Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In front of others, I always pretend to be cheerful

This weekend we spent in Chongqing with the purpose of running in the Chongqing Marathon and celebrating St Patrick's day. It turned out to be a lot of fun. There were seven of us from the school running various distances and Lina and I took up the challenge of collecting everyone's race packages before the event office closed at 6pm on Friday. Despite Chongqing only being 70km from Yongchuan it takes ages to get there and involves a frustrating variety of transport types to get there. Still, we made it just before closing time and got involved in some good old Chinese bureaucracy to collect all the race packages from separate desks. We fueled up in Subway, which is s special treat for us these days as a tuna sandwich is not a common sight in these parts.

The race itself started right outside the blinging Sheraton Hotel which we sneaked into to use the bathroom. The decorations committee for the marathon had apparently received an unlimited budget and the mandate to "go nuts" as there was synchronized drumming, dancing dragons, and wall-to-wall red and gold stuff... but no toilets. Minor details. Waiting for the start of my half marathon as the only foreigner in sight I made about fifty new friends and had my photo taken with all of them. I wonder what happens to all these pictures of me with smiling Chinese people. Then we were off. Then we stopped again as it wasn't really the start, but everyone was so excited they thought it was. Then we were really off, at a gentle stroll as twelve hundred of us navigated our way around the barriers and TV cars. Despite the lack of pace, everyone was having a great time and I picked up an entourage of two young guys who were to run either side of me for the entire race.

Half-way into the course we looped around a bizarre theme-park (but not this one) with plastic aliens and miserable looking birds of prey chained to posts.  This is where we passed under a banner, thoughtfully translated into English as "In front of others, I always pretend to be cheerful". Not bad advice for marathon runners surrounded by TV cameras I suppose. I had a bit of a low point from 13km to 17km and was in danger of losing my running companions. Their constant glances back to see where their pet foreigner had got to kept me motivated along with the enthusiastic yelling and waving of things from the crowd. Apparently 30,000 people had turned out, but Chinese statistics should be regarded with some caution. I clawed my way back to my companions and narrowly lost a sprint finish to one of them, which is only fair in their hometown I think.

We arrived back in time to see the full marathon winners come past (Kenyan, obviously), closely followed by the Chinese Olympic hopefuls who were being selected from this race. I made another hundred new friends and had my photo taken endlessly (I need to start charging for that) before finding the others from Yongchuan and enjoying some post-race "recovery drinks" concealed in an orange juice carton. Stealthy. Lina came over the finish line so intent on meeting her target time she didn't notice the five of us yelling at her.  After a few minutes she was also ready for a few recovery drinks, so we retired to The Harp for some horribly expensive imported Murphys. It tasted great though.

My conclusion is that half-marathons are much more fun than full marathons as I didn't feel like my legs were going to fall off. Unfortunately this information has come too late as we're registered for the Beijing Great Wall Marathon in May. That will quite certainly be the second and last road marathon I ever do. What happens in China, stays in China.