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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Father taking the lead in parenting

(wrote this in June 2016 and just discovered it in the ‘draft’ folder. Oops)

We’ve been in Beijing for exactly five months. This Wednesday we leave to go on our great 2016 summer tour, in the USA. The boy and I do not return until early August. His school just ended and as we get ready to depart, this is kinda an end or the end of a segment of our time abroad and an opportunity to look back. I could look back on our time in China or go further back….

It’s been almost four years since I left a good IT job but one that brought little satisfaction to become a SAHD. For about a year I was a FT SAHD but in the winter of 2012 I started working on and in the summer of 2013, I launched a small company. Only working PT hours, this opportunity turned me into a PT SAHD but I remained the “lead” parent. Found this Atlantic article deep in the ‘draft’ section of my WordPress platform. Just re-read it and thought worth sharing and discussing a bit.

One year after adopting our son, we both worked FT. Like the couple in the article, kw and I expected to share parenting duties after I returned to work from a one year leave of absence and the boy started FT day care. At least for awhile. We both had solid, white collar jobs. I was a senior level ‘contributor’ while she was just entering into a lower level leadership position with a local non-profit. Her job was significantly more demanding while mine provided more flexibility (ex-like running around Lake Union at lunch). But, I really just had a ‘job’, she had focus, and motivation towards her ‘career.’ At the time, not sure if we realized that intense jobs tend to beget even more intense jobs. Regardless, she had more senior leadership potential and if she was able to jump onto that career fast track, me being available as the “lead” parent, would significantly support her.

By the next spring I was completely disillusioned with my job and she had taken that first significant jump and was already moving up the ladder. That summer, I embraced the new challenges as “lead” parent FT and left the workforce.

Now, she would not have to deal with what the article calls, “the mother hood penalty.” Pretty shocking:

According to a Pew Research Center study, 50 percent of married or cohabiting women report doing more child care than their male partners, whereas just 4 percent of men do more than their female partners. This disparity has a devastating effect on women’s careers. Researchers refer to the gap between male and female wages and seniority as the “motherhood penalty,” because it is almost entirely explained by the lower earnings and status of women with children. Despite their superior performance in college, surprisingly few women reach the pinnacles of professional success.

KW was free to ascend, embrace any opportunity that likely would require more of her time. I took care of getting him to daycare and pick up each day. Handled all doctor, dentist and the many speech therapy appointments. And embraced my opportunity to spend time cooking.

And as the article mentioned, she too has discussed with other female industry leaders that if they have children, the requirement to have a spouse who takes the ‘lead’ with all things required at home. The benefits are clear.

A female executive needs what male CEOs have always had: a spouse who bears the burden at home.

Even after nearly four years, being in this position, I  am periodically still uncomfortable and sometimes hold mixed feelings about my chosen role in the family. Walking into a parent organization meeting for the first time is not easy for me, whether in Seattle or Beijing. The PO group I recently joined here, I feel fortunate that hidden among the 25 women is one French father. (Thanks Joel).

Here, I am a “trailing spouse,” (the other spouse’s job brought us to China) the one who doesn’t work. My Seattle company is mostly run by a co-worker so I only have a few hours of work per week. Therefore, with all this free time, (when not running), I am trying hard to embrace the opportunity. As I mentioned, I’ve joined my son’s school PO group and monthly they take day trips around the city. Normally, visiting tourist sites, like temples, the Wall, museums, etc. And in this city, that could take a decade to see them all.

With over 250,000 expats in Beijing, there are A LOT Of trailing spouses so numerous local companies exist to cater to the needs of these folks (99+% women). I found a company that offer Chinese art classes. Took one Chinese landscape painting.  As expected, really challenging but glad i took it and may sign up for level 2.

So, we’ll see how this non traditional dad, who runs alot, will work out living in Beijing.

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Running derailed by an ear

Last August, my running was delayed by a health issue, I’ve been reluctant to discuss it. Wasn’t sure how much, if any information I wanted to share….

I was training for the Beijing marathon last summer. I was feeling good, felt pretty fit and on the edge of starting my training segment of the long runs (LR), runs greater than 14 miles. On August 18th, I ran a standard hour, 6ish miles, early in the morning. I clearly recall, taking a shower after this run and suddenly feeling intense pressure in my ear canal. Felt like my ears needed to ‘pop’, like when traveling on a plane. I tried but could not pop my ears. The day before I had felt like I was getting a cold but didn’t have a cold on this day.

A few hours later, the pressure continued. I discovered I could not hear, with my right ear. Figured it was just the pressure. The pressure was still pretty intense so in the late afternoon, I called a local doctor and made an appointment for the next day. I was hoping I had a strong build up of wax and the doctor could quickly solve this riddle by removing the wax.

The next day the hearing loss and pressure continued and at the appointment, the doctor could not find any wax build up. He tested me several times with a variety of strength tests. We shook hands, had me squeeze his hand, pushed his hand against my hands and also did some balancing tests. I passed all the tests. No problems, which is good because he explained sudden, severe hearing loss is sometimes related to a stroke. And since my strength was normal, I “likely” had not suffered a stroke. He didn’t have an answer to why I lost my hearing and suggested seeing an ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor asap. My level of concern rose when he offered to make the appointment for me, the next day. The MD also suggested seeing a second ENT since the ‘better’ ENT doesn’t work weekends.

So, the next day I saw the first ENT. She wasn’t sure what caused the hearing loss and started a treatment of steroid via an IV. The likely source of the issue was a virus. The last thing she discussed was, “if you develop dizziness or nausea, get to the ER.” Since I had neither symptom, I didn’t worry about it.

In attempt to shorten this potential long story, here is a summary of the next few days and weeks:

  • the next day developed severe nausea, dizziness, vomited in neighbors car as they drove me to the ER. Fortunately, i asked for a ‘bucket’ before getting in the car. 🙂
  • Saw 2nd and a 3rd ENT in the next three days. Diagnosis remained severe sudden hearing loss (or Idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL). Continued treatment of steriods, chinese vitamins via daily 3 hr IV treatment, for two weeks.
  • brain CAT scan found no blood clots.
  • Within a few days, the treating ENT first mentioned, “this is the most severe case I’ve seen, your hearing may not return”. WTF??? The next day, I booked a flight to Seattle and scheduled an appointment with a highly recommended ENT at the University of Washington.
  • Nausea cleared up quick, thank god. Dizziness started to fade but took over a week until my equilibrium was back to normal. Slowly walking around, by hanging on the wall, so I didn’t fall,  gets old fast.
  • No appetite led to rapid weight loss. After 7 days and loss of 10+ pounds, KW said “you’ve lost enough weight, you will eat.” Baked me a chocolate cake for my birthday, and I did eat it.
  • Traveled and spent 10 days in Seattle for treatments. After second treatment, this ENT agreed that the complete hearing loss in my right ear “likely” would not improve. Suggested look into hearing aid devices. WTF!!
  • On the positive side, the absence of dizziness encouraged me to start walking, then very slow jogging while still in Seattle. ENT granted jogging the green light, as long as it didn’t cause any dizziness. First snail pace jog around Green Lake, with no side effects was a true kodak moment. Back in August, when I couldn’t sit up without getting dizzy, didn’t think this day would happen so soon, if ever.
  • Returned to Beijing with my new hearing aide behind each ear and two new pairs of Brooks running shoes.

November first, was my new target day to get back on some kind of regular training schedule.

 

 

 

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Summer runs

(playing catch up, finally finishing posting from the past)

After the Great Wall marathon, I followed my standard routine- spent a few weeks eating whatever I want, gaining too much weight and taking it easy jogging. When the family left Beijing for the summer, end of June, I was ready to jump back on the training schedule and start the focus on the next marathon.

I decided to run the Beijing Marathon in mid September. Local race so no travel required and more importantly, nice and FLAT!! Also, the route started near Tienanmen square, headed East and finished outside the Bird Nest. Great way to see some sights from parts of the city I didn’t know too well.

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West Chang’an Ave Bejing

At the time, my only concern was that mid September may be too hot and of course, the air quality was a big fat risk. Had 14 weeks to train, one would think that should be plenty of time to train for another BQ attempt.

The family summer tour of 2016 would take us to Western MA, NJ coast, NC and Seattle. Nice mix of running terrain. Running in western MA is incredibly scenic, normally low car traffic but you’ll learn quick that the bugs will find you, it’s humid and sadly, the rolling hills can get steep! I tried to wake up and run early before the summer temperatures climbed and the bugs came out but it was ‘holiday’ so too tempting to sleep in.

The first few weeks of training went really well, my mileage went from about 19 to 45 in about three weeks. I felt strong and really good about my chances to get in the training required for my 3rd BQ. And what a wonderful change of environment, running down desolate, country roads vs the streets of Beijing.

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Somewhere in W MA. photo from alamy.com

One note about the windy, country roads of western MA is that they do not repave them very often so the winter cracks are so numerous, tough to avoid stepping on. Mid July, after an easy hour run, noticed my right foot didn’t feel “right”. Did I step on a crack and roll the ankle? Didn’t recall but ugh! How often, when I ramp up miles, some sort of minor injury presents itself….? Then the debate starts- rest it (for how long) or just ignore it…?

Didn’t sprain it but had minor pain right above the ankle. Never had this type of injury before but figured it was an over-use injury. Likely ramped up the miles too fast. After a few rest days off, felt better then ran 13 mile LR. Mistake. Pain returned and the next two weeks, only ran twice. Just lost 4 quality LR I couldn’t make up so goodbye BQ attempt. Regardless no BQ attempt, I ‘should’ be able to run and enjoy the Beijing Marathon.

By the time we hit Seattle, I was training again and spirits rose. Able to run in a few of my favorite locals; our Ballard hood, along the Burke-Gilman trail, Lake Union Loop and best of all, Discovery park.

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Ballard, WA USA

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Burk Gilman Trail, near Fremont Bridge, Seattle

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6 mile loop around Lake Union, Seattle

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Looking west to the Olympic Mts from Discovery Park

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Great Wall marathon race report

Last Saturday, I ran or actually jogged/walked and crawled the Great Wall Marathon. As expected, this course was like no other I’ve attempted.

One of my all-time longest days. Needed to be on a chartered bus by 3:30am  Saturday morning to ride to the wall. To avoid looking for a cab at 2:30am, from our apartment to the bus pick up, I booked a room, at a local hotel that was a pick up location. The Beijing International Hotel, was one of the first 4 star hotels built in the city back in the 70s.

Normally, I do not sleep well or even very much the night before any marathon, too many nerves and painful memories of knowing what lies ahead. And this race’s extra challenging course meant extra nerves. I may have slept 2-3 hours, up at 1:45am. Ate my standard pre-race meal of yogurt, PB&J bagel, banana, OJ, water and granola. Bit after 3, checked out of my room and walked outside to look for the bus.

Like the inspection day tour, again, no one really knew ‘the plan.’ About a dozen folks all standing around in the parking lot, near the chartered buses. Not sure which bus to get on and no one available to ask this basic question. About 3:25am, someone with the “company” appeared and shouted instructions. We sleepily staggered on to buses and within 5 minutes drove off. 3:30am departure, right on time. I was impressed.

This time my bus full of ‘orphans’ those not with the full tour, was full. Most people tried to get some sleep for our 2+ hour drive. Two days earlier, the inspection day was a very warm, lows upper 60 to high upper 80s. It did not occur to me to check the weather forecast.

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Arrival at the wall.

Upon arrival, we walked off bus and it was still dark and COLD. Did have a long sleeve shirt but no jacket or sweatshirt. Many folks off the buses only wore their racing suit. Shivering, we walked to Yin and Yang square. Soon, they would not be cold.

An odd but familiar sound greeted us as we walked toward the main square. A local band was playing and not just you typical Chinese music before a marathon at 6am but Western, “Christmas” tunes. Yes Christmas tunes. I stopped for a few minutes and watched several hundred others do what I was doing, taking a photo of this band.

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And the band played Christmas tunes

 

We arrived about 6am, with an hour and half to kill before my first wave 7:30 start. After a quick dash to the (few and far between) bathroom, I felt much better. That is task #1. About 2000 people would run today and the company provided about a dozen bathroom facilities. They need to talk to the California International Marathon (CIM) about how many porta-potties you need. The bathroom line started long and stayed long right up to the first wave.

I tried to calm my nerves, paced around the square, lightly stretched. When they called for the first wave, I waited about five minutes, then walked to the very back of the growing mass. The wave stood in front of a temporary stage that held about 8 men, all dressed in matching dark grey business suites. Seven were Chinese and one non-Chinese. The Chinese were all local government (town, county, regional, etc) officials. And one by one they each spoke about 2 minutes to the crowd. And all said nearly the same thing, “welcome our friends, we are happy you are here. You will find our town/county, etc very welcoming and a happy place.” The last to speak was an Aussie, from the main sponsoring company. As you may guess, we were itching to get started so no one paid much attention to the speeches.

This race was not about pushing my limits, setting a BQ or PR, it was only about trying to finish and enjoy the day. Although, I did set 4:45 as my stretch goal and sub 5 as the target finish time.

One of the guys in a suit fired the starters pistol and we slowly filed out of the square onto the street. Yes, still nervous but relieved to finally get moving. I borrowed this description of the first section of the course from the website:

The Great Wall Marathon starts from the Yin and Yang square in the old Huangyaguan fortress. Immediately reaching the Jinwei Highway the route leads south for 1km, before turning left on to the Changcheng Highway. You are now on the road leading to the Great Wall entrance and have a 4km uphill climb. After 5km you meet the first of many steps and the next 3km are run on the Great Wall of China itself, including 1km around the magnificent fortress walls. Just before the 7km mark you face a 700m long section with a steep descent on the infamous “Goat Track”.

The first km was an easy, flat, section of road that allowed me to shake off some of the butterflies in my stomach and then we turned left. A 4km climb, I knew I needed to ease into it so decided keep the pace around 9-9:30 per mile.

First 3 miles were:

  • 9:39
  • 9:33
  • 10:15

Although I started in the very back, jogging up the hill, I passed a surprisingly large number of people. And very surprised to notice more than a few were already breathing heavy. Those folks were in for a LONG day.

The descent of the “Goat Track” is the insanely steep section you often see in photos. How steep? Carefully and often gingerly (do not roll an ankle) maneuvering over broken and loose stones, while going down, my next two miles posted 20:31 and 18:33. I was in no hurry to go down. The Goat track took us down, back to the start and after just 5 miles, I knew it would be a really long and challenging day.

We looped around the square and back out to the highway. The day’s weather begun pleasantly cold, while the sun stayed behind the surrounding ridges. But now, the sun was up, over the ridge, the temperature was climbing fast. I think it was about this time I took my first sponge “soak”. The water stations contained bottled water but also one or two large buckets full of water and sponges. The runners could grab a wet sponge and squeeze it over your neck and or head. Felt heavenly and I think I did this at nearly every water stop. This is likely the only reason I did not over heat.

Running down the side of the highway, I picked up the pace, back to around 9min miles. Between miles 6-13, fastest was 8:54 to slowest 9:44. As my body warmed up, kept reminding myself to keep it easy and loose. Flat, no shade, hot and on the side of the main road, two lane highway. Not ideal. No roads were closed for the race.

Turned off main road on to smaller, country roads. this section held the most spectators. Small groups of families, mostly small children with the mother or grandparents. Not too many younger males around. I wonder if these males were migrants workers, off in Beijing or another city…

Many runners clearly enjoyed the cheering crowds and kids hoping to give a high-five. Passing many small farms, we climbed again around mile 14 and another hill at mile 17. Ugh, these hills were unexpectedly tough. Slow, steady, nearly unending climbs. At least the scenery and views were fantastic. Looped around and headed back toward the start, I began to think about what lay ahead. The climb “up”to get to and then go up the Goat track.

By the time I began to go up toward the wall, my body was cooked, literally. Didn’t hit the wall (shock) but the usual suspects ached; hips, thighs, calves. I could only focus on keep moving forward. As I shifted from a shuffle to a walk, threw out any pipe dream of the sub 5 hrs, I just wanted to finish. Running and jogging no more, I was just walking and trying not to look up to see how steep it was. Mile 22 took me TWENTY-THREE minutes. And wasn’t even at the Goat track yet. The ascend up Goat track was 2100 feet!

 

Looking down the Goat track. When I walked/crawled up this section, just picture more bodies seated, not moving.

People or should I write ‘bodies’ were all over this ascent. And remember I started in the first wave so the majority of runners were still behind me. People leaning on the side, people seated on steps with heads hung low, people clinging to the tiny shadows of shade in hopes of cooling down. I just tried to keep moving.

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Going up the Goat track was inside mile 23. How slow did I complete mile 23… 37:17!!

I have little memory of this mile. I wonder if I laid down and took a 20 minute nap?

Once off the wall, we retraced the initial 5 km climb (going down this time) back to the village and the finish line. My thighs, calf, feet, ankles were spent by now. The downhill gave my weight some momentum to move forward faster and I picked up the pace. A small stream of runners joined me as we headed down and could easily see the ‘discomfort’ in the faces as they tried in vain to just get through these last few miles. The end was in sight.

Very pleased with my last three miles:

  • 11:05
  • 10:13
  • miles 26 at 9:45!

Entered the square for the last time and the enthusiastic crowd greeted each runner with a much appreciated cheer. Done!!

I was thrilled with 5:18 finish, my all time slowest marathon time.

Looking back on the race, what went well or things I did right:

  • I drank enough. Such a tough course and hot temps, drinking enough is never easy but an absolute must do. Ended up very dehydrated but avoided hitting the wall.
  • Threw target finish time out the window. Started and stayed slow, manageable pace.
  • Kept moving. Didn’t walk until mile 22.
  • Training went well, logged 5 jogs 18 miles or more. Had the stamina to survive.
  • Always thrilled when do not have any black toenails.

Few opportunities for improvement:

  • There is a local hotel within walking distance from the start line. Next time, sleep an extra two hours and walk to the starting line.
  • More training run with inclines, stairs, etc.
  • Condition body to be comfortable running in the heat.
  • Bring more GU.

Would I run this one again? I can highly recommend it but not sure I’ll run it again….Although I am tempted to get under 5 hours.

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It is not about the race but the well earned post race meal.

Mission accomplished, Bacon cheeseburger, onion rings and cold beverage at Great Leap Brewery, Sanlitun, Beijing, China

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