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A Trip That We Will Never Forget 

By Sebastien Edwin Fromageot, BA Global Development

It has been just over two weeks since the first-ever University of London running camp went underway, and we had an absolute blast! A big thank you to the students who attended. It truly was a special way to spend our reading week.

This trail running camp – organised by two SOAS students – consisted of 12 students from UCL and SOAS visiting the Aroumd Village in the Ait Mizane Valley of the Atlas Mountains, Morocco. We were kindly hosted by Youssef, Jamal and Mohammed, local competitive runners, who are regular participants of 100-kilometre races throughout the Atlas. They were our running guides, but quickly became friends as they led us through beautiful trails, weaving up the mountain passes to valley ridges for stunning views.

The trip began in Marrakech, where all participants of the camp had the chance to socialise in a traditional riad – a classic Moroccan home. We spent the day exploring the Moroccan Souks and ended the night with a group dinner. The next day, we headed to the Atlas Mountains, where we would spend most of our trip. In only an hour and a half drive, we had left the bustling city and were relieved to have reached the tranquil Aroumd Village, sitting at an impressive 2000 metres above sea level at the foot of Mount Toubkal, the highest peak of North Africa.

Happy to be in the peace of the mountains, we set off the next day for our first run. The running involved mule trails, 4×4 tracks, and ancient footpaths, with every morning run being between 10-15 km, but considering the altitude, technical trails, and steep paths, it sure felt a lot longer!

Everyone quickly settled into the rhythm of the camp. Breakfast consisted of coffee, tea, fruit, boiled eggs, bread, jams, and the much-desired local peanut butter known as ‘emlu’ with local honey, argan oil, and peanuts crushed into a glorious paste. This kick-started the days nicely, with everyone fuelled for the morning runs.

Once ready, we would get into our warm-up-led by Oscar, a SOAS alumni. These either involved a mixture of typical running warm-up drills or consisted of us helping move bricks from the delivery trucks to locals’ homes. 

We set off together, following the local guides, and built a strong team spirit. We also had the flexibility to split into different groups, each led by one of our three guides, depending on fitness levels. This allowed for adaptation to our runners’ preferred tempo and distance, meaning everyone got to push themselves according to their goals without the pressure of overdoing it. Back at the hostel, those who wanted to could take the time to have a shower before enjoying a lunch of refreshing salads and different local dishes. Fruit and mint tea followed, at which point everyone relaxed, chatted, or went to the terrace to read in the sun.

Afternoons were fun, interactive, and varied in activities, including assisting in the earthquake recovery or playing football with locals. One of the most energising and memorable moments – which everyone decided to join in with – was swimming in the nearby reservoir, filled with fresh cold spring water straight from the mountain springs. Not only was this great fun, but it also aided in our recovery from the long runs. There was also time for personal leisure – be it studying, reading, or napping – followed by dinner, which was met with anticipation as warm, steaming tajines came out of the kitchen, accompanied by couscous, bread, and vegetables. Everyone was possibly at their most content and relaxed after dinner, with warm and fresh chamomile tea in their hands. The day would end with runners-specific recovery yoga sessions, led by myself before we slowly got ready to sleep.

On the last day in the village, we woke up at 4 am and were ready to summit the mountain which had been towering over us throughout the week – Mount Toubkal. Standing at a whopping 4167 metres in elevation, it was no easy climb, with the final ascent reaching a 40% gradient. The next day, we said goodbye to our guides, Mohammed and Jamal. 

Feeling the aches of the summit the previous day, we headed to the Agafay desert to explore and soak in the beautiful views. It was a pleasant change of scenery and a fitting end to the trip. We sat around the campfire until the early morning, chatting about the memories we had made and napping under the stars in our sleeping bags. In the morning, we headed to Marrakesh and said our farewells, exchanging Strava and contact details, and planned to meet in London upon our return. 

“The people, places and cultures that made the trip what it was. To more running exchange opportunities across the MENA region!”

Overall, it was a trip that we will never forget – the people, places and cultures that made it what it was. Most importantly, we want to say a massive thank you to everyone involved and, above all, to the Aroumd Village for their hospitality. We look forward to returning in the Easter 2024 holidays for the second edition of the camp and for more running exchange opportunities across the MENA region, such as the one in Aqaba (Jordan), scheduled for the February reading week.

You can learn more about our running camps through our Instagram page

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