Youcef running in footsteps of Moroccan greats


Youcef running in footsteps of Moroccan greats

by: By Youcef Abdi
From: The Daily Telegraph


Youcef Abdi (yellow vest) races for Australia in the Olympic 3000m steeplechase final in Beijing. Picture: AFP PHOTO / OLIVIER MORIN Source: AFP

Youcef Abdi training on the plateau in the Atlas Mountains
Youcef Abdi enjoying tea

Morocco has long been a tourist destination, but since local athletes Said Aouita and Hicham El Guerrouj cut a swathe through distance running world records over 1500m, a mile and 5000m between 1984 and 2004 it has become a centre of excellence for the global pilgrimage by distance runners.

Triple Australian Olympian Youcef Abdi from Sydney is one of those athletes and he has written of his experience in laidback Morocco as part of his Olympic diary on the road to London where he will race in the gruelling 3000m steeplechase.

He is based in Ifrane, where Morocco’s royal family go for a change of atmosphere from bustling Rabat near the Barbary Coast. But this Sunday, Youcef will drive down to Rabat to compete in an important international athletics meet as part of his build-up to the London Games.

Here is Youcef’s report:

Ifrane is a ski resort town in the middle Atlas region of Morocco. Also known as a Mecca for elite endurance athletes, at 1700m altitude it is an ideal training ground.

An exotic haven for distance runners, Ifrane supports a population 13,500 with residents speaking Arabic, Berber and French.

On Friday May 4th I departed Orly airport, Paris for a three hour flight to Fez. While Ifrane is a mere 45 minutes drive from Fez, it was four hours later, multiple village stops and copious amounts of mint tea under our belts before we eventually arrived at Ifrane. My popular driver introduced me to more people in those four hours than I have met during my entire life.

While there is a small range of hotels, ranking from 2 to 4 stars, most athletes rent self-contained villas, as I am currently doing.

Moroccan food, of course, is famous worldwide. To enjoy the local cuisine athletes usually hire a female cook. For the princely sum of $10 a day (with cost sharing approx. $2 per person) we get to enjoy a range of Moroccan delights such as tajine, couscous and a variety of salads.

A typical meal begins with a series of hot and cold salads, followed by a tajine. Bread is eaten with every meal. Often, for a formal meal, a lamb or chicken dish is next, followed by couscous topped with meat and vegetables. A cup of sweet mint tea usually ends the meal. Moroccans usually eat with their hands and use bread as a utensil.

The main Moroccan Berber dish most people are familiar with is couscous, the old national delicacy.

The structure of training here is interesting. The first run of the day is done at around 11am, rain hail or shine.

Now if you are thinking this is very late, well you need to have patience to go with it as they are never on time. A more usual starting time would be 11:20 while we wait on one or two athletes running late from the souk (market) or bakery. Moroccan time!

The evening run is around 6:30 pm or later if it’s a track session. The athletes are prepared to wait for the most ideal conditions for a track work out. I saw Eguider the 2012 world indoor champion over 1500m starting his session at 8pm, other athletes such as Hicham El Guerrouj would train as late as 9pm.

Unlike in the days of Hicham El Guerrouj when the whole stadium would be closed for his workout, these days the track is open every day. Hicham retired after winning the extremely rare 1500m-5000m double at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004.

Running trails, the king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, fenced off the main forest few years ago in order to build a palace for himself, however there are still plenty of forest and trails for running.

Speed-play (fartlek) session is usually done at le Plateau, a location slightly higher in altitude. Le plateau consists of a very flat 2km loop marked every 100m where you can perform a high speed run, threshold or fartlek session. Fartlek is a Swedish word meaning speed-play. The Swedes developed this type of training which involves many changes of pace during a single continuous run.

Most athletes training in Ifrane are professional runners and their management of all things associated with running is conducted in a professional manner. After each and every run we stretch religiously for 30 minutes at least. This is rare in Australia.

Temperature for a session is also of paramount importance. The athletes will not hesitate to postpone a session time for a more agreeable milder temperature to ensure the session is a success.

As a regimented athlete this was frustrating at first but I have become more relaxed as I realise the benefits of their flexibility.

The day following a hard session we all meet at the masseur’s house … drinking mint tea and chatting along till it’s your turn to be on the massage table. Everything is done by socialising here, yet it remains a professional environment.

A sample weekly routine:

Monday: Am: Run of 45min + gym + 10X 100m fast strides

Pm: Easy run of 45min to 50min

Tuesday: Am: Run very easy and strides

Pm :(1200, 800, 600, 400, 200) x 2 at race pace

Wednesday: Am: Easy run of 50min

PM: Easy Run of 45min to 50min

Thursday: Am: Run + gym

PM: Run 40min to 45min at high speed

Friday: Am: Easy run of 45min

Pm: (600,400,200) x 4 at race pace

Saturday: Am: easy run of 50min

PM: Run of 45min to 50min

Sunday: Am: Run (no longer then 1 hour)

Pm: Rest

Rest day is when athletes go to the city center and sit around a coffee table at the local cafe drinking mint tea and indulge some local sweets.

Typically it starts off with only two or three athletes around a small cafe table. Time passes on, the numbers grows and the tiny table is now supporting nine athletes.

Rest day isn’t necessarily a Sunday. Depending on training cycles it can fall early or mid-week as well.

My next stop will be Rabat meeting this Sunday, till then Salam from Morocco.

Youcef Abdi

Beijing Olympic 3000m steeplechase finalist, about to compete for Australia in third Olympics at London.


Posted on May 24, 2012, in Morocco News, Sports and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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