Morocco Magic: Can vacation make you faster?

by Sean Meehan

So just what is this “Morocco Magic” that you might have heard about during a Rogue trip?

Well, it is the phenomenon of folks busting their race PRs just after completing a Morocco trip. The general tactics? Run more than you normally would, eat more than you normally would, drink more alcohol than you normally would, rest less than you normally would and be rewarded with a PR/above expected performance in your race. It’s science. But don’t take our word for it - we asked our esteemed alumni to put it in their own words:

If you were training for your race at home how different would your running week have been - distance, terrain type, elevation change, pace?

We received brutally honest responses all the way through (and we say thank you for that!), so we will start on that front with Michael Langer admitting, “No comparison, really. I don't know if I would have gotten outta bed if I was at home.”

Flatter and fewer miles was the general theme here with Cameron Dorsey saying, “Faster probably but flatter, more boring, less distance and more rest,” and Bob Katulka agreeing - “Flatter, fewer miles, faster paces.”

So it seems going longer and slower is part of the Magic, but what of other elements of preparation? Let’s find out about food and alcohol intake:

Morocco: Where “local and organic” is your only option.

Morocco: Where “local and organic” is your only option.

Did your food and/or alcohol consumption differ being on a trip versus being at home? If yes, in what way?

Bob sums it up pretty well, claiming that he “normally [doesn’t] drink weeknights at home,” (yeah yeah we believe you Bob) so more alcohol seems to be the way forward with an anonymous source admitting, “hahaha in a 10 day trip I somehow drank 12 bottles of wine :) What happens in Car 4 stays in Car 4.” (and only Car 4 will ever really know what that is all about).

Food intake was likewise increased as Paul Broadway notes, “Yes. I ate more. Because the tagine and bread supply was almost unlimited” and Michael agreeing, “I ate my fill of all the wonderful food, yet lost about 10 pounds for the trip. The food was yummy, healthy, and filling. I didn't have my favorite desserts from home, but I didn't miss them.”

More alcohol, check. More food, check. Magic level = increasing.

What other factors might be contributing though? Here we asked runners to select from a multiple choice list which factors they think attributed to their PB/PR/achievement. The most selected responses here were:

  • My training leading up to the RE trip

  • I ran more than I normally do and felt fit at the end of the trip

  • The trip gave me a break from my regular training and became a lot more fun

  • Feeling relaxed / removed from the stresses of “normal” life

  • I was inspired to push myself being around a group of like minded runners

100 mile week on a whim? Why not?

100 mile week on a whim? Why not?

What conclusions can we draw here? Well, it seems likely that doing a smidgeon of training aside from your RE trip is useful! But then it seems that parking normal life, going with the flow of being on an active vacation surrounded by other runners and not having much to worry about each day aside from running, eating and sleeping are a pretty good way to prep for a race!

Cameron sums it up well when he elaborated on this question, explaining that “the trip certainly was more fun than regular training, the stress of normal life was not present for the most part, and I felt inspired by the group. However, I think the confidence and fitness I got from running so many miles more than I typically run in a week and the back to back longer runs was the real factor in having such a great post-trip race.”

An anonymous source strikes a similar tone, saying “I ran 100 freaking miles with Allison Macsas and didn't break. After that EVERYTHING is possible. I hadn't planned it pre-trip, just fell into it and rode the momentum of how the trip evolved day by day, the running was fun, somehow the miles crept upwards, there was an amazing group who said yes to everything... somewhere along the way we added up what we'd done and it was creeping up to 90 plus.. so at that point it was f*** it, break the 100.. and we did.. in the Sahara desert to a magical sand finish line.”

We at Rogue HQ had a hunch that our infamous ‘net downhill’ runs might have something to do with the Magic as well so we had to ask for some impartial comments on those as well:

So, when exactly does the downhill part happen?

So, when exactly does the downhill part happen?

“ WTF, why are my injuries getting better while running more?” - Bob K.

WTF, why are my injuries getting better while running more?” - Bob K.

What does the term ’net downhill’ mean to you? How would you summarize what a Rogue Expeditions ’net downhill’ run involves?

Cameron gives a factual if slightly ominous assessment, “The finish elevation is lower than the start elevation and the term says nothing of what may lay in between.” In other words, it could mean a little bump around mile 4. Bob tries to put a number on it, calculating “Less than 1000 feet of uphill,” whilst Paul came up with a scientific reason to why our net downhill runs involve so much uphill: “A massive uphill run but due to the curvature of the earth and changing of sea levels technically results in you ending at a lower point than you started at.”

A little hill never hurt anyone, right? “But, but Allison said it would be downhill!” N-E-T, a crucial three letter word. Helping you to your PR by sneaking in some hill training!

So, we now have a decent idea of what ingredients go into the special brew called Morocco Magic. What results are possible though? We aren’t guaranteeing that sub-3 hour marathon you’ve dreamed about, but our alumni shared some success stories to illustrate the phenomenon:

After his trip Michael ran the CAP 10K race in Austin. “I was hoping to run under 50 minutes, but ended up running under 48. About 2 miles from the finish I started to feel a little tired. Then I caught with another runner, a friend, and started telling them all about my Morocco trip. That gave me the second wind I need to finish strong.”

Kudos to Paul, who followed his Endurance Adventure Morocco trip with a top 40 finish at the infamous Marathon des Sables just 7 days after the trip! Further kudos to Bob who turned up in Morocco injured and unable to run much, then crushed a week of mountain miles (quote from Bob “…wtf why are my injuries getting better while running more?”) and went home to finish Ultra Race of Champions in Virginia, his first ultra! Cameron also finished his first ultra after Gorges & Sahara at the Tejas Trails Wild Hare 50k.

A great example of a NET downhill run in Tahoe!

A great example of a NET downhill run in Tahoe!

Perhaps most intriguing of all is this breaking news: the Magic is not reserved entirely to our Morocco trip. James Greenham adds to the list of accolades with his impressive post-trip marathon PR of 2:37 at California International Marathon after his #besttaperweekever in South Africa. Jo Nevares shared with us that she aced her race in Texas soon after going on Run Tahoe. “The elevation in Tahoe was nearly 1,000 feet higher than the race site of Ft Davis, TX, so running in Tahoe really helped me get a sense of how my body could handle the elevation during the race.” She went on to add that “the experience on the trip and all the little tips from the group of seasoned runners helped me reach my goals during my race. I felt like I was on par with my training and I realized that running didn’t have to take up so much time, so “lack of time” wasn’t an excuse. We ran, went sight-seeing, had meals together, had down time, etc. all while running each day. It opened my eyes to a new lifestyle of running.”

There you have it folks. Perhaps the Magic isn’t just in those tagines or in the sand of the Sahara after all, but is something more intrinsic to these travel experiences in general. Whatever the source, we look forward to the stories as more people tap into it for a post-trip performance boost and, yes, we’ll probably continue to call it #moroccomagic, no matter where it comes from.

Special thanks to all our respondents in this blog!