Dust, disappearing medals and running in Morocco

January 16, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

triathleteGuinevere in AgadirThe author, Guinevere McWhorter, prepares for a triathlon in Agadir.
A lot of runners plan their race calendars months or years in advance. Kicking off the year 2020 is hopefully inspiring many of you to try some new things, or rediscover your love for races you’ve done year after year. You’d be hard pressed to find a “bad” race, but what about trying a race completely different? We’d like to offer you a glimpse one race in a completely different countries - from the perspective of an American.

Let me (Abby) introduce you to my twin sister. Guinevere spent 10 years in Morocco and in that time competed in several endurance races. Our runner friends should enjoy this story. It’s unlike probably any other Western race experience you’ve ever had. Chances are you haven’t had to hop a fence to snag your medal. Enjoy! 

 

By Guinevere McWhorter


I don’t exactly know what to expect as the crowd bunches up closer and closer to the starting line of the 15km de Bouskoura in Casablanca, Morocco. Will we start on time? Should I find somewhere to pop a squat before we start? Will there in fact be water at kilometer 8? 

I turn to my friend and say, “Maybe I should have done the 10km instead of the 15km!” All of these questions and concerns crowd my mind  as I line up for the race. We hurry up and wait as the start time comes and then goes. The crowd is eager to move. One thing I love about Moroccans is that despite the late start, there is always time to dance to the music, make new friends, and not worry about whether or not the race starts on time. We mingle, and finally the pack of 10,000 strong lurches to the course. 

The 15km de Bouskoura launched in 2011. Bouskoura, a suburb of Casablanca is famous for its oak forest. On any given weekend, crowds of picnickers, bikers, joggers, and horseback riders descend on the forest and its leafy shade. Besides the Atlantic beaches, the Bouskoura forest offers one of the few natural spots anywhere around Casablanca, a city of more than 6 million people. 

The winding route of the Bouskoura takes runners along the villa-lined golf course and then onto the dirt roads of the forest. Immediately off the pavement the dust and tempo kick up a notch. 

I belong nowhere near the front half of the pack of an amateur race, in any country. But here in Morocco where the athletics and leisure sports scenes have decades of catch up to play, especially among women, my plodding feet pass many. The vanity in me was mildly satisfied to leave so many men and women eating my actual dust. But in years to come, I hope the opposite is true. 

I wonder about the future of this country. Some are running in traditional Moroccan headscarves. Others in shorts and tanks. Clean-shaven and bearded men. Young and old, fast and slow. I love the diversity. On any other sidewalk, these sites would be a bit less usual. One thing was usual. The sheep strewn here and there, puzzled shepherds and sheep gazing at the stream of runners. The run would not be in Morocco if we did not pass grazing or dumpster diving animals. 

The running scene is growing all across Morocco. Casablanca’s ocean “corniche” fills with joggers, walkers, runners, and everyone else on the weekends. The tumbling Atlantic waves provide a nice backdrop to a city that offers little other scenery to admire. Inevitably some of these joggers are wearing their 15km de Bouskoura T-shirt. “You did Bouskoura, too?” “I was there in 2015 and 2016!” 


A few spectators line the course as we start to turn back toward the finish line. "Bravos les filles! Allez!" Translation: “Go, girls! Come on!” The crowds are always encouraging, especially as my legs are tiring.

My fears start to coalesce somewhere around kilometer 13. I have to go to the bathroom, and the water stations were not frequent enough to fight the dust kicked up by 20,000 sneakers. A little rain on this course would knock down the dust, but too much would mean mud paddies. I dash into the forest to water a tree, hoping a shepherd boy misses the “full moon.” 

Finally we see the finish line up ahead. The cheers increase, and we are all champions - picking up our pace for the final 500 meters. It’s as if we mean to tell the crowd, “I always run this fast!” Crossing the line with the masses, my friend and I high five.

After a few thousand runners have passed, any semblance of order has gone with them. The scene at the finish line is close to break down. We manage to get our swag bags with a few snacks. On one side of the road a mass of runners scramble after several boxes of medals being passed over a fence. “I’m going in!” I proclaimed to my skeptical friend. Something about endorphins propelled me into the fray. I yell back, “I got one! Want me to try to get you one?” “No Gwen, it’s ok! Get out of there!”

I grab my medal as others stream across the finish line, looking for their hardware. I’m covered in dust, but I’m happy for running the 15km de Bouskoura and joining with the masses of Moroccans running towards a positive future together on the dusty forest roads. 

In Morocco or otherwise, happy running! 


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