Where Marrakech, Morocco
When January 31, 2010
First Man Bekele Azmiro 1:00:57
First Woman Meriem Wangari 1:12:19
Last Finisher 3:31:50
No. of Finishers 2,605
Majestic minarets, bustling souks, hypnotic snake-charmers - the mysterious city of Marrakech is a tick-list destination among experience-hungry globe-trotters, and the highlight of its running calendar perfectly combines an exotic encounter with a simple road race.
Thousands of runners - whose nationalities are as diverse as their abilities - flock to the 'Pearl of the South' each year, eager to stretch their legs over what is billed as one of the fastest half-marathon (and marathon) courses in the world. But while quick times are most definitely there for the chasing, there's plenty to enjoy for the more novice racer too.
The atmosphere at the start was more giant street party than military pre-race focus. Locals posed with runners for photographs, tuneful chants rang in the air and metal barriers were nonchalantly hoisted over the heads of the crowd to make way for the masses.
Thankfully, the wide thoroughfares to the south of the city offered ample opportunity to settle into one's stride after the slightly chaotic start.
The dappled orange groves and olive fields of the Jardines de la Menara were next on the race route's whistlestop tour, before runners took to the palm-lined boulevards beside the dusky pink ramparts. Forty-five minutes into the race the sun had broken through the cloud and not even the dramatic backdrop of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains could keep the field cool. Those running the full marathon - breaking away at mile seven to tour the city's expansive palmeraie via the Majorelle Garden - returned later with tales of shimmering Tarmac and thermometers reading 24°C.
Back beside Medina - the ancient city walls - kids tore along the pavements clamouring for high-fives and shouting "allez, allez!" while street bands added local flavour. Oranges were pressed into sweaty palms, and the Koutoubia minaret towered above the crowds like a homing beacon.
On the down side, distance markers were sparse and both the water and sponge stations ran out of supplies early on. Toilets were markedly absent and there was certainly no orderly British queuing at the finish - runners shoved and pushed for water and fruit while traders proffered trays of sugary sweets (at a price).
Regional quirks aside, there's plenty to recommend about this special race, not least the excuse to visit such a colourful location in balmy climes in the height of British winter. If you look beyond the oyster, you'll see the pearl.