Ultra X Morocco 110 Race Review
We’re a few days out from my next race Ultra Morocco 110 & the pre flight weather forecast states there’s a storm brewing. 50+ mph winds on the day of our flight.
Di periodically checks the weather each day & it doesn’t look like changing. Always checking every detail, she Google’s ‘can planes take off in 50 mile winds’ & also reaches out to ask our ex flight stewardess friends 😁
I always play it down “We’ll be fine. Don’t worry”, but in the back of my mind I’m a little concerned. However, I can’t change it.
The morning of the flight, the usual process begins as normal. Check in no problem, Through security, my bag didn’t get searched for a change. I’ve learnt over time not to take energy gels in your hand luggage & definitely NEVER fill a 500ml bottle with white energy powder. It takes some explaining to the uneducated Security officer, when it flags up on the scan.
Checking the Flight board, it stated ‘ On time’. We celebrated with a flat white & Bircher muesli & then made our way to Gate 107, when it ‘pinged’ up on the board.
As we approached the gate, we realised people were walking back in the opposite direction. We were then told to return to the main Departure Lounge & await further instructions 😩
As the winds were in for the day, we found a couple of seats & expected to be there for a few hours. However, in the best interests of keeping you (the lovely reader) awake, I’ll fast forward only 2hrs & we were on the runway waiting to take off. Happy days!
Di had volunteered to help in the race, so I was lucky enough to jump in one of the cars when all the crew went out to recce locations, the day before the race.
Ultra X 110 Morocco is a two stage ultra marathon that takes place in and around the city of Ouarzazate (Pronounced – Wuh-zuh-zet).
Nicknamed the door of the desert, Ouarzazate is positioned in south-central Morocco, south of the High Atlas Mountains. This course takes you on a journey, past Kasbahs, through traditional fortified villages, lush oasises and over rocky desert.
Day 1. I’ve never done a multi day race, so I was unsure how I’d feel going into Day 2.
I knew I’d need to keep a little in reserve & not go ‘all in’ on Day 1.
Minutes before the start everyone is buzzing & corralled into the starting area. I sit to the side, next to the old town wall & watch. No point standing any longer than needed & it’s a great time just to relax before the start.
“There’s only 2 minutes until the start” Di informs me.
I smile & reply, “There’s no rush hun”
The race starts & runs through the narrow, cobbled streets of the old town. A recent victim of an earthquake & signs can be seen on some of the buildings.
I rarely start at the front & prefer to ease myself into the race. Let everyone's excitement & adrenaline settle down & most inevitably start to slide back.
The weather was around a nice 18 degrees at the start & from checking the forecast, it wasn’t to rise higher than about 25, before id hopefully be finished. (Always prepare for the worst! More on that later)
As I’d not ran a 2 day event & not overly checking the terrain (I like a surprise 🤔😁)
I estimated 6hrs for the 60k. That was hopefully keeping a little energy in reserve for Day 2.
The 4 Checkpoints (CP’s) were roughly 10 or 12k’s apart, but only stocked with water.
So, everyone had to make sure they had enough food / calories with them & also (most importantly) enough electrolytes / salt (Are you ahead of me yet ☀️🥵)
The first few miles were going to plan, slowly moving up the field & not having to use much energy to do it. In & out of CP1 & I was in the top 10, not that that mattered at all at this stage.
There were I believe 3 runners ahead of us (they would stay there for the rest of the day) I was running with two others in the group behind. Then Daysey did what is becoming a little too frequent… & went off course. Nothing to do with bad course marking (painted blue stones roughly every 100m) We just missed one!
That can always be a risk when you’re running with others because you often start chatting & switch off a little. Luckily one of the lads called Oscar from Spain had the course on his GPS watch & noticed. We retraced our steps & worked out where we should have gone & rejoined the course, with about 15 more runners now infront of us. (We had also added about a mile extra 🙄)
In & out of CP2 & we picked most off again on the undulating trails leading to it. I was hit with a nice surprise here, as Di & her Crew team had managed to drive to see us. It’s always great to see her on the course & always gives me a lift. A brief conversation in passing about me getting lost for a change & Di rolling her eyes & I was off again.
The route then passed over a shallow river, & after a short while turning left & along the river bank. I had left CP2 a little ahead of Oscar & was running on my own for a good few miles, as the course took us over a lot of lumpy stuff & was technical under foot, which I quite like.
The temperature was also getting hotter. (Touching 30 degrees ☀️🥵🔥)
I’m not sure how the next few miles played out? It may have been before or after CP3, but Oscar caught back up to me & we were also running with another chap (whose name escapes me) who was running with poles. They were a very good idea on the current terrain (but not for the majority of the event, in my opinion) We yo-yo’d between the three of us for a few miles before ‘pole man’ dropped back & out of sight & Oscar started to pull away from me.
I was finding it tough at this time. It was now apparently into the 30’s, with nowhere to hide. I’d felt like I was drinking enough (between 2-3 500ml bottles between CP’s) & taking on enough electrolytes, but I’d left my salt tablets….. at home!! 🙄😩
I ran up the steady incline to CP4 & as I stepped off the course to go to the tent to refill my bottles, my left adductor (inner thigh) severely cramped.
The CP crew helped fill my 3 bottles, but my electrolyte tablet tube had gotten wet & all the tablets had stuck together & I couldn’t get them out 🙄. 3 bottles of plain water it is then I thought.
I briefly sat down, as the thigh spasmed painfully again, Paul (CP crew) kindly offered to give it a quick rub as I sat there. I was mindful of time & think I told him, I’d best get going, within a minute.
Now for the last very hot 12k. (Mid 30’s) The legs were hurting from the cramp & although this part of the course was an undulating hard packed trail, I was struggling to run the inclines. I was feeling drained but then I’m sure everyone else was too, we just have to roll with the punches.
I fell a couple of times at some point cutting my hand & smashing my knee, but all superficial. I do remember laying on the dirt track for a few seconds, staring skywards & telling myself to ‘sort my s@#t out’😆
Now I rarely look behind, as the race is infront of you, but I was really feeling it & did look back to see if I was being closed down.
I could see a runner in dark clothing ahead of me & knew it wasn’t Oscar, as he was wearing red. This gave me a focus & I was pleased to pull him back & pass him.
Into the last couple of miles, & as the course turned into fields through sugar canes or bamboo? 😁 Like a mirage, I saw Oscar & another runner just ahead. Clearly everyone was suffering today. I overtook them both & ran the last mile in with Oscar, who explained he was suffering with severe cramps too. We turned the last corner & I crossed the line in 4th.
Shortly after the finish I went for a wee & it was dark brown. I had a quick shower & went for a leg rub. I sat on the couch & had the most horrendous painful cramp in my right thigh that I have ever had. It looked like a scene from the film Alien, as my muscle appeared to attempt to break out of my leg. I pulled up my big boy pants & man’d it out, but inside I wanted my mom 😆
They must have asked me if I’d been for a wee because I then had the medic explaining that severe dehydration can cause a build up of wastes & acids in the body, & it can clog the kidneys with muscle proteins…. Which isn’t good!
My massage finished with me again crying like a baby on the inside, when my right hamstring joined the muscle cramp party & nearly lifted me off the couch.
I felt ok in myself but the next few hours passed with me continuously drinking & periodly taking pictures of my wee to show the medic.
I continued to fuel, set up base & get my kit ready for Day 2. I say I, but as always it’s a team effort with Di. She’s the one that 99% problem solves for me during races. All I have to do is run. As I’d been using up my electrolyte stash to get myself hydrated again, it meant I now didn’t have enough for tomorrow's stage.
Off went Di & shortly returned with sachets of electrolytes & 2 tubes of salt tablets.
I was also craving salt (funnily enough) on everything I ate & Di sourced a salt shaker too. She’s golden! ❤️
Around 7pm I was given the go ahead & allowed to race Day 2 from the Medic (not that I ever doubted it) as my wee was a good enough colour, but it was good to hear!!
The night was spent in open tents, under the stars. Moroccan music, blazing open fires, large rugs & cushions. Chillaxin to the max!!
Refuelled on cold veg & chickpea Biriyani & mushroom & Potatoe frittata & a slab of chocolate cake, straight out the packet. Deeeeeelish! 👌
I didn’t know what to expect from Day 2, as this was my first multi day event. I had no idea how my legs would feel in the morning.
Plan A: Podium
Plan B: Stay in top 10
Plan C: Finish the race
Plan D: Start the run in the morning.
Day 2 - 0530hrs the alarm goes off. Di had to be up, packed & ready to help volunteer by 0600hrs. I’ve woke up in a lot worse settings, but that’s a whole new topic / book….. best not to go there 😆
We both got up & began packing stuff away & I had by oats, banana & sultanas for breakie. Kit on. I was just going to wear my dry crusty socks from yesterday but Di insisted I wear a new pair, so I did as I was told. I always lube my toes & balls of my feet & ‘touch wood’ I have NEVER suffered with hot spots or blisters, so far! I also apply Sudacrem around my Crown Jewels to prevent chaffing (too much information?🤔) This is something I’ve continued from my cycle racing days.
I tested the legs with a little jog across the campsite & apart from being sore from the cramps, they felt surprisingly good. A quick very kind leg rub from Di & Flo & I was ready to rock.
The stage started & turned immediately right. Within 50m I stumbled & fell, re cutting the palm of my left hand, where I’d fell yesterday. It was sore but no damage. I had a word with myself to focus & continued on.
The miles started to tick off at what appeared a nice leisurely pace (8.45 - 9.00 min miles) There was a group of about 8 of us, Robin (who I later found out had come 3rd on Day 1) had set off on his own & out of site. I knew Nourddine & Sam who were 1st & 2nd on Day 1 were in our group. I was also aware that they were over 30 mins quicker than me from Day 1. However I didn’t find out who Robin was, who was 12 mins ahead of me. In retrospect I’m glad I didn’t. I say I always run my own race, but I think if I’d realised I would have gone with him or tried to chase him down earlier, & probably just burnt my own matches.
I did notice after around 12k, that Sam started slipping back & lost contact with our group. I had earlier joked with him that he could stop for a coffee & still beat me, with his 30+ min lead. He did smile but I later found out that he was actually having a bad day & suffering already.
The miles continued to pass. 10… 12… still the pace was steady. I remarked that it was like a nice ‘club run’, but slowly the group got smaller.
I think it was just at CP2 that Nourddine set off quicker & pulled away, out of site.
I was running with Oscar (5th place) Ash(leigh) who was first female on Day 1 & informed me that she had never ran a marathon before!! This girl had imposter syndrome, stating she didn’t think she should be in this group. She was running very comfortably & will be one to watch, if she continues in this sport (you heard it here first!)
There were two other male runners, but I’m old & forget names. They stayed for a while longer but then both slipped back.
The 3 of us ran together for most of the second half of the stage. The course was very kind to us today. It was mostly flat & very good under foot.
I remember seeing Robins blue top out in the distance & without stepping on the gas, I realised that he was very slowly coming back to us. It appeared that he was paying for setting out too quickly (he would later tell me that he had been suffering from mile 12)
I had began to push on just a little & created a small gap between myself & Ash & Oscar, but as we approached CP4, I saw that I wasn’t increasing the gap, so eased a touch & we regrouped.
Robin was now with us shortly after CP4 & looking tired, but I’ve played the game before & didn’t know if he was bluffing.
What I do remember is my watch bleeped & I said “3 miles to go”. At this point we were running up an incline & suddenly Robin shot off like Linford Christie (on the ‘B’ of the bang!) As though he’d been shot out of a canon 😆
I thought ‘he’s had me like a kipper here’, but not long after it levelled out we pulled him back in. I never asked what his thought process was there. I guess I’ll never know.
Then the course suddenly turned hard right, off the hard trail & onto a lot more rocky terrain. Ash & Oscar were a few meters behind us.
“Can you see the blue stones?” We looked around. “Over there” Robin pointed ahead to the right. It was very rocky underfoot.
“It looks like it’s heading straight along” I looked ahead & could see a rather steep mountain / hill ahead. “I think it’s taking us up there” Robin said. He thought right!
With 2 miles to go, the organiser clearly had a sense of humour & put this ‘sting in the tail’ (I later found out that the plan had been to go around this lump, but that measured the course at 49k, so they decided to take us over it to make up the distance)
This was steep & not runable. It was also a little slippy underfoot with loose stones.
I do like this stuff though & although it was burning my glutes / quads & hard work I slightly enjoyed it 🤔 …… No. actually it wasn’t great, BUT the panoramic view from the top was stunning! 👌
It was then a very technical decent but mostly runable & I opened up a gap. However, I got to a point & I couldn’t see a blue marker. There was another very short peak or left or right, around it. I chose left…. & I was wrong. As I came back around Robin was there & realised it was up & over again.
We’d put a decent gap between us & Ash & Oscar. At the bottom Robin said “How’d you want to play out the finish. I know when someone asks you that, they are struggling & not wanting a sprint finish.
I felt ok. Obviously I could feel it in the legs & I was hot, but I had another gear if needed. However, what was I actually going to gain, apart from the obvious 1 position infront of him. He was 12 mins in front of me in 3rd place, I could maybe get 30 secs at the very best. No prize on the day for 1,2 or 3. I had seen that Robin had turned himself inside out today & respected that.
Might sound corny but it’s not always about the result. It’s the journey.
We agreed to finish together. An awesome finish line in the Atlas studios. We turned the last corner & broke the finish line ribbon.
We had finished joint 1st! Nourddine had taken a wrong turn, eventually coming in 5 mins after us.
Sam had indeed been struggling but battled through. I made up 30 mins, but he admitted he beast’ himself in the last few kilometres & to get in as quickly as ge could. He kept himself on the podium in those closing K’s.
I finished 4th - 90secs behind.
Loved this event & will definitely do another multi stage race.
Thanks to UltraX for putting on the event. I got to see some amazing parts of Morocco.
Thanks as always to my wife Di, for supporting me on these adventures. Love you! Thanks to my friend & coach Nathan Flear for understanding me & knowing how / when to push me.
I have to thank my sponsors DropClothingUK & Gallant Airconditioning. I’m blessed & grateful to have your support. I’m fully aware that I’m one of the lucky ones & wouldn’t get these amazing opportunities without you both. 🙏