Running in Morocco

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Erfoud, Morocco

Though Morocco has a storied history in long distance running, Morocco is not what one would call a country full of runners. On any given day at any given moment, I can stand on a street corner and see runners go by in New York City. If I’m in an area popular with runners (e.g., Central Park, Prospect Park, West Side Highway), I lose count in seconds. I saw at best, a handful of runners during the two-week period I was in Morocco and a good portion of the ones I saw were foreigners.

Before I left for this trip I googled about running and what I found discouraged me. Basically most of the information did not recommend running outside and a few that did were clearly written by big White men. I’m not that and running outside as a woman is a vastly different experience than running as a man. Much to my surprise and delight, running outside in Morocco is absolutely possible and fun to do with a few small preparations.

I wasn’t expecting to do much running, much less outdoor running, while on the trip because I was traveling with a tour group and the discouraging internet research. Every day there was a set schedule for what was going to happen that day, even down to when we visited the restrooms, so I had to carve out running time around that schedule. This meant I either got up early or I ran in the late afternoon when we were given free time. Many of the hotels we stayed in that treadmills, terrible treadmills, but at least they had something. I’m a bit of a treadmill snob so it was difficult for me to run on creaky trembling treadmills. I restricted myself to doing short speed work on those machines. The Novotel Hotels, an international chain of mid-range hotels, had beautiful treadmills that I happily used. What I forgot the first time I used a treadmill in Morocco was that the entire world uses the metric system, except for the US and few other strange countries. I had to do a quick conversion in my head so I could get the correct speed.

As for outdoor running, the weather in Morocco in March is lovely and mild. Cooler up north and warmer in the south, but generally we experienced pleasant temperatures in the 60s and 70s during the day. Early morning the temperatures were in the 40s and 50s, perfect for running. The only problem was sunrise.

Because of the tour’s schedule, I had to be done with everything and packed (if we were leaving that day) by 8:30, sometimes even by 8. The sun didn’t rise until around 7:15 during the time we were in Morocco. I didn’t feel comfortable going out to run in the dark by myself. If Ben were with me, I would have had no problem going out with him, but I needed to wait until it was sufficiently light outside (about a half hour before sunrise). Other people may be able to run fast or move quickly in the morning, but it always takes me a while to get going, plus I like taking long showers. So if I chose to go run outside, I only had enough time for a few miles. Since I wasn’t in training mode, this was sufficient. I can’t imagine training while I was on a trip like this.

Morocco is a Muslim country, but it’s far more secular than I thought it would be. Many women walk without head coverings and wearing one isn’t seen as a sign of being more dedicated or more religious. It’s simply seen as a personal expression of how they wish to be seen or how they wish to practice their faith. Aside from the more conservative clothing of the people, including men, lack of bars, and no alcohol whatsoever at any of the small restaurants, Morocco didn’t feel different than any Western country that I’ve been to. It was very Western (something Moroccans pointed out with pride – I think they don’t want to be seen as being “backward and primitive”).

Except for the tourists in Marrakech, everyone is pretty covered up compared to what I’m used to in the States. The men wear long pants and shirts, and often even on a fairly warm day, a jacket or a vest as well. Women also wear long pants or long skirts and blouses that have a modest neckline and long sleeves, or at least go past the elbows. The blouses/tunics also always covered the rear. After several days of seeing people covered up, I was shocked by the scantily clad tourists in Marrakech. In truth, they were dressed much the same way I would dress at home, but if you’re not used to seeing it, it does seem like Westerners run around naked. Keeping in mind of the more modest attire, I chose to wear running tights and a short-sleeved tech shirt while running outdoors, rather than I would have normally worn in that weather, shorts and a tank. I figured if I offended any Moroccans by showing my elbows, that was their problem not mine.

It turned out to be no problem at all. A few people looked at me while I ran, but they looked at me because I was running and they weren’t used to seeing people running and it wasn’t because of my *gasp* naked elbows. No one yelled at me or catcalled me, much to my relief. Even in Kenya when Ben and I joined a running club for a run literally out in the countryside, I got catcalled. In Morocco, most people ignored me, a few looked in surprise at seeing a runner period, and a few gave some encouraging claps as I ran past them.

We always stayed in a hotel that was centrally located in the wealthier part of town, which meant that the surrounding neighborhood was clean, safe, and had people out on the streets. So once I was out of the hotel alone, I felt safe.

Finding a safe runnable route turned out to be pretty easy thanks to Google maps. I looked for long boulevards without too many cross streets interrupting the route, waterfronts, parks, and gray lines indicated pedestrian paths. I also googled “running in [city]” to find recommendations for where to run.

Here’s a brief list of my recommendations based on my limited time.

Rabat

Along the waterfront by the kasbah, there are miles of sidewalk and pedestrian paths that make for lovely running. If you look at Google maps, it doesn’t look like there’s much of a pathway, but you could easily go for a long run of 10 miles if you run from one to the other and back again. As you run, you’ll be rewarded with great views of crashing waves against black rocks.

Fez

Every city and town in Morocco has a street named Mohammed V, and many of them will also have a street called Hassan II. In Fez, Avenue Hassan II is a lovely boulevard that is reminiscent of Champs Elysees in Paris if you have a good imagination. It’s a fine lovely street, but it’s of much less grandeur than the famed Parisian boulevard despite what the Moroccans will tell you. Avenue Hassan II is a great place to get a few miles in Fez.

Erfoud

Erfoud is a desert oasis town, so I was staying in a hotel in the middle of nowhere. I woke up early to run on the one road that the hotel was on and saw many donkeys pulling carts on my run. Erfoud was the most “provincial” town of all the places we were at, but the people here were the least interested in me and my running.

Marrakech

Of all the cities that I ran in, Marrakech was my favorite. Avenue Mohammed VI (yes, the VI) is a fantastic beautiful long boulevard with wide pedestrians paths. It’s popular with locals, so I saw many people, including several women, out walking and running here. It would be very easy to do a long run of 10+ miles here.

Casablanca

Along the waterfront going past the amazing Mosque Hassan II, there are nice widewalks without any interruptions that’s perfect for running. It’s the biggest mosque in the world and there are no words to capture the awe that it inspires. It’s a truly spectacular view to see on your run.

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8 thoughts on “Running in Morocco

  1. It is really interesting to see how different cultures regard running (and women). I have enjoyed reading about your travels and running. It also amuses me when I get on a treadmill and have to do some conversions while running. The math helps keep mind mind from going numb 🙂

    • It’s easy to take the privilege of running for granted. While I was out running, I wondered about how I would negotiate running in Morocco if I lived there. In the summer, running outside (even early in the morning) with long pants on would be oppressive.

  2. I’m so glad you were able to run around safely. I always want to explore a new city by running around it, but I’m always scared I’ll run through an unsafe neighborhood. I guess that’s why I’m trying to run races in different cities now. At least I wouldn’t be alone running through the city. Haha

  3. Interesting post. I think running outside is something most Americans take for granted and don’t even realize what it’s like for others (probably women more than men) experience in other countries.

    • I get annoyed when I hear people talk about how easy it is to go run. It’s actually not that easy for some people. The idea that you go out and run, assumes a lot of privilege. There are places, even in the US, where people cannot go out and run and it’s not because it’s a war-torn country. If the infrastructure doesn’t exist to make running pleasant, or even possible, then people aren’t going to run.

      I read a blog post by a White guy who ran in Morocco. He wrote that he didn’t care about modest clothing and found that running in shorts and a tank was fine and no one gave him any problems, so we could wear what we want. I wanted to shake him. Obviously as a guy, he wouldn’t experience problems, but I’m far more likely to as a woman. It’s that blindness to other people’s real experiences that I rail against. I’m sure I have blindspots too, but I try to be more cognizant and am always looking to learn.

  4. You’re absolutely right on all accounts. There are women in the US as well who are harassed when they run or they otherwise have been made to feel unsafe to the point where they stop running entirely. That’s sad. Many white men don’t even realize it happens, and I think even many women don’t realize the extent to which it happens.

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