The night was black but the sand of the desert glowed with moonlight. All I could hear was the sound of my own breathing and the rhythmic croaking of the bull frogs. Then, suddenly, I ran into a canyon, lit by a thousand candles…..
At three o’clock on Saturday afternoon I was feeling anything but inspired to go and run 12km across the Agafay desert for the annual Full Moon Run. In the spirit of Ramadan, I had decided to observe the fast for the day so I could really enjoy Ftour (breakfast) at around quarter to eight that night, which La Pause provides as part of the Full Moon Ramadan celebration. I hadn’t eaten, or drunk anything since 3.30 am, I had a banging headache and was generally feeling despondent and a bit wan.
Of course, I was being a total wimp. My Muslim friends keep the fast for the whole month, and the Moroccan runners keep training, with three hour sessions just before Ftour without any water and having not eaten or drunk all day.
We set off from Marrakech a couple of hours later and arrived just in time to get our race numbers and hear the welcome sound of the call to prayer signalling the end of the fast. I knew I had to go easy, especially on the water, as I still had a run to do. The spread was sumptuous. Harira (spicy soup) eaten with plump dates or a sticky honey-covered pastry called Shabakiyya, little samosas and sandwiches, boiled eggs and flaky pancakes.
Food and then it was time to kick back and chat to all the other runners. It’s only the second edition of the race, but it is already really popular in the running community here and there were lots of familiar faces from the Marathon Des Sables, Nomads Run, UTAT and the Trans Atlas Marathon
At 1030 pm after a quick race briefing, the 90 or so of us who were running climbed up to the top of the hill and the start line. This has to be one of the coolest race starts in the world. Flaming braziers lined the route, interspersed with lanterns. A troop of Berber drummers were banging out a traditional dance and a group of acrobats were creating human pyramids while fire dancers swung round chains of flames.
One, two, three and we were off. The course this year was flatter, with long gentle ascents and descents. There was lots of running on the piste, interspersed with some sand and rocks and a final blast up through the canyon and then the river bed to the finish line.
I got into my hunter gatherer trot from the start. I spent a month with Wild Fitness a couple of years back and learnt some of the basics of barefoot running. They taught us that African hunter gatherers would get into a slow trot rhythm and then just keep going for days. I, on the other hand, merely get into a slow trot. I passed a girl, getting patched up after a fall, and soon was on my own, with just a line of twinkling head torches ahead in the distance.
I don’t know if there can be a greater pleasure than running alone under a midnight moon across an empty desert with warm sand under your feet and cool air in your face.
The red sides of the canyon loomed ahead. How magical to go into it all lit up by candles stowed in the holes in the rock. The moon was directly ahead, a huge white circle in the black.
Then it was the final stretch up through the river bed. Hundreds of frogs’ eyes glittered out of the puddled mud and you had to tread carefully to avoid them sitting fatly in the path.
Up and out to La Pause, the finish line and a big cheer from the other runners. And to end it all, a big feast of barbecued chicken and salads, couscous and fresh water melon and the rest of the night to lie out under the stars,
If you enjoyed the blog and love the desert, check out my book about walking across the Sahara and Morocco – Walking with Nomads.