Monday, May 21, 2012


I am done with marathon running. No doubt this will turn out to be a lie but today at least, it's over. I've never had ambition to run marathons, but a combination of living in China (the land that outdoor recreation forgot) and Lina pining for the thrill of the race meant I found myself running in the Hangzhou Marathon last year. Overall I would file that experience under "things that I'm glad are over".

Hangzhou Marathon, which took 3 hours and 53 minutes but felt like a million years.
Fortunately, my experience in the Chongqing Marathon earlier this year was a much less grueling one. This may have had something to do with only running half of it. Chongqing's marathon was a clear winner from the human perspective with enthusiastic runners and crowds. However, the course almost exactly resembled a straight, flat line (with a fiberglass mountain and aliens at one end). Not thrilling.

The Chongqing Marathon, which I ran half of in 1 hour 40something . I forget.

This weekend I was again on the start line of a forty-two-point-whatever-it-is kilometer race. We'd made an epic journey from YC to the Beijing countryside with Matt and Elaine on Friday night (and part of Saturday morning), only to prise ourselves out of be a couple of hours later to head for the start line. In contrast to Chongqing the crowd of competitors at the Great Wall Marathon was almost entirely foreign. This race seems to be more of a tourist-circus than a serious competition; a marathon with no Kenyans in it can't really be serious right? The setting was very pretty though and I was encouraged by rumors of hills and unpaved roads. The elevation profile certainly looked promising...

There's a marathon in them there hills

The marathon keeners were out in force in the start area and I felt conspicuously ordinary among superheroes adorned with Bat-Man utility belt, iPhone cyborg attachment, and beeping heart-rate monitors. One particularly high-achiever had solar-panels on his backpack. I'm not joking, but maybe he was. If he was joking, it could have been the world's first incidence of "ironic solar-panels". Solar-panel man, I salute you.

Once the marching band, government officials speeches, and general chutzpah was out of the way the race began. We were in the second wave of runners (which turned out to be the cause of an unfortunate incident for Lina). We set off up the road, up and down steps, along the wall, down some more... and then into the road. We all delivered a hundred high-fives to the local children, including one enterprising pair who had covered their hands with dirt for comedic value. The high-point for me was a long downhill section on a rough old farm track where I was for once able to take advantage of being a crappy road-runner but not so bad on uneven surfaces. Skipping my way through the loose stones, I got told to slow down by one of the marshals... which made me feel like I was doing something right. Finally, it was back up and over the wall. Stricken athletes sat recovering on the steps like spandex-packaged gazelles with their heart-rate monitors reporting that cardiac meltdown was imminent. I lumbered my way up and over, though my heart-rate monitor was reporting that it was time for beer and a pizza followed by a lie down. The last five kilometers down a hill on paved road were rubbish and killed two of my toenails, which are now going to fall off. Poo. I found some enthusiasm left to poach a few places and run the last kilometer into the finish. 

The Great Wall was a fun race, and a good high point to end my brief marathon running career. I'm now going to take up darts. 

Beijing Great Wall Marathon, which took 5 hours and 18 minutes and felt like  it.