Marrakech in January is the ideal destination for an early year marathon or for a half marathon that will set you up for the spring test of your choice over the classic 26.2 mile distance. It's also a great place for a short winter break with a colourful race thrown in if that's what you fancy.
Sports Tours International's Brendan Fox was curious. Was Marrakech the kind of event that his company would consider for its list of international destinations along side the likes of Berlin, New York and Paris? And there was a personal challenge too. Cycling keeps Brendan in reasonable shape but did he have the kind of fitness to complete his first half marathon in a decent time?
Soon he would have the answer to both questions...
Settling into his stylish riad – shades of the Night Manager – after a day of exploring the magical Moroccan city, Brendan reflected on the wisdom of having a well-informed guide. Someone with the local knowledge to find the special markets, the atmospheric cafes and the unique places that make a stay memorable. In Momo, the man who had helped establish Marrakech Marathon as one of Africa's top races, Brendan and his party had the perfect 'man in the know'.
A good night's sleep and our half marathon debutant was good to go and delighted to find that it was a cloudy morning offering favourable temperatures and good running conditions.
We let Brendan take up the tale: "There was a lot of excitement at the start of the event. We gave the marathoners, who were starting earlier, a big send-off and then made our final preparations, discarding the extra clothing we had needed for the morning chill, checking our watches and offering last minute words of encouragement.
"There was great buzz as the big field of international and local runners crossed the start line. Lots of shouts in French, plus a few English voices amid a babble of Arabic. The guy next to me was from Orpington so I wished him all the best as we headed off.
"I was determined to enjoy the experience so ran the early miles at a modest pace as I took in all the sights of an amazing North African city – the cheering crowds of children, the disinterested camels, the fruit stalls. As I headed along one alley of palm trees I thought: 'This is the life. Leaving behind rainy Manchester as its most dreary for a sporting adventure under bright North African skies'.
"Those bright skies would be at their best later in warm afternoon sunshine as for once I was happy with a few clouds to make running pleasant. We headed well away from the walled city that is the tourist centre of Marrakech and it was good to get the opportunity to see a side of the country that you would otherwise have missed. A glimpse into the lives of ordinary Moroccans as I ran by.
"At the 10k mark my watch was showing 59 minutes however I had loads in the tank and decided to up the pace. The second half of the race was quicker and while I continued to enjoy the Marrakech panorama, I realised I was in line to go under my 2 hour target. So I kept working and was rewarded with a solid 1:55. Not bad for a first-time effort I thought.
"Post-race I refuelled on local fruits, thinking these oranges might be a luxury in post-Brexit Britain, and enjoyed the craic with my fellow medallists. This was a friendly, safe experience where a mixed field – locals and visitors, men and women – enjoyed a memorable occasion in a fascinating city.'
Sports Tours International is planning to add Marrakech Marathon & Half Marathon to its 2020 listing and will be providing full details of entries, hotels and transfers soon at their website.