The Atlas Mountain Race is a single stage self supported ultra endurance race in Morocco. Starting in Marrakech and finishing in Essaouira, the race follows a 1330km largely off road route, with 25,000m of elevation.

After completing the Dales Divide in 2022 I caught the ultra bug. I learnt so much from my experience and came away wanting to take on a bigger challenge. Because the Dales Divide encourages beginner riders to sign up, there's no rule against riding with and helping fellow racers – which meant that quickly a few of us beginners formed a little group and stuck together. Although this was a great way to introduce myself to the sport, I didn't come away from the race knowing I could go it alone, and this bothered me.

Another big take away from the Dales Divide was that, for me at least, using a gravel bike on an off-road event really held me back. If I was going to do another race, I wanted to do it on a hardtail MTB.

Atlas Mountain Race was high on the list of races I wanted to do, but in October when the 2023 date was announced I was off the bike with a knee injury so I was really unsure I would be fit enough in time for the early February start. I tentatively signed up anyway and received the race manual which I read cover to cover. In the manual was a section focused on female participants and previous incidents of harassment. I emailed the race director Nelson to get more information, and he put me in touch with Jenny Tough and Ash Carelock who had both raced and won the two previous editions. Ash and I spoke on the phone and she told me about an incident that she had experienced that had left her shaken. I won't tell her story for her but you can read more about her experience here. Despite this incident, Ash came away from Morocco with a really positive overall view of the people she met there. She really encouraged me to race. I received a similarly spirited email from Jenny who also advocated for more women being at the start line of these events. Although I still had my anxieties around this issue, talking to these two amazing women put my mind at ease and my anxious brain found something else to obsess about for a couple of weeks (scorpions crawling into my bivvy bag).

A big part of why I enjoy ultra endurance events is the preparation, which I admit is super nerdy. I love to research the gear I'll need, dig into the maps and I even find riding my bike more enjoyable if I have a goal. After speaking to some friends who had taken part in the 2020 edition it became clear to me that finding food I could eat as a vegan would be really difficult during the race, so this became a big part of my prep. I wanted to carry as much food as possible without making my bike weigh a tonne. I aimed to carry around 10,000 calories, with a focus on the food being as nutritionally complete as possible. I did some research into cold soaking and thought this could be a good approach for the race. I found a good cold soak tub that would fit nicely in a stem bag without leaking everywhere, and went about experimenting with a 'breakfast mix'. Using instant oats as a base I added a pea based protein powder. To bulk it out with some calories and fat I bought a tub of peanut butter. The idea was to carry the oats & protein pre mixed in a freezer bag and portion it out each night into the cold soak tub with a tablespoon of peanut butter and then fill it with water, ready to drink in the morning. Next was dinner and after a few dead ends I found a brand called Firepot who make dehydrated meals for hiking, with loads of vegan options and a decent calorie count. I bought 3 different meals, which wouldn't be enough to carry me through a week long race, but I didn't have space for more. I also packed a few isotonic gels and a load of energy bars including some high calorie meal replacement bars by Jimmy Joy which were great.

I arrived in Marrakech a few days before the race started and stayed in the hotel the race would start from. I went on some nice short rides with other racers to check our bikes were all in order, and I also went on one longer off-road ride alone to get a feel for the vibe – how did people interact with me? Did I feel safe? I didn’t experience any issues on this ride and it made me feel more at ease about the race.

Although it was so nice to meet some of the other racers, staying in a hotel with a bunch of other anxious people had its downsides. At breakfast every morning we'd psych each other out about the upcoming race. 'Have you seen the weather forecast!?' 'There's so much snow up on Telouet pass!!' 'I don't think I have the right gear' etc. I also successfully transferred my scorpion/bivvy fear onto a few people (sorry).

A lot of riders packed quite light, thinking it would be warmer and wanting to be as nimble as possible. As a result there were a lot of last minute trips to Decathlon. My fully loaded bike including water weighed in at over 25kg(!) so I felt quite confident I had everything I needed, including a really warm sleeping bag and lots of warm layers.

The race started at 6pm on Friday and would go up to the highest elevation point of the whole race (2550m) before descending down an old mule path into Checkpoint 1 at 126km. My plan was to cycle through the first night and continue cycling until the next night. The first 30km of the race was a controlled start with police escorts to get us out of the city. I definitely got a bit carried away here and after noticing two groups had formed I pushed forward into the front group, way overdoing it so early in the race which was totally unnecessary. You live and learn.

Photo by Nils Laengner

Once we got off road we all separated out and the climbing began. I felt pretty good and I had a lot of food and water on me, so I shot straight past the various early resupplies. The first big climb was on tarmac and went on and on. It was really cold and I could feel my breathing getting a bit laboured as we got higher up. The descent off of this first big climb was really fun and fast and I was making good progress.

As I started to approach the famous Telouet pass I noticed the main bladder in my running vest was almost empty. I stopped to refill it from the backup bladder in my frame bag, put the vest back on, and got back on my bike. Within seconds I felt ice-cold water all over my back. Somehow I had managed to fasten the bladder incorrectly and it had dumped the entire contents onto me, soaking through all the warm layers I had. It was -10 degrees, and I had already cycled past every resupply point. Acting quickly I took off all of the wet clothes apart from the base layer I was wearing, that although was damp wasn't quite as soaked through as everything else. The only item of clothing I had left was a thin raincoat in my frame bag which I put on over the damp base layer. I now had to keep moving, I wasn't wearing enough layers to stop and procrastinate. I also now had no water, and was at least 3 hours away from the checkpoint – not a great start.

Getting to the top of the pass was slow going. As we got closer to the top the snow became thicker and thicker and was hard to cycle through. There was a lot of pushing. There were times where I trod in loosely packed snow only to lose my entire foot and ankle. I think it was at least 30cm deep in places. Because it was the start of the race, the field was still quite tightly packed, which meant I could see the lights of riders further ahead. It was pretty disheartening to see how much further up they were, there was still a long way to go and much more pushing to do. I felt every kg of my heavy bike. We were told to expect a lot of hike-a-bike on the mule path down to the checkpoint, and this wasn't wrong, but it still felt like quicker progress than on the way up, and I was looking forward to drinking some water and eating some hot food.

I got to the checkpoint 12 hours and 1 minute after the race started which was a pretty fast time; turns out if you want to be quick, just throw out all your water and warm clothes. I tried my best to dry out my clothes at CP1 and then fastened them to the top of my seat pack so they could dry out when the sun eventually came up. I ate a vegetable tagine and some lentil soup and was off again. Cycling back out into the darkness was mentally quite challenging. It was about 7am and I had a full day of riding ahead of me.

Once the sun finally came up, I got to see the environment I was in for the first time. It looked like Mars – totally barren, bright red rock formations – like nowhere I'd been before. Despite it now being daytime and sunny, it still took hours to warm up and the water in the hose of my water bladder had frozen solid in the hours after CP1. The rest of the day was rolling hills through gravel, dirt roads, and the occasional stretch of tarmac. I saw lots of goats and passed through small villages with excited children that wanted to high five and run alongside the bike. I was in a pretty remote area when my GPS started to mess up. I took several wrong turns and at one point, despite not seeing anyone for hours, two locals in a pickup chased me down a dirt road to let me know I'd gone the wrong way.

At around 6pm I reached Imassine which was marked in our race manuals as the last resupply for a while. The next section would be slow going and remote. I stopped at a roadside restaurant and was overjoyed to find they had vegetable tagine and not just the omelette that was frequently the only thing on offer. I filled up on tagine and bread, charged my GPS, and then tried to mentally prepare myself for more riding. I'd now been cycling for 24 hours straight and the promise of a long stretch without resupply was making me feel a bit anxious. I would learn in the coming days that every night around sundown I'd start to get overwhelmed with doubt and anxiety – this usually meant I needed to sleep and I guess the uncertainty of how that would happen (would I find a good bivvy spot?) would trip me up a bit. I met another rider at this restaurant who was scratching with achilles issues. He was waiting for a taxi to take him to the finish line. As he left he asked me if I was ok and if I felt safe to be left alone there. I appreciated the concern, but until he said that I'd felt perfectly safe, and now I was wondering if I shouldn’t. I needed to press on – sitting here and spiralling wasn't an option.

I made my way down the road and just after the turning onto the dirt road I saw a petrol station. Aside from the tagine, I hadn’t found any other food items to buy all day and I was burning through my energy bar stash at quite a rate. I pushed on to the petrol station and managed to find some cookies that were vegan. When I left the petrol station it was completely dark, and soon after turning onto the dirt road I reached the famous river crossing that had risen to dangerous levels in the previous edition of the AMR. Although it was now looking calm and serene, I hadn’t imagined doing it in the dark, and I hesitated. I looked at the time. It was a little too early to stop and this wasn’t a good bivvy spot. After deciding I had no choice, I removed my shoes and socks and waded in.

Out on the other side, with feet as dry as I could get them with no access to a towel, I pushed on for a few kilometres. I started noticing more and more parked bikes and bivvy bags and decided I was also done for the day. I came across two riders who had just stopped in a nice clear section with minimal rocks (hard to find in the Atlas) and I asked if I could pitch up with them. I pressed stop on my GPS unit – 270km, not a bad first day.

⭢ Part 1 on Komoot

I set my alarm to go off 4 hours later but I didn’t get much sleep – as soon as I stopped riding I developed a nasty cough that wouldn’t stop. I started to regret inflicting myself on the other two racers.

My alarm went off and I reluctantly got out of my bivvy into the cold dark night. Because it was still winter, the nights were as long as the days so if you only stopped for 4 hours, you were guaranteed 8 hours of riding in darkness. Despite my plan to make up breakfast every night, I had forgotten. The mix needed at least 2 hours to soak so I made it up with ice cold water that was threatening to freeze again and then ate an energy bar. I immediately felt really sick – my body was done with the sugar. I pushed on and bumped into Chas and Alvin from California who were riding as a pair. We had hung out a bit at the hotel so it was nice to see them and ride together for a couple of hours. The terrain was pretty bumpy with rolling elevation. The first big climb of the day was approaching and Chas, who had raced in 2020, said he remembered it being very steep and rocky – there would be lots of pushing. I was starting to feel pretty weak and although I still felt sick I needed to eat. I stopped, said goodbye to Chas & Alvin and tried to get the breakfast mix down but I immediately threw it up. Things were not going well.

By the time I reached the summit the sun was finally coming up. I had already been cycling for hours. The plateau was really beautiful, and the route followed an old colonial piste across a network of canyons. The descent was really really fun and I knew I made the right decision switching from a gravel bike to a hardtail MTB for this style of event. The descent is the reward after hours of climbing, and whilst on the Dales Divide I would be totally focused on not dying, on my MTB I felt confident flying down these off road descents - it’s become my absolute favourite part.

At the bottom of the descent was a small town called Afra. As I was approaching, I met a control car for the first time. The photographer Chris took some photos and the volunteer who drove the car asked how I was doing. I explained that I hadn’t eaten in hours, and that I felt really sick. He told me I needed salt and real food and warned me that if the veganism got in the way of fuelling properly, I wouldn’t make it to the finish. I needed to eat like a local or I would really struggle. I took his advice on board but I wasn’t quite ready to give in yet. At the restaurant in Afra, omelette was the only ‘real food’ on the menu again, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat one. I stocked up on crisps and cookies instead and filled up one of my three Firepot meals with water to eat later. The salty crisps definitely went down better, but they could hardly be described as a meal.

Photo by Chris McClean

It was getting pretty hot in the afternoon sun and it was time to crack on. The next section was quite flat but the surface was rough and slow going. In the late afternoon I made it to an oasis with its famous resident Omar. Omar invited me onto his terrace overlooking the palm tree surrounded waterfall, and poured me a mint tea whilst he sat on the rug covered floor rolling joints – quite a vibe. Although it was tempting to stay in this beautiful oasis for longer, there was a big tarmac climb coming and I wanted to do it in daylight. To leave Omar’s oasis you have to carry your bike up a steep and narrow flight of steps. This was one of my least favourite parts of the whole race. The steps were too narrow to hitch the bike onto your back so the only option was to carry it side on. My bike was so heavy and I was still feeling pretty weak, which meant I physically couldn’t pick it up high enough to clear the steps ahead. I almost fell backwards multiple times. After what felt like an eternity I reached the top, exhausted and weirdly struggling to catch my breath. It felt like I was having an asthma attack, which would have been unlikely as I don’t have asthma.

The tarmac climb started almost immediately and was steep and hot. I was still struggling to breathe normally when I got a nosebleed that I was totally ill equipped to deal with. My power bottomed out and multiple people overtook me as I crawled and gasped up the climb. The sun set and I was still climbing. I stopped to layer up and realised I had lost a glove, which was a bit of a disaster. 'Luckily' I had lost my left glove which meant my right hand, which has to shift as well as brake, was ok. I pulled a waterproof sock out of my seat pack which, for the rest of the race, became my less than dexterous left glove.

Finally I started the descent into Ait Saoun where I found a restaurant with multiple bikes parked outside. I was excited to catch up with some other riders. The owner of the restaurant was one of the kindest people I met on the whole race. Despite only having omelettes available he was totally happy for me to eat my Firepot in the restaurant and warm up a bit. He charged my phone and offered us the back room to sleep in. I wasn’t ready to stop yet but many of the other riders took him up on the kind offer. I loaded up on water and snacks and headed out into the night with one other rider. We chatted for a while but I noticed I really struggled to talk – my breathing was getting so bad I started to panic. I stopped, letting him crack on and tried to get my breathing under control. I started coughing badly and coughed up bloody thick phlegm. I think I made it about 20km after Ait Saoun when I decided I needed to stop. I was in a remote area with really rocky ground as far as the eye could see but I eventually found a small bit of ground suitable for a bivvy. The first hour in my bivvy was awful. I couldn’t lie on my back because my airways would totally close up. I lay on my side and coughed crap out of my lungs for a full hour before they were clear enough that I could sleep.

⭢ Part 2 on Komoot

My alarm went off 3 hours later and I started my daily ritual of reluctantly cycling for hours in the dark, waiting for the sun to rise. After throwing up the morning before I couldn’t stomach the cursed breakfast mix again. I was running on empty. On the plus side my hour of coughing had cleared my airways and my breathing was less laboured than it had been a few hours before.

I had 50km to go before I would reach a resupply point and I had already made up my mind that if all I could get was an omelette, then I was eating an omelette - two days of running mostly on energy bars had taken its toll and I couldn’t do it anymore.

I arrived in Taznakht at 9am and checked the tracking page to see where other riders had stopped for breakfast. After finding a small crowd sitting in the morning sun outside a restaurant, I sat down and ordered an omelette and then another one and then pancakes. It felt like I hadn’t eaten in weeks. For the first time in days I felt full and ready for a hard day of cycling.

At home in Amsterdam, veganism isn’t without its challenges but there are always options. In the Atlas Mountains there aren’t - and this process has taught me it’s ok to be more flexible when the situation requires it.

There was about 115km between Taznakht and CP2 and, by AMR standards, a fair amount of tarmac and not a tonne of climbing so I was confident I could get there before dark. The tarmac section was pretty boring but the kilometres flew by, and I was pleased with the fast progress. I put on a podcast and got on with it. Eventually the tarmac ran out and the route went back off road and I was having fun again. Especially as much of this off road section was downhill. It was at the turning to the off road section that Gail caught up with me. We had briefly met right at the start and she was one of the few women doing the race. We rode together all the way to CP2, and it was really nice to chat and ride with someone after a fairly quiet 24hrs. The descent into CP2 was beautiful, as it's located in a huge palmery. I've never seen so many palm trees and it was an amazing site.

CP2 is 600km away from the start line and I made it there in 2 days, 23 hours and 50 minutes. I was super happy to squeeze in just under the 3 day mark. CP2 was great, they had vegetable tagine, really good bread, loads of snacks and drink options, toilets, showers and even places to sleep. As I sat down in CP2 all the sensations that I had been ignoring all day on the bike hit me like a tonne of bricks – my knees really hurt and were super swollen, my cough was back with a vengeance, I was exhausted and freezing cold. I really should have stayed at CP2 and got a proper night's sleep, but I decided I needed to crack on. There was 120km until the next resupply point, and getting there would be slow going. After CP2 there was a steep descent further down into the palmery. It was dark by this point but I'm sure it would have been amazing to see it in the daytime. Pretty soon after leaving CP2 I started to feel the familiar night time anxiety and started to beat myself up about not staying there – it was too late now, I had just descended two hundred meters in elevation, there was no way I was turning back. After about 30km I decided enough was enough, my breathing was bad, I wasn't in a good mental spot – I needed to sleep.

⭢ Part 3 on Komoot

After sleeping for just 3 hours I got up to embark on probably my worst day of the race. I hadn't managed to shake the general anxious mindset I had gone to sleep with and I was worried about the long stretch ahead. I decided to rehydrate my second Firepot meal so I would at least have a proper meal to eat in a few hours.

The first challenge of the day was a long gradual tarmac climb. This tarmac section stretched on for 42km, and although the gradient never got tough, it dragged on and on and I did the whole thing in the dark and the cold. It was miserable. As the sun finally started to come up, the climb transitioned off-road and became a lot steeper and rockier, but at least it was beautiful. After descending into a valley there were a few ambiguous routings though rocky dry river beds and I took a few wrong turns. Crossing one of these dry river beds I spotted a camel with her baby, which lifted my spirits slightly. I stopped close by to eat my Firepot meal and felt better.

Photo by Chris McClean

I reached Tagmout at around midday and stopped at a little restaurant for a much needed water resupply and omelette. The next section was the dreaded 'Old Colonial Road', described in the race manual as one of the toughest sections. I needed to prepare myself for a slog. A lot of people enjoyed this section because they were so awestruck at the engineering of something so old and huge, but I really struggled on this section. The road was rocky and hard to ride and totally exposed to the elements. Every time I thought it was almost over I'd turn a corner to see the road snaking around several more peaks – it felt like it would never end. There were two parts of the road that had totally fallen away, making it impassable for cars or any other vehicles. To get through these sections I had to carry my bike down into the washed out part and then back up the other side, picking through large rocks and hauling my bike up and out. It was pretty tough, and once again I wished for a lighter set up. After several false downhills where I thought it was finally done, only to start heading back up again, the real downhill started. I was exhausted and my breathing and coughing were the worst they'd been. I wanted it all to be over so badly that I didn't even really enjoy the downhill. I checked the race manual, there was a guesthouse in the next town, slightly off route. I wasn't going to make the mistake I had made the previous night – I needed a proper sleep, inside and away from the cold and dust. By the time I reached the town with the guesthouse it was dark and I met two other riders who were also heading to the guesthouse. We searched the town up and down and asked several locals, but it just didn't exist. We'd come down a hill to get here and now it looked like we were heading back up it to Issafen a few kilometres further.

We got to Issafen and found one restaurant that was open, but no guesthouse. I was in such a bad state at this point that there was no way I could go even 1km further. The control car was parked up outside and the photographer and driver were in the restaurant, they also couldn't find anywhere to sleep. A few riders gathered at this restaurant including Josh Reid who I had hung out with quite a bit back at the hotel. He was also in a really bad way – same breathing/coughing issues as me. I was really close to scratching right there but Josh rightly pointed out that we were only 126km from the next checkpoint which was at a hotel in a large town. If we could make it there, we could get some proper rest – and if I still felt like scratching, at least it would be a better place to stay and rest for a bit. We decided as we were both in a bad way to ride that section together – we would take it really slow, and take the whole of the next day to get there.

Photo by Chris McClean

After another omelette dinner we convinced the restaurant owner to let us sleep in a big empty room upstairs. Soon the room filled up with about 15 riders, all exhausted after the old colonial road. I don't think I even set an alarm that night. Once we woke up, we tried to get some breakfast at the restaurant – we had totally bought him out of bread and water the night before but he had some spicy baked beans, which I had two platefuls of and then a cake. By this point in the race my metabolism was in overdrive – I could basically eat constantly and not feel full. Every spare corner of my frame bag was stuffed with biscuits, cakes and crisps.

⭢ Part 4 on Komoot

Josh and I made our way out of the restaurant and into the cold dark morning, coughing and spluttering our way to the first climb of the day. The route followed a dried out river bed up onto a plateau. We stopped regularly on our way up this climb to catch our breath and eat lots of snacks. It was pretty beautiful and the terrain was a lot more forgiving than the day before. This road however was a thoroughfare for huge trucks that would zoom past, kicking up loads of dust that inevitably went straight into our already suffering lungs. A small handful of drivers slowed down when they saw us to minimise the dust tornado, which was much appreciated. After a long and fun gravel descent we hit one of my personal favourite bits, a huge oasis that lasted for several kilometres. The sun was shining and we weaved in and out of palm trees as we made our way towards the second big climb of the day that, unlike the first, would be on tarmac. Once we finally reached the top we had a 16km tarmac descent into the town of Tafraoute where CP3 was located – we'd be there in no time.

Photo by Chris McClean

CP3 was everything we could have hoped for. A nice hotel with a restaurant that served pizza! And fries! It was also just around the corner from a really well stocked supermarket where I bought Pringles (the perfect stem bag snack) and loads of really nice cakes, breakfast bars and cookies – we were finally spoiled for choice. After inhaling pizza and fries I got a room and had my first shower in days before sleeping in a real bed. Waking up four hours later I still felt rough but I no longer wanted to scratch. I was about 350km from the finish. I could do this, even if it took me the full 8 days.

⭢ Part 5 on Komoot

I left the hotel into the darkness and appreciated that the first 11km were basically all downhill on tarmac – a nice and easy way to wake up my tired aching body. I was ravenous in the first few hours of the day and, despite going all out at the last resupply point, I basically ate it all before lunch. This binge eating session really fuelled me and I felt strong, getting over the first climb and then the second in good spirits. The landscape started to change quite dramatically after CP3. Where before it was mostly rock with the occasional oasis, now it felt almost like Greece. There was so much greenery and it was beautiful. Descending through this landscape in the late morning was maybe the best time I had on the whole race. It felt like this time had been really hard earned which made it even more enjoyable. Sure you could do a nice relaxed tour on this route – but surely these bits could only feel this great if you'd really suffered to get there... right?

After the descent I reached another dried out river bed, never a good time. It was properly hot now as well. The closer the route got to the sea the warmer it became and I was burning. The climb out of the riverbed section was really tough and, combined with the heat, caused me to run out of water. Apparently I also managed to miss a resupply point. Eventually I hit a small town and found a restaurant. Unusually there were no other riders to be found. I guess they didn't miss the resupply point a few kilometres before and were pushing on. This meant that for the first time I felt a bit vulnerable. There were about 20 teenage boys hanging outside the restaurant who were all egging each other on to yell things at me, I was keen to move on.

Photo by Gavin Kaps

There was only 30km to the next resupply point in a large town called Ait Baha and it was pretty flat. I met Joakim from Germany along this section and we rode together for a few kilometres before meeting again in Ait Baha, where he was eating with a German pair called Daniel and Sebastian. As I had just eaten a few kilometres previously, I pushed on and made my way back off road. Almost straight away, a really small but angry kid ran towards me and threw a big rock at me. It luckily didn't hit me directly but bounced off my front wheel. He was only a kid, but it shook me up a bit. Until then, everyone had been really friendly, so I was worried I was entering into an area where people didn't like all these cyclists coming through. It turned out to be an isolated incident and I didn't have any other issues. Despite this I was happy to see the three Germans catch up with me just in time for a 12km stretch of sand that was almost totally unridable. We hit that section just as the sun was going down and just had to push our bikes for several slow hours. I was really happy to be with these three other riders. They were a lot of fun to be around, and it made this section a lot more tolerable.

It was already well into the evening when we got out of the sand, and there was a lot of climbing coming up. I didn't really fancy bivvying up high so I got the race manual out to see what the options were. Just before the first big climb, and about 26km further was a petrol station that would be the only resupply point for a while. I checked the tracking page and it looked like a bunch of riders were stopped there and hadn't moved for a while – maybe there was an option to sleep there as well. We reached the petrol station/restaurant pretty late and it was quite a scene. Scattered around the tables and chairs were several riders asleep on the floor. Other riders were silently ordering and eating omelette, before finding a spot on the floor for a few hours sleep. I did the same.

⭢ Part 6 on Komoot

Waking up to embark on my second hardest day of the race I was feeling pretty beat up. My knees felt well past the point of repair by now and I performed my daily ritual of ibuprofen and pushing invasive thoughts of weeks of recovery to the back of my mind. After coughing up a lung I left the petrol station to get started on an insane day of elevation, I would 'only' manage 139km today but a huge 4,390m of up. This part of the route was new for the 2023 edition so there wasn't much info to go by in the race manual.

After two incredibly steep and long gravel climbs that took much of the morning I descended into an unusually touristy valley where I noticed several coaches full of people looking aghast at the sudden violent turn in the weather. I stopped at a tiny restaurant that only had coffee, bread and honey on offer and watched as several chairs and tables were hurled across the road by the incredibly strong wind that had picked up. The owner of the shop invited me inside and away from the weather. I checked the route on my phone and was pretty concerned to see that the biggest climb of the whole race was next, and I'd have to fight the wind every step of the way. I'm not really a road cyclist so wasn't aware of the significance as I was approaching this climb, but it's dubbed the 'Moroccan Stelvio' which is apparently a famous and daunting climb in the Trentino-Alto Adige in northern Italy.

I checked the race manual which noted plenty of other restaurants in the valley before the climb started. Good, because I was getting low on food and it would be a long while before I hit the coastal town of Imsouane which was also the next resupply point.

As I cycled through the valley towards the climb, I was pushed off my bike more than once by the wind. I was also pretty concerned to see that all the other restaurants and shops were closed. I was now at the foot of the climb without an opportunity to buy more food. I checked my bags – I had a couple of bars and half a tub of peanut butter. I guess that would have to do.

As I started the climb it started to rain heavily, and after being pushed several meters across the road and dangerously close to the cliff edge, I stopped and got off my bike and started to panic. I had 1000m to climb and this weather was dangerous. I was done, I'd given it all I had, I was going to scratch. I looked up Nelson's number and just stared at it for several minutes. I called my boyfriend instead. 'I'm going to scratch' 'Ok, are you sure? You're so close to finishing this' 'I'm going to die on this fucking climb' 'Just take it slow' 'I've not got enough food, I'm going to scratch'. I ended up staying on the call with Ben for about an hour – just pushing my bike slowly up the climb, not daring to get on it and be pushed off the edge. I didn't scratch and after several hours I reached the top. I was worried about the descent, which felt even more dangerous in this weather. Luckily much of it was off road and somewhat sheltered by trees. After coming onto a more exposed plateau a sudden gust of wind threw me off my bike and I slammed my head on the tarmac. I just lay there for a few minutes, too mentally exhausted to get up and keep fighting the weather. By now I had eaten both the bars and all I had left was the peanut butter, and although it's super high in calories, it's low in carbs and it just wasn't giving me any energy. About 40km before reaching Imsouane I bonked pretty badly and I could barely turn the pedals, I felt so weak. I kept hoping a small shop that hadn't been mentioned in the race manual would show up.

About 8km before Imsouane I noticed the control car, which was waiting to photograph me as I passed. I tried my best to look anything but completely wrecked but I'm not sure I was successful. About 3km before Imsouane I noticed a tiny shop. I pretty much crawled into it and ordered a coke and a bar of chocolate. The control car rolled up and the photographer started snapping away as I stood there in a complete daze. After downing the coke I managed to push on to Imsouane and headed straight to a hotel. They only had apartments left which seemed excessive for a 4 hour sleep, but I was in no position to find something else, so I paid up. I asked the lovely woman who worked at the hotel if there were any restaurants nearby, and obviously appreciating what a state I was in, she put her arm through mine and walked me to one. This was probably the best meal of the whole race and couldn't have come at a better time. I had a really good pizza followed by a giant pancake covered in Nutella. Feeling a little more human I found a shop. I only had 93km to go before the finish line, but I wasn't taking any chances, and bought way too much food.

Photo by Chris McClean

I had my second shower of the race and then crawled into bed in my luxurious apartment. A lot of people pushed on through the night to get to the finish line but I knew I didn't have it in me. I slept for 3 hours before getting up to get this thing done.

⭢ Part 7 on Komoot

Compared to the previous day, the last 93km were easy. There was one final climb to do, which I got over in decent time, and then it was a straight shot to the finish line. I rolled into the hotel at about 8.30am, 7 days, 14 hours and 39 minutes after I set off. As is typical at the finish line of an ultra, there was no one around, and it was a bit of an anti-climax. I left my bike outside and hobbled inside to get the final stamp in my brevet card. I got a room, had a long shower and then went downstairs to the breakfast buffet where I ate an insane amount of food, before slipping into a coma for the rest of the day.

⭢ Part 8 on Komoot

There were many times I wanted to scratch from the race, I was super sick for most of it and really had to adjust my expectations concerning when I'd cross the finish line. I'm really proud that I stuck it out – going into this race my only goal was to finish it and that's what I did, with 15.5 hours to spare.

⭢ Gear List