we stuck together throughout leaving no one behind and we truly needed each other throughout.

Midway mud photo

Midway mud photo (Photo: David Hickey)

You find that in your team everyone has a different strength to draw on to help each other through; I certainly wouldn’t have made it over any of the walls without our buff men lifting me over! Note you can skip any obstacle that you are not comfortable with; I skipped the electrocution as I can’t do that again after Tough Mudder (it was horrible!) but the rest of the team did it and said it wasn’t that bad.

I did get over this last one myself after a LOT of attempts

I did get over this last one myself after a LOT of attempts (Photo: David Hickey)

So what are my Top 10 tips for an obstacle course?

  1. Wear old clothes. They are going to get pretty trashed and I prefer to have my legs and arms covered to save any grazing and scratches that can happen through the obstacles so I stick to tights and long sleeves to keep myself fully covered.
  2. Wear even older shoes and then bin them at the end!
  3. Any clothes you do decide to keep make sure you give them a really good rinse out before they go in the washing machine as there is a LOT of mud.
  4. Go naked! By that I mean leave the jewellery at home – rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings etc ditch them at home to save getting them caught on anything or worse losing them altogether. Trust me you won’t find it in the swamp!
  5. Take a bag full of dry clothes for afterwards, including a towel and some wet wipes and a plastic bag for any wet & muddy kit you are taking home. Some of the courses have cold showers/hoses at the end but there were none at Balgone Estate, but a quick wet wipe and towel dry and into some dry clothes works a treat.
  6. Make sure you’ve got someone strong in your team to help you over those walls, or a couple if you can, but if you can’t don’t worry there’s always a few toughies out there on the course more than willing to help those with less upper body strength over a wall.
  7. Speaking of which, do some upper body training – Crossfit Edinburgh put on some bespoke obstacle course training sessions leading up to the event to get people comfortable with tackling monkey bars and ropes etc but any general strength training will definitely help.
  8. Eat beforehand. Even though it might only be 12k, you can’t whiz around the course in a super quick time and using all your muscles takes a lot of energy so make sure you are fully hydrated and fuelled, we had a gel each along the way to keep our energy levels up too.
  9. Plan for afterwards. Chances are you will be pretty knackered and possibly rather cold, so a nice hot bath as soon as you get home with a steaming cup of hot tea to bring your body temperature back to normal and a chance to let your muscles relax. Wrap yourself in compression and get on the couch with your feet up.
  10. Have fun! Don’t take yourself or your team too seriously and laugh your way around the course to the finish line beer and you’ll be telling stories for a long time to come.
Monkeys that start together finish together

Monkeys that start together finish together (Photo: David Hickey)

Here is your chance to win a free entry to any Total Warrior event for next year. What do you need to do? Check out the photo below and comment either on my blog, facebook post or twitter post with your most creative caption and I’ll be choosing a winner. Entries close Friday 16th October so hurry!

Caption Contest - GO!

Caption Contest – GO!

(Photo: My Bib Number)

Edinburgh Total Warrior is already on the calendar for 10th & 11th September 2016 and early bird entries are already open so don’t miss out on the fun!

NB: I was gifted this race entry through Total Warrior, thank you for the opportunity.

Special thanks to My Bib Number Ltd for the fantastic Total Warrior tagged photos, and David Hickey for the great spectator photos too.

Gun show!

Gun show!

 

Endurance Life – Coastal Trail Series – Northumberland Ultra 35.7 miles

My first DNF

After training hard the week before with 123 miles ran I was feeling pretty invincible to say the least. Well I was in my head in any case but my legs seem to tell a different story which was to play out later in the week.  I had felt OK but knowing I needed a rest I took Monday off as  a full rest day, headed out for an easy 5 miles on Tuesday, easy 10 on Wednesday, and an even easier 2.5 (yes you heard right, 2.5!  It was my first workplace jog club so I took it easy on them!) on Thursday.  Friday was also a rest day, though I did go to Bikram yoga on Friday night to try and ease out any aches and pains.

Saturday was race day of 35.7 miles-We had to travel from Edinburgh about 2 hours to Bamburgh Castle for the Endurance Life, Coastal Trail Series Ultra, so the alarm was set for 4:40am, out the door for 5am.  Coffee in hand, tasty pastries for a pre-breakfast treat, then at 6am we fuelled up with a ProBar for proper race fuel. Registration and parking were easy as is usual with Endurance Life events, it is all pretty low key to get started.  This start was a bit different and we all got bussed out to the start at 7:20 to make it for an 8:30am ultra marathon start.  It was cold, frost on the ground, but dry & still, so ideal running conditions.

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Bamburgh Castle at first light

After the usual pre race briefing and a relatively quite joint countdown start, all 74 of us set off on our way.  I wanted to try and lead out the ladies from the start and in hindsight I may have gone out too quick. After the first 3 miles I was the first female, running at about 8:15min/miles; silly girl, much too quick for me in an ultra.  As 2 ladies passed me I settled into a more steady 9min/mile routine.  I was soon joined by another lady, of whom I ran with for about the first 15 miles, swapping places along the way through checkpoints and toilet stops en route.

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Dion and I at the frosty start

I had mistakenly thought the race would be easy.  When is 35 miles every easy one would ask?  The race map showed it would be fairly flat the entire way with some downhill, perfect.  Not so.  It certainly didn’t feel flat, and with quite a lot of sand running on the beach it was pretty draining on some pretty tired legs. This was however great prep for MDS in April.

I also wanted to  eat better than on previous runs and I managed to by munching on nuts (100g mixed macadamia, almonds and brazil nuts) regularly and take on small snacks every 5 miles.  I had a Clif energy gel at mile 5 (I don’t normally have gels but thought I would try and eat some different snacks to what I am taking to MdS), pepperami stick at mile 10, tried to eat a mule bar at mile 15 (these just don’t agree with me, note to oneself-no more mule bars), and started on some thai sweet chilli sensations nut at mile 20. Unfortunately from then it was just munching on nuts as I had lost the will to eat which is continuing to be a problem I’m looking to solve.  

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Views along the way

 

Got a great lift from the half marathoners who were milling about somewhere around mile 13/14 into the race awaiting their own race start which was great, but by mile 21 I was fading fast.  It wasn’t long after then, that the first of the half marathoners started to pass me on their fresh legs, but it wasn’t enough to motivate me to a faster run, my legs were just empty.  It was here that I saw the 10k racers getting ready as well to start their race and another couple of miles in some of these started to pass me as well. 

By mile 25 the dreaded little voice inside my head wanted me to pull out so for the next 2 slow mile I was seriously contemplating  pulling out at mile 27, where the race actually takes you past the finish line to go on to do another 9 miles.  It is quite cruel and easy to quit knowing your car/warm clothes are close by, and all the Endurance Life events have the same race route, where the Ultra runners have to go past the finish to do the extra loop to bring them to the Ultra total mileage.  This I guess is the mental challenge part of running an ultra.  I just didn’t have it in me to keep going for some reason and I took the ‘easy’ option of finishing at 27 miles.  In the back of my mind I had thought that hubby may have pulled out here as well also due to the big mileage he did the week before. It probably would have taken me another 2-2.5hrs to finish the last 9 miles, so I didn’t want to leave him sitting them endlessly waiting (another excuse).  He hadn’t pulled out however as I found out after I climbed the gruelling hill to the top of Bamburgh Castle.  I was absolutely shattered when I finished and pretty disappointed with myself for not following through and finishing, but too late now, I had made my decision.  I told one of the marshals I had pulled out, as I could only manage the 27 miles that day not the 35, she was quite incredulous to say ‘only 27 miles’ as well as the runner behind me who was dead on his feet after doing the half marathon distance!  It’s all relative I guess.

I tried to keep myself warm as I waited for hubby to cross the line, and about 45 minutes later he appeared.  In a complete state, he was completely spent, so much so he completely collapsed in a heap when he crossed the line with nothing more to give.  Food smeared all over his face from trying to eat along the way, he was close to tears and huddled in a ball for about 15 minutes until he was functional enough to walk back to the car.  For once it was me waiting for him (albeit I had run 9 miles less!) so it was my opportunity to look after him for a change and get him warmed up in the car and begin rehydrating with our first choice for recovery, For Goodness Shakes,  and some food sorted out.  I was super proud of him for finishing in 9th place especially since he had actually ran 140 miles the week before himself.  My very own Superman!

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Dion making it in to the finish! 

A rest day ensued on Sunday and Monday to get some time off the feet.  It is now only 3 weeks, 6 days and 22 hours until the start line of the Marathon Des Sables.  All the hard work is done, the time left is to keep things in check, diet & exercise, and get my head totally right and focussed for the week.  My aim is to make it into the top 100, which is a massive goal, a scary goal, but imagine how great I will feel if I can accomplish that!  My secondary goal is to be in the top 25 of all the females, and would also like to be the first Australian female home as I am competing as an Australian as this meant I could go this year and not join the UK waitlist!