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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.