In this Exclusive for RunBodyRun, Adventurer and TV Presenter, Alice Morrison tells us about how she changed the direction of her life as she hit her landmark fiftieth birthday. She took a big risk, embarking on something that was above her reach when she started aiming towards it. RunBodyRun is all about striving and thriving, learning to do new things and be well throughout your life, so we think Alice’s journey will resonate with many of you.
It was my 50th birthday and I was celebrating with a huge party in my local pub in the village of Hayfield in Derbyshire. Friends had come from all over to be there and my brother and cousin had travelled down from Scotland, resplendent in tartan, to represent the family. Martin, who I studied Arabic with at university and lived within both Syria and Egypt is a disco King and he had made the playlist. We danced so hard that the floor bounced and the glasses above the bar in the main lounge downstairs, slipped from their holdings and crashed to the floor. The bar staff, who were in their twenties, stood back and watched with arms folded and expressions of amazement, “You lot know how to have a good time!” one of them laughed.
Fifty is a milestone and once the celebrations were over, I needed to do more. I had reached a stage in my life where I had had lots of success in my career, I owned my own home, I had wonderful friends but it wasn’t enough. The world was wide and it was calling to me. I felt like I wanted to break out of my comfortable life. I was restless and unfulfilled. I was looking for something to do and for a reason to “be” now that I had reached halfway (if I am lucky) through my lifespan. The early years are easy, you have to follow a path. For me, it was school, university and then journalism and finally running a company. There was always another success to reach for in my career and my time off was filled with friends and activities and mini-adventures. I had never married and had children, nor had I wanted to, but it meant I didn’t have those anchors to give me stability. Fifty hit hard. It was a great age to be but for the first time, I realised that I wasn’t, in fact, immortal and that life would end.
Fortunately, God/Fate/The Universe took a hand. My friend, Charlie of Epic Travel based in Morocco, had signed up to run the Marathon des Sables and he persuaded me to sign up too. The Marathon des Sables is called the toughest footrace on earth and is a 6-stage ultra race when you basically run six marathons across the Sahara desert in Morocco carrying all your own food and gear. Temperatures reach 50 degrees and running in sand is the stuff of nightmares. To make it more challenging, the middle stage is a double ultra – 52 miles in one go.
Now, I am a horrible runner. I am too heavy and I am slow on my feet and have no grace. When I signed up, I had never even run one marathon, far less six, but I wanted a challenge and something to give me focus and so I took a risk. A big risk.
Taking the risk is the easy part, making it work is the part that is going to wring you dry. I started running in the hills behind my house but I needed help with motivation and I put an ad in our local shop asking for running partners. God loves risk-takers and I was immediately rewarded as Naomi Greaves (and Darren her husband and Summer her daughter) entered my life. She is a fantastic runner, a regular winner of races and an Ironman, but she took me out on the hills and went at my pace and I made a new and very dear friend. She showed me the generosity of the running community, always encouraging and never once making me feel I was holding her back. At the end of my first ten miles with her over Kinder Scout, I remember I had to go down to the river behind my house and immerse my lower half in the icy water to ease the pain, I then went to bed and slept for six hours.
I wanted to give myself the absolute best chance of succeeding in the race and I took another risk, I decided to move to Marrakech in January of 2014 to spend the last three months before the race training in the country I would be racing in. I didn’t know it but that decision was to change my life completely.
To live this new life I was going to have to tighten my belt considerably and go from my beautiful home in the Peak District to living like a student again and sharing a flat. I was dreading it but I soon found a room in a flat in Marrakech, sharing with Alex Stein, a young American in her 20s and the thing I had dreaded became one of the things I loved the most. We had so much fun and I was reinvigorated by her energy.
There were lots of hard days. I was in a new environment where every single thing had to be learned from how to take a taxi (they are shared and you have to get the driver to use the meter rather than just charge you foreigner rates) to where to pay your electricity bill to where the best place for wifi and a coffee was. It is overwhelming living in a country where you are a foreigner and the language, religion and culture are not your own and it is actually an effort every time you leave your front door. But, wow, the rewards.
I was met with kindness and helpfulness all along the way. The Moroccan people are rightly famed for their hospitality and every day something would happen that would make me glad to be alive and glad to be here. One early morning I was running through the palmeraie -the palm gardens that surround Marrakech – I was tired and sore and basically ruing the day I had every signed on for this race when up ahead I saw a young man leading a group of six camels. He spotted me and waved enthusiastically.
“Oh my sister, oh my sister,” he said. “Come and have tea and breakfast.” Out of his saddlebag, he whipped a blue tin teapot, sugar and tea, two boiled eggs and two pieces of fresh bread. He got a little fire of palm fronds going and as his camels munched happily on their oats we shared the day’s first meal together. These moments are so precious, they are truly gifts from the universe and I feel as those gifts have been showered upon me.
The race came finally and Charlie and I took on the desert along with 1100 other hardy souls. Not only did I complete it in good form, but I also smashed it by my standards. I actually came in at 665 – in the middle of the field and I was truly overjoyed. Those six days passed in a parallel universe where time as we know it normally had no meaning and an hour could be as long as a year or fly by in a second. I ran through the sands, through days as hot as hell, through an entire night and came out the other end a slightly different person. I knew that whatever else happened in my life, I could always say, “I have run the Marathon des Sables.” When I think of the moment when I saw the finish line now, five years later, the hairs on my arms still raise and intense emotion floods through me. That moment is the one I hope that I relive as I die, a goal attained, a heroic feat undertaken, a risk rewarded.
But there is more. The race and my new life in Marrakech spurred me on to try and achieve other dreams. After all, I told myself, I had run the Marathon des Sables, there was nothing I couldn’t do. Years before, I had lain in bed of a Sunday dreaming of writing more, travelling more, being outdoors more and now in 2019, I am a full-time Adventurer with three books published and a TV Series under my belt.
I am living my dream. I am happy more often than I am sad and often I am filled with the joy of just being alive in this wonderful world. Your dreams will be different from mine and your situation will be different to mine but your ability to take the plunge and go for what you really want to do is the same as mine. So, if you want something, go for it. Stay strong, keep moving forward, good luck and always remember that God loves a risk-taker.
For more on Alice: www.alicemorrison.co.uk
Her books including the latest about her new life in Morocco including the Marathon des Sables, My 1001 Nights, are available on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/My-1001-Nights-Adventures-Morocco/dp/1471174255
The Marathon des Sables is www.marathondessables.co.uk