12/10/2017- Haidianzhidian 3Peak 21k Mt race report

“3 Peaks”

Haidian District, Beijing

December 10, 2017

The official name of this race, well the official translated name of this race is the “2017 Haidianzhidian Peak Three Peak Cross Country Competition.” Another name of this race that I saw was “2017 Top of the Summit of Haidian Motorcross Dajue Temple, Haidian District, Beijing”. I’m not sure what is the real ‘official’ name but I’ll call it 3Peaks.

Looking at this course profile,  I really should call it 4 Peaks.

3PeaksProfile

Might be hard to read but the first climb is 800 meters (2400) and that is just the first climb.

This was my third Chinese trail race this year, all within a few hours driving time of Beijing. And I as I write this, 3 days post race, I am still really sore. My left knee, left thigh, left hip and left shoulder at still ache. Tough to sleep on that side. At least the discomfort is not both sides. The left side is so sore due to a critical lesson I learned during the race:

  • Climbing 2400 ft., in a few km, your legs will be like jelly so after reaching the top, do not quickly attempt to start running fast. Your jelly legs will not work right and likely will fall on a pile of rocks and it will hurt.

Yes, after I tried to start running, I tripped and fell, landing on my left side. Lucky, my forward momentum allowed me to duck (hit the ground) and roll and landed back upright on my feel . (very pleased I avoided connecting my head to any of the rocks.) Besides minor bleeding and bruising, the only real damage was cracking the hard case I carry my hearing aides in.

Of the 3 trail races this year (21k, 30k, 21k), this one was the toughest. Did I mention the race starts with a climb of 2400ft! It took me nearly two HOURS to get to the top of the second peak and that’s only a third of the total distance.

 

How steep was it, crazy steep- look I have pictures: ->

Have I mentioned how much I LOVE my trail shoes. Not a single blister or bloody toe (toenail).

 

They say getting to the starting line can be the toughest part of a race. When I ran the 3 Peaks 21k Mountain race, that statement was nearly true.

About a year ago, I joined the local running group, “Hey Running”.  Initially, I thought I’d use this group to meet others to train for urban road half and full marathons, in China and SE Asia. But through this group, I quickly learned of the booming trail running scene, in China and SE Asia.  And what makes all this “learning” possible is WeChat.

Soon after I attended my first Hey Running session in Chaoyang Park, one of the team leaders asked, “are you on WeChat, I’ll invite you to our (WeChat) group.” That evening, I received a request to join the Hey Running group on WeChat. Once I ‘accepted’, I had access to the daily discussions the members of the group discusssed, which is mostly upcoming races. And most of the races they talked about were trail, not urban, races.

In January 2017, a weChat discussion began about some race, in about a month. Immediately, about a dozen runners, all said positive things about the race and said they were (or have) signing up. And one person, posted a link to the race website and registration page. (how convenient is that). Unfortunately, the website was in Chinese. Remember, I’m living in China. But the same person that shared the link also reminded the group members, who can’t read Chinese, the best way to read the website is to use Google Chrome as your browser and set it to auto translate Chinese-> English by default. Took me about 5 minutes to download, install and configure this and boom, I’m reading the about the race in English.

Once I learned about details of the race, and that others were forming car pools to get the start line, I decided to sign up for my first trail race in China.

After I announced I was signed up, one member sent me a wechat request, to join the “sub group”, for this race. Now I was a member of the HeyRunning wechat group and a member of a second group, a sub group for Hey Running. This group would discuss the details of the race; the course, the weather, air quality and transportation. Once connected to this group of people and using the all-powerful WeChat, complex tasks became pretty simple.

Back in October 2017, I was thinking about running one more Trail race for 2017. I’d already completed:

  1. Feb- 21k mt trail race
  2. March- Seoul international marathon
  3. June – Liangshang 30k Mt trail race
  4. Sept- Half marathon trail run in WA, USA
  5. October- 21k mt trail race

That is the most races I’ve ever run, in one year. And with only ‘minor’ injuries. (knock on wood).

The main driver for wanting to run one more race is that having a race approaching would give my training motivation and focus.

As before, someone on the Hey Runing WeChat group posted about the “3 Peaks 21k Mt trail race”, for early December 2017 and announced registration had just opened. In China, races tend to have brief registration periods, like 4 weeks or less. A few other runners immediately chimed in that this race had solid organization, was just an hour away and unfortunately each mentioned this race could be COLD.

Several folks ran it last year and although the course is steep (nearly 6k of climbing in 13miles) the real struggle would be battling the cold Siberian winds while up on the ridge lines. This warning did cause me to pause, but, because I wanted one more race in December, I bit the bullet and signed up.

Part of the typical (Chinese) race registration is to prove you are ‘fit’ enough to run the race. Normally, if you send in a “race certificate”, from a completed similar race, in the past year, that will do. Or you can send in a medical form, stating the doctor gives you permission to race, based upon your good health. So, I sent in my September race certificate and my registration was accepted.

About a week later, the WeChat sub group for this race posted that the race organizers were changing the rules and now, everyone need a Blood pressure and EKG test from a doctor, besides the medical form to run this race.

The trail race I ran back in June, a 50k runner had suffered a heart attack and died on the course. Since then, race organizers were adding this requirement to attempt to lessen the chances of this tragic event being repeating. Registered runners had to turn in this medical test report, when we picked up our race bib. WeChat saved the day, without it, I never would have known of this new requirement.

My next step in the process of getting to the start line would be obtaining this medical document. I do have a local doctor, a very helpful German guy who works at one of the Expat friendly hospitals. When I called his office to book an appointment with him, the receptionist, speaking pretty good English, but not her first language, didn’t really understand why I needed these tests. I just told her to book me an appointment, explaining in person is much easier.

The doctor’s appointment went well, the MD understood my needs and gave me the blood pressure test. Unfortunately, I’d have to book an appointment at their hospital for the EKG. So, the scheduling process was repeated and a few days later, I had requirement document (signed by MD) in hand. One step closer to the start line…

The last task before race day was picking up my race bib. Chinese races ask racers to pick up their bib a week before, usually at a sports store that is a race sponsor. For this race, the store was located at the Olympic park. I never heard of the store but I have been to the Olympic park and its an easy 45 minute metro ride.

One day before bib pick up day, the race WeChat group started a LONG message string. No one could find the store location on Googlemaps or AppleMap. A few times before, I’ve had a lot of trouble finding specific locations (stores, restaurants) using these mobile maps. Not sure why.  This time, the problem was, the store location wasn’t given specific enough. The pin drop was at the closest metro stop. Fortunately, someone in the weChat group works nearby and went to the park to find the store and took pictures of it- since the store name is in Chinese, most runners don’t read Mandarin.

The next day, I jumped on the amazingly clean, cheap, safe and efficient Beijing metro to the Olympic park to pick up my bib. Now remember, to get the bib, I had to turn in the medical form.

I arrived just as the store opened so was the first in line to pick up my bib. One store employee spoke some English and asked me to hand a woman (medical person maybe) my medical form (it was in Chinese and English). Immediately, after reading it she started asking another employee a bunch of questions concerning my form. They went back and forth about something in my document, then she walked away, still holding my document.

Since it was the day before the race, if she told me my form was invalid, I’d have to beg for another appointment to get the form updated. While waiting for her to return, with my form, I was sweating.

Maybe 5 minutes later, but felt like 25, she returned, half smiled at me, said something in Mandarin and then handed me my bib. Yes! All that remains is to get to the starting line.

The race was much closer to town then the other trail runs I’ve done in 2017. About a one hour drive, from Chaoyang District (east side of downtown). From the weChat sub group, I joined a car pool with three other guys who lived nearby but I had never met any of them.

The day of the race, about 6:30am, I biked about a mile to Tim’s apartment. I leave my bike, knowing when I return to ride home, I’m going to be ‘hurting’. Vincent meets us there. One Aussie and one Frenchman and me, drive off to the mountains NW of Beijing.

Vincent had recently been to this area, so fortunately no problems finding the start line. We arrived about an hour before start time. The place is empty. Like a ghost town. The organizers are just arriving and setting up flimsy tents and tables for their race HQ. The wind batters them. I hadn’t noticed how strong the wind was. And its about 32 F. Thinking about what the temps may be up on the ridge line, 2,000 feet above us, not comforting….

Like all other local races, there are zero porta-potties. The race starts at the edge of a small village so the only ‘facilities’ are the town public toilets. With about 3 stalls per gender, glad this race is tiny.

In the next 50 minutes, about 100-150 runners trickle in. About half local, half expats. The race sponsors offer a group warm up, which consists of techno pop (volume set to 11) and 2 females leading an aerobic dance on a small stage. Most the racers join in and it’s a nice little moment of community. We line up and then the gun goes off.

The first 100 yards, I mean meters, is following the (not very wide) cement path through the town to where the trail picks up. I’m about in the first 3rd, no need to be up front since we all will be walking soon.

Here is how the official website describes the race (translated by Google Chrome):

“Sanfeng even wears the line as the classic outdoor hiking route in Beijing. The starting point is Dajusi Temple in Haidian District. Because it passes through the tip of the northern tip of the radish, the balcony mountain, and the Miaofeng Mountain three peaks more than one kilometer above sea level, it is called the three peaks and the line is worn. Among them, the north tip of the radish is 1,050 meters above sea level, the balcony mountain is 1,276 meters above sea level, the highest peak in the Haidian region, and the Miaofeng Mountain is 1,291 meters above sea level. It belongs to the Mentougou District, and the distance between the three peaks is 21 kilometers and the cumulative climb is 1700 meters. These are the wilderness dirt roads, which belong to the more difficult route in the 21km race. It is very challenging and it is also the place where the runners often go. The line of the game follows the classic three-peak line, allowing runners to experience the purest trail running! ”

After I read that the first time, the only fact I remembered was “cumulative climb 1700meters.”

Of the 3 trail races this year (21k, 30k, 21k), this one was the toughest. Did I mention the race starts with a climb of 2400ft! It took me nearly two HOURS to get to the top of the second peak and that’s only a third of the total distance. Thank goodness the air is good, and clean blue skies cause this might be a long day.

One hour and 38minutes later, I reached the first (of 3) peaks. I was spent, even after slowly jogging or power hiking up. My thighs were on fire.

After the route levels off, I start to actually jog and immediately trip on a rock. I hit the ground (more rocks) on my left hip and my momentum carries me into a tuck and roll and I nearly land right back on both feet, upright. (bad that sore spot on my hip is going to be an ugly bruise tonight)

Up on the ridge now, the sky is blue bird clear. Yeah, its cold but just keep moving. When the wind blows, that is a different matter.

My first 5 miles, to the first peak:

Splits Time Cumulative Time Moving Time  Distance Elev Gain
1 14:41 14:41 13:20 1.00 565
2 20:47 35:28 19:27 1.00 1,009
3 25:02 1:00:30 13:20 1.00 1,105
4 15:48 1:16:18 13:20 1.00 482
5 22:11 1:38:29 11:23 1.00 731

After the first 5 miles, the middle section is up the ridge and pretty nice, rolling hills, up and down. One or two parts are very steep but luckily very short.

I was carrying about a liter of water in my main water bladder and two 17oz soft bottles of Gatorade on my chest. Think I ate about 4 GU during the race. Aid station offered water but don’t recall eating any food.

Once we start downhill, last three miles, tried to pick up the pace but so many stones on the trails slowed me down. Just don’t trip….

The last 30 minutes, my thighs, calfs and feet are aching, throbbing or both. Too many stones and stone steps. Man that hurts when your legs are cooked.

I didn’t run with any friends although at the finish did discover half dozen folks I knew already finished. The race didn’t give out much food at the finish line but they served some sort of hot broth, that was fantastic. Quickly warmed up frozen toes and fingers.

Overall, I was pleased with the day. Cold but not frigid but actually warm in the sunshine. Running (or really hiking up) 5700 ft in 4:03:06, I can accept that time. Nice way to wrap up my most productive year racing yet. And cheers to 2018!

Speaking of weChat, someone posted this great video summary of the day. Apologies for the commercials.

 

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Sept 2017-Paradise Valley Trail run (Half marathon) race report

(Still playing catch up, with my very late posts)

This race was not on my 2017 calendar until about 4 weeks before I ran it. DSC_0440Originally, 2017 was all about the Seoul International Marathon (March), Grasslands Marathon (july) and maybe one undetermined fall marathon, with a few half marathon trail runs sprinkled before, after and between those three races.  And then they cancelled the Grasslands race, in June. Dang it.

A record dry winter/spring turned the normally knee high ‘grasslands’ into brittle, short grass by early June. In attempt to save the grass, they chopped the race.

Yeah, I was looking forward to this trip to Inner Mongolia to run on the endless, rolling grasslands. Very disappointed. I had trained well, hitting solid monthly totals;

  • March 130 miles,
  • April 157 and
  • May 190!(2nd highest monthly total ever)

How great would it have been to run on soft dirt, across the gentle, rolling hills like this? Cool, crisp morning temps followed by warm, bright sunshine with low AQI (air quality index).

Grasslands

Guess it wasn’t ‘meant to be.

In June I focused on finding my next race, and soon. Didn’t want to wait too long for fear of loosing too much of the fitness I’d earned during the winter and spring in Beijing. I’d already booked a trip back to the PNW (pacific northwest) for September 2017 and one day randomly found the NorthWest Trail Runs site. Well how about that, the Paradise Valley Trail Run (half marathon) was the day after I landed in Seattle. Perfect.

It wasn’t a full marathon but I would go all out and just see what happened. Also, a huge plus about this race was that this ‘trail’ was a real trail. A dirt path with some rocks and occasional root but mostly dirt. Not a path littered with thousands of stones and rock stairs, that you see in China.

(See My first Chinese Trail Race report-

At the start, straight up.

Walking/hiking/not running on rocks

One down side to running this particular race so soon after flying in from China was yes, I would be jet lagged but heading east, (Beijing to Seattle) the jet lag would be to my advantage. Likely, I’d be awake by 4am PST, so just shower, eat a big, leisurely breakfast and head NE from Seattle toward hwy 522 and Monroe, WA.

The shuttle pick up was at a church and I was the first car in the lot. Way early. Within 20 minutes, three other cars arrived and all runners stayed in their cars, due to the fall chill. When the school bus pulled in, about a dozen runners emerged from the car park and climbed on. The first, of several shuttle buses, drove us about 15 minutes to the tiny (few parking spaces) trail head and the start of the race.

An hour before the gun, plenty of time to stretch, walk around a bit. Other runners emerged with each drop off from the shuttle bus. The final bus arrived about 15minutes before the start. Nearly 100 folks lined up to start. Ages mixed from high school cross country team members ready for a long sprint to pensioners looking for a nice walk.

I started in the upper quarter and followed close behind three younger runners for about the first two miles. Few runners passed us but we (slowly) passed a few. The trail was nice, mostly dirt with some roots but didn’t have to be hyper aware and constantly quickly picking your feet up, like when you run over rocks. By half way, I still felt good so kept the speed up. Running through the green everywhere evergreen trees and lush ferns was a real treat after the dry, brown, and arid, HOT Beijing dessert summer.

The route was two loops and as I started into the second loop, I had no idea how many runners were ahead of me. I guessed a dozen, but truthfully it was just three. Held on, trying to run fast but not fast enough to flame out. There was some elevation gain, about 1000 feet total, so that helped slow me down a bit.

The weather was cool but very misty/foggy. And I didn’t realize until late in the race that my garmin watch lost and reconnected several times to the GPS satellite. Therefore, when my watch read i’ve completed 11 miles, I knew i run further but not sure how much further. How much was left? No idea.

After not seeing another runner for 5-10 minutes, a guy passed me, moving at a good clip. There was no way I would catch him so didn’t even try. But sped up a bit, hoping to prevent being passed again.

Making a sharp right turn, found myself just feet from the finish line and crossed it to the sound of a claps from just a small handful of runners. who had already finished. I was number 4! And just 40 seconds from 3rd and my first podium. Oh, well. I was pleased with my result.

Overall, a nice course, with rolling trail surrounded by lush vegetation and tall, so tall evergreen pine trees. Loved it. So nice to be pack in the PNW.

Posted in Beijing, Holidays, marathon training, Race, Seattle, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Seoul International Marathon race report

IMG_2365 (1)Back in March, the family traveled to Seoul, Korea for a three day weekend, and a marathon. Seoul was on our ‘list’ so didn’t have to lobby very much to convince the family to sign up.

I picked this marathon because the race course is mostly flat, with 1000ft of total climb and thought I could give it an attempt to ‘run’ a marathon. Doubted I could BQ but wanted to give it a shot.

One major challenge, because this race is huge- 30k runners, I wouldn’t be “running” unless I could land in a starting wave up near the front.

How could I score a (treasured) wave near the front?

  1. Months before the race…First, I ‘asked’ the race directors, if they would grant me a position, in an early starting wave. No luck. They said I must send in a ‘race certificate’, from my last fast marathon. Never heard of a ‘race certificate’ before…
  2. I sent in the URL to the results page of my last ‘fast’ marathon. The Tunnel, September 2016. No luck. They asked for an official ‘race certificate’.
  3. The tunnel race does not send out official race certificates. So, I created one in powerpoint and sent that in. No reply.
  4. Month later, sent in my (fake) race certificate again. No reply

What options did I now have? Cancel the trip or go and hope they gave me an early starting wave? Worst case, they put me in the back of 30k runners and I just ‘jog’ the course. We flew to Seoul.

Day before the race, I picked up my race bib and guess what?? There are 5 waves, which one do I land in??

5th wave.

Bastards

The race day weather was nice and cool, not frigid. Sun would come out and warm things up. We took the metro to the start area and after a bit of confusion, getting to the back of HUGE crowd, I had about 15minutes to get ready. Not ideal.

Spent about 13 of 15 minutes in a port-a-potty line. (when you gotta go, you go) Then quick stretch and jumped into the line about 50 yards from the end of the masses and masses of Asian runners.

IMG_2374 (1)

Will helps me stretch before the start

First mile very slow. Knew I’d waste A LOT of energy but couldn’t help it- I started weaving through the crowd to find daylight and space to ‘run’.

Mile splits:

  1. 8:30
  2. 7:49
  3. 8:23
  4. 8:13
  5. 7:48
  6. 8:42

Not only is weaving through the crowd a way to waste energy but its an easy way to fall. Cutting in front of a runner, they might accidentally trip me. Or, more risky, I was jumping on and off side walks to pass people. Again, not ideal.

Miles 7-9 made good time but I think I was running fast because I really had to PEE and no porta potty in sight. Come on, not a porta potty for MILES.

Mile splits:

  • 7- 7:53
  • 8- 7:53
  • 9- 7:52
  • 10- 8:06
  • 11- 8:18
  • 12- 7:53

Second half of race, temps starting to warm up. Likely, not drinking enough liquids. And still weaving through the crowds although by mile 12, crowd was thinning. Starting to pay for all that energy I’ve wasted.

  • 13- 8;21
  • 14- 8:41
  • 15- 8:08
  • 16- 8:33
  • 17-8:09
  • 18-8:13

I don’t recall much about this section but started to really feel it. Starting to struggle to keep pace. And little shade from sun.

  • 19-8:29
  • 20-8:41
  • 21-8:40
  • 22-8:48
  • 23-8:56

Last push. Slowing down and by mile 26, the wheels were starting to fall off.

  • 24- 9:06
  • 25-9:21
  • 26-9:55

Done! 3:44:23

Considering the crowds, I should be pleased with this time. But, I’m not. Bet I lost at least 5, maybe 10 minutes weaving through the crowd. Oh well.

Few last notes on this race:

The positives:

  • We liked Seoul. Great food, laid back, clean and tiny (compared to Beijing) city
  • Mostly flat course
  • aid stations well supplied
  • Good weather

Thing to improve:

  • Where are the porta-potties? Even ran down metro tunnel looking for one. Didn’t find one, for miles.
  • placed in last wave so wasted energy weaving through crowd for miles.
  • finished in stadium and took over an HOUR, I swear, to get out of the stadium, find my drop bag (in stadium parking lot) and get out onto street.

Overall, I’d recommend this marathon as a way to see the city. If you aren’t in a hurry.

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Running through the winter 2017

(originally written Feb ? 2017)

As I mentioned in the last post, late summer and fall 2016, my running was temporarily interrupted by a medical issue. I missed the Beijing marathon in September but I wasn’t too upset. It will be there in 2017.

By November first, I was able to crank the running back up to my regular routine. Although I was starting from scratch (no fitness base), I was thrilled just to be back in the game and thinking about what my next marathon would be.

As the brief fall ended and winter announced its arrival in mid November with its cold northern wind barreling down the blocks of Beijing, I select Seoul, Korea for the next marathon. I liked:

  • easy travel with 1.5 hr direct flight
  • several reviews gave the race organization a thumbs up
  • relatively flat
  • a nice place for the family to visit over a long weekend
  • good food.

Through December and January, my monthly total miles climbed to 131 and 144. Missed some training runs due to travel and minor injuries or strains (ankle, shin, hip). This time of year the air pollution is the WORST. For days in a row, this poison in the air stunk, and looks like off color smog. Thank god for the cleaner air of the gym. Ran 12, 14, 16 even 18 mile LR on the treadmill. Ugh, not easy. Even with a TV and podcasts to mix up the endless, mindless stride after stride.

Much more so this year vs last, the air pollution mentally was really tough on me. Likely because I don’t work 9-5 in an office, on bad air days I’d go to the gym for an hour or so but besides that, I hunker down inside the apartment all day. We have 7 air filtration machines in the apartment and on the days when AQI is above 250, we have to run the machines on Max for hours. The whirl of these boxes, hour after hour, also can kinda drive you nuts. They are loud.

The flip side of shitty air days is when the air is good, or back to ‘normal’, it’s exciting, a really big deal. I must to go outside and run.  Typical winter gear is, the wool running socks, two pairs of (light) gloves, hat, 2-3 shirts, neck gator, hat, and bright orange (capt n safety) running vest and out I go.

Another huge plus for me and my running is that I’ve started to run with a local running group. Heyrunning is a sub group of HeyRobics, that organizes three runs a week in the Sanlitun and Chaoyang Park neighborhoods of Beijing. I had read about this group last year but never made it out to meet them. Then, few months ago, I discovered one my son’s classmates’ father was involved, so I showed up, in late 2016.

HeyRUn

I’m not too consistent meeting and running with the group, maybe 2x per month, usually a Wednesday night. Those nights they gather at a coffee shop (Mocha Bros) about a 3 minute jog from our apartment. The group head into Chaoyang Park for about an hour. Normally, the routine is some stretching, easy jogs then longish speed work. For ex. 8x30sec temp runs, with 30 sec rest in between. Usually, between 5-10 people show up depending on the air temperature and the air quality. They cancel at AQI > 200. Those who show up is a good mix of really fast, fast and not so fast folks. Mostly Ex-pats from England, France, Germany, USA, Switzerland and Holland.

Although I don’t run with the group so often, I have tried to do most of my long runs with a ‘bloke’ from England. His daughter was in Will’s class Sept-December 2016, before she moved to Australia. Very long story, but her dad couldn’t move with them. Martin is a few years younger than me and insanely fast. 3:06 marathoner.

It’s really nice to have someone to chat with while we run those long 2-3 hr jogs. We are by far the oldest in the running group so its nice to chat about things the others wouldn’t understand; Margaret Thatcher, disco, the 1980s, etc.

When the air quality is above 160, I’ll head to the gym to run on the treadmill. I really should get to the gym once a week so it is insanely expensive and pretty nice facility. This winter/spring, I averaged 5 runs a week, sometime six. I’m pleased with the amount of running i’ve completed so far this year, with only minor injuries. My monthly running totals:

  • January – 144 (miles)
  • February – 140
  • March – 129
  • April – 158

Next up, long lost Seoul marathon race report….

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Lingshan 30km trail challenge Race Report

Saturday, I ran, no mostly slowed jogged and walked the Lingshan 30km mountain trail race. This race is about 80 miles NW of Beijing. I knew this course would be a real challenge and it absolutely was. Simply put, the toughest race I’ve ever run. I did finish but wasn’t pretty. Not as pretty as the stunning landscapes.

IMG_2612

3/4 up the first and steepest climb.

The day started with the 3am alarm. Up, dressed and consumed my regular pre race food stuffs- PB&J, OJ, yogurt and banana. Stretched some, unpacked my Salomon hydration pack to make sure I knew what I had then repacked it. Walked out the door about 5:15am.

Five of us from my running group rented a driver and van to take us to the race. I only had to walk about 5 minutes to the west gate of Chaoyang Park, the gathering point. The passengers were a blend of personalities and nationalities- Kate(USA), Joyce(Chinese), Abel (Spain) and Christine(Canadian). I had only met Kate before. All are serious runners. Have run many trail races; half, full marathons and ultras. And they are at least 10-20 years younger than me. Unfortunately, I was the only passenger not to sleep on the drive up to the race. Too many butterflies and windy turns.

And the drive was truly up. Off the main highway after about an hour and then back roads. Back roads quickly turned into endless windy roads heading ‘up’. Being in the back of the van, driving these windy roads couldn’t end soon enough.

When we arrived in the (very small) town of Lingshan, we thought we needed to pick up our race bibs here. Christine spoke to several people (all wearing running gear and race bibs) and there was some confusion about where to pick up the bibs. Very critical, we were told to use the public restrooms here in town. The race start had no facilities. (amazing but true). After trying two shops in town, looking for our bibs, we were then told the bibs were at the start location, just up the road. Glad we weren’t pressed for time.

Unlike at the Seoul marathon, we arrived at the start location with plenty of time, over an hour to get ready. There really were no bathrooms or porta-potties. So, we walked down the road and into the nearest woods.

The 100k and 50k had started at 7am and the 12 and 30k would start at 10am. About 200 total people, i’m guessing, gathered for the 10am start. Yes, I was very concerned with a late start time, if it was going to be hot. As we drove between the town and the start, we could see Lingshan ski resort, just to our left. There was a hiking trail going straight up the ski run. I mentioned, “really hope we don’t have to run up that trail.” This trail is about 1 km away from the start and that hill would be the first hill (see picture above).

The start was at 5000ft and with a cool wind blowing, it was cold. I put on my jacket and hat while getting organized. I briefly considered wearing my jacket at the start. Also, decided not to take my new trekking poles. Several people I asked, mentioned you need to have a lot of practice with them to really be effective. Since I only had them a short time and never run in the mts with them, decided to leave them for another race.

Our crew geared up and took a quick a pic with Mao. The startling line was just behind Mao.

IMG_2601

About 5 minutes before the gun went off, a race official led all the runners in a group exercise, warm up routine. Half jumping, dancing and stretching.

IMG_2600

And then the gun went off. I really had no plan, no expectation for how fast I should or could run. Maybe finish between 5-6 hours…? I’ve never run this type of elevation so my focus was simple-go slow up the hills, don’t fall on the declines and when my breathing and heart beat raced, so down more.

The pack ran about a km together to the ski area and then up. And up and up. The pack of runners quickly thinned out. The vast majority of participates seemed to be behind me. After about an hour of slow hiking, way too steep to try a jog, reached the top.

During this climb, my first three mile splits- 11:56, 26:49 (the slowest of the race), 20:34.

 

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Commanding view at 7500 feet but didn’t stay long enough to enjoy it. Turned around heading back the way I came. Going down had to maneuver around all the racers behind me and the growing number of day hikers.

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Sped up on the way down while gingerly hopped over so many stones and took less then 30 minutes to return near the start and the first aid station.

Refilled one of my 16 oz bottles, grabbed a banana, slice of watermelon (really yummy it’s peak season)  and jogged on. My two 16oz bottles on my chest held Gatorade and I had filled my water bladder with water, about 40 oz. The first half of the race, I mostly drank the Gatorade since it would be easier to refill and I wanted to make sure I consumed those electrolytes.

This part of the course was nearly flat but that didn’t last long. Started up again but not so steep.

Soon ran into an official directing runners off the single track trail into the grass as a detour. Quickly realized the reason for the detour was a runner down, on the trail. He was completely wrapped in emergency blanks like a mummy. I remember thinking maybe he is really cold and they are trying to warm him up. Several folks were standing around him but not talking or working on him. Glad I failed to connect the dots. After I finished, I was told this runner suddenly collapsed and could not be resuscitated.

The middle section of the course I recall with minor ups and downs but mostly remember the STELLAR views, endless sea of moutains. For an hour ran at about 5000-6000ft elevation. This section also held the most non racers. The picture below captures part of the horde of day hikers who stopped to pick flowers and herbs. Must have been hundreds of day hikers.

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At this point I was tired but overall felt fine. Some soreness in both calfs and lower thighs but nothing to worry about. I thing I did worry about was my hydration. Every 10 minutes of so, pulled a drink from one chest bottles or my water bladder. But I felt like I wasn’t getting enough liquid so I increased from1-2 sips to 3-4 sips. Approaching another ridge line saddle, focused on the views, appreciating the near perfect weather and trying hard not to think about the upcoming big decline and then the final slow death climb to the finish.

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Very well supplied aid stations.

The decline started in a cloud a dust. Two guys just ahead of me dropped off a ridge line, into the a sea of sand and dust, kicking up a cloud of dust. Following them down, I’d continue down until hitting a road that kicks off the final ascent. No idea the steepness of this descent but let’s just say, really steep.

After a few hundred meters heading down through the dust, entered peaceful and cooler woods. I enjoyed this change of pace in the scenery but many sections held deep leaf cover and didn’t like stepping where I wasn’t sure what was under all the leaves.

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Heading down, this is where I wished I was wearing proper trail shoes. My Brooks Adrenaline did fine but trail shoes’ improved support and traction may make a big difference.

Most of the course, other runners were in sight, ahead of me. Many wore the official race technical t shirt that was BRIGHT neon green/yellow. Seeing these glowing neon shirts up head was a bit reassuring, I was on the course. So many intersecting trails, few times I wasn’t so sure. But, for extended sections of this decline in the woods, not a single neon t shirt in site. Fortunately, the race crew did a fantastic job marking the trail course with red streamers in trees, about every 50-100 meters. So 99% of the time I knew I was on the course.

About four hours into the race, the decline bottomed out at the final aid station. With about four miles left, normally, a 10 minute mile pace is within reach but as I inhaled watermelon, Gatorade and bananas, I felt my body wasn’t happy. That pace wasn’t going to happen. Just trying to keep moving, departed the aid station and jogged up  on to the road that would take me the finish line.

As I tossed the last of the watermelon rinds, I felt the warmth of the sun and quickly decided not a good thing. My legs were nearly black, covered in sand and dust, my thighs and calfs barked with each step. The trek up the final 8km on this deserted mountain road was an ugly, slow slog. This gas tank was empty (aka hit the wall). Initially, tried to jog a few hundred meters at a time then walk. That became jog 50 meters, and walk and then I decided to just walk it in.

Picked up the pace the final few hundred meters and crossed the finish line upright and smiling. Time was 5:39, I know I can do better but I’ll take it.

Of the five in my van, a really good day. All finished and Kate won the ladies 30k, Joyce placed and Abel placed 3rd in the men. (Those speedy youngsters). Didn’t see too many, if any, folks my age racing so bet I at least placed in my age group. Maybe even won it…. Haven’t seen official results yet.

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The top ladies

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Kids in our van

Soon after I arrived home, my wife asked if I’d run this suffer-feast again. Initially, said ‘no’. But, yeah, I probably will.

 

Few lessons learned:

  • Eat more before race. Ate breakfast at 3:30am, since race didn’t start until 10am should have eaten late snack about 8-8:30am. Due to stomach issues (nausea from windy roads) on drive up, didn’t want to eat anything.
  • Drink more.  Too many small sips. Squeezing the water bladder or soft water bottle forces more out.
  • Buy and wear trail shoes.
  • Use poles…. tbd. Glad I didn’t have them but they may have helped.
  • Increase fuel intake. Consumed 5 GU, supplemented by food at stations. Likely didn’t eat enough. Next time, eat more at aid stations.
  • More hill training **
  • Learn how to run downhill***

Next up, Grasslands Marathon in Inner Mongolia- July.

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Second Trail race in China- preview

(written June 8th)

This weekend, I’ll attempt the Lingshan 30k Mountain trail race. It’s part of the Lingshan 100 Ultra trail challenge. If you read Chinese or have Google Chrome set to auto translate, this is all the info about the race. This will be my second trail race while living in China. Lingshan mountain is NW of Beijing, about a 2.5hr drive (with good traffic). I’ve seen pictures and I understand why it’s called the Mount Everest of Beijing. Got some steeps.

With nearly 6000 feet of climbs, going to be really, really tough but I am looking forward to it.

I found this race through the local running group I run with one or two evenings a month, in nearby Chaoyang Park. This race has 12, 30, 50 and 100km distances. The group has runners in every category minus the 12km. About 10 folks total running. I’m running the 30k with 5 others. We hired a driver and a van and depart at 5:30am Saturday. Going to be a long day.

My concern isn’t the distance but the elevation. Steep climbs and worse, steep declines. Going uphill isn’t a problem for me. Just take it slow. But going downhill is a problem. How does one avoid the huge strain on the knees or rolling an ankle on a rock? I’m not sure but I’ll learn as I go.  The elevation profile is below. The first climb is running up a ski run. Looks nearly straight up. And the finish is even worse. What kind of sadist creates a course to have the final 8km go uphill like that? That part of the race will be a true suffer fest.

Am I ready? Fortunately, my training has gone really well since the Seoul Marathon back in March. A few minor aches and pains around the knee and shin/ankle that only required a day or two of days off.  The body held together as I ramped up the monthly miles:

  • 129 miles in March
  • 158 miles in April
  • 190 miles in May

May was clearly a huge month. Two back to back 50 mile weeks, which I’ve never done before. And hitting 190 miles, that’s the most I’ve run in one month in nearly two years.

Endurance was the focus although did some speed work. Really wish I had done more treadmill (steep) incline runs in the gym. Not enough hills and especially declines are likely going to haunt me. Ran some stairs but should have done more.

The course will have just 3 or 4 aid stations so I’ll need to carry fair amount of fluid and some Gu. Decided to upgrade from my trusty fuel belt. A basic one that holds 1 to 4 10oz bottles. Served me well for nearly 10 years but decided time for a major upgrade. Since I’m running in the mountains, if the weather turns i’ll need a rain jacket, extra shirt, hat, etc.  Selected the Salomon Advanced Skin Backpack (12 Set). So glad I splurged:

  • Holds a ton of gear. 12 Liters of stuff
  • So many pockets
  • 1.5 liter water bladder
  • Two 16oz soft water bottles on your chest
  • very comfortable fit, light and hugely important..
  • snug fit. No bounce when run.

I run with it about 4-5 times including a 12 mile run so hopefully no surprises with the backpack on race day.

One other very important training note to mention is that I’ve dramatically increased my use of a foam roller. Should be rolling the calfs, thighs and hips every day but I normally get in 4-5 sessions per week. I know this has really helped prevent sore muscles turning into a problem muscle.

Lastly, race day strategy… mostly, just take it easy and enjoy the day.

 

 

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First Chinese trail run race report

Way, way back in February, I ran a trail half marathon, in the mountains of NW Beijing. It was called Aijiang Mountain cross country race. Here is the race report.

Previously, I’ve only run one “trail” race, a full marathon in the Methow valley of WA state. It was the Sunflower trail marathon, back in May 2015, i think…. LOVED it, the bright sunshine, warm air, killer views as we climbed and descended the single tracks of the North Cascades. But all that decline, humbled me. my knees and thighs hurt for days. Regardless, I knew I’d be running more trail races. Didn’t know at the time, the next one would be in China.

Few months ago, I fell in with a local running group, here in Beijing. They are a nice mix of recreational runners, mostly middle of the pack speed but a handful of hard core, seriously fast athletes. And the medium age is probably early 30s. So, if I want it, they will push my limits.

When I first heard about this trail race in January 2017, via the running groups WeChat page, I thought it a good idea since I wanted to race something during my training for the Seoul marathon in mid march. (that race report is next) The trail race would be end of February, starts at about 3000 feet so it would be COLD! But, I’ve run all winter in Beijing, figured I could deal with cold. Six of us from the running group signed up for the half marathon (there was also a full marathon) and someone booked a driver/van. That was fantastic. Just had to meet the van at 6am, at local hotel and no transportation issues. Unfortunately, there would be three other factors that required my full attention.

First, the white stuff. Beijing is in a dessert and we received ZERO precipitation in January into mid February. Then one week before the race, the city gets about 3 inches of snow and the surrounding mts get twice that. We hoped the sun would have a few days to melt all the snow. Sadly, that didn’t happen. In the shadows, the trail held a powdering of the white stuff and yes, covered rocks very slicker-ry.

The second unexpected challenge to the trail were the stones. (see ‘broken/twisted ankle waiting to happen’ pic above). Most people, like me, just gingerly maneuvered over the snow and slick, large stones. Thankfully, most of the trail wasn’t like this. It was more like single track or Forest service roads- smooth sand and snow free.

Our van driver experienced a few issues with the directions and so we arrived about 15minutes before the start gun. Due to my lack of experience running trails and the 1400 meters of climbing, I held no illusions of a fast finish time. Dropped off my drop bag, hit the head and arrived at the start line as the gun fired. With both distances starting together, maybe 100 people surged toward the first climb.

From the start, we climbed straight up. Few people “ran”, most were just walking, knowing to save that energy for later. Getting used to walking or jogging over the large stones was much harder than I expected. Since most people walked the steep parts, the crowd didn’t completing thin out for the first few miles.

Did I mention the weather was PERFECT? Bit cold, in the low 30s to start but bright, warm sun and temps climbed up into the 50s by the time I finished. As we climbed up to the first ridge line, the view was so clear could look east, all the way back to a few Beijing towers.

Stellar, clear blue sky and can just see Beijing in the distance.

The above picture shows what most of the trail looked like, much improved over all those stones. And the red marker. A million thanks to all those volunteers who spent the time to mark the course so well.

So, you might be asking, ‘how would you compare this race to a US trail race, what was different?’ Good question, how about:

  • You can’t drink the tap water in China and unfortunately, the first thing I thought of when I approached the first aid station and saw a large pitcher of water was, “is that safe to drink?” ( i needed water so yes, I drank it)
  • About a dozen times during the race I heard voices talking loud, via a bizarre speaker system place along points in the course. Naturally, the voices spoke Chinese so I had no idea what they were saying but it was really odd. Reminded me of big brother talking to you when you thought you had left all the video cameras and surveillance behind, back in Beijing. Later I learned the voices offered words of encouragement to the runners.
  • One single bathroom at the start. No port-a-potties until about half way mark.
  • At the finish, when you turned in your chip timer, they gave you back your deposit in cash (100 yuan) and a ticket for a hot lunch. The lunch was very basic rice and mystery meat, bread and salad. Nothing to write home about but yes, I ate all of it.
  • Ran right through a few small farmers land. Dodged a lot of chickens, passed through a clan of goats (clan isn’t the right word…) and got starred down by one pissed off ferral cat.
  • They sold beer at the finish and Chinese prices are $.50 USD for 20 ounces.

The end of the course, held significant, steep downhill. And up to that point, I felt great. But those steep declines, I had to walk and my thighs, hips and knees started to bark. Gotta figure out a better way to train for the declines, since what I did before this race clearly did not work. Since the guy on the left of the picture above and I likely were the only two runners pushing 50, I placed 15th overall, 2nd in my age group with a 3:25 finish time. Very pleased with that result.

I would highly recommend this race. And I might even run it again next year. Well organized, minus the lack of potties, friendly hosts and amazing views. For a moment, forgot how nasty the air pollution was in Beijing, just a few days earlier.

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