Friday, May 27, 2011

Great Wall Marathon #3


Last year i ran the great wall 1/2 marathon. After crossing the start line i was thinking, "Hey, i should do the full marathon next year." And that seemed like a good idea. However, for the last 3 km of that race my thought had subtly transformed into "Full marathon? What the hell kind of stupidly insane idea is that?"

None the less, this March i decided to overlook that gained wisdom, and did sign up for the full race. And started running 30 min to work most days (in a shirt and modestly striped tie) which was a painful slog of a start to the morning. Then considering the quickly approaching race date, i decided to just switch bk to the 1/2. Even my brother was wisely recommending I drop the full distance.

But then the week before the race day, I figured, Why Not? Why not do the 42k? Why not take my time? Walk as much as I want and not care about the chiseled bodies blurring past...

So i loaded my mp3 player w/ all the requisites: a pumping Japanese DJ, goofy Pizzicato 5 tracks, somber Radiohead ones, comical David Sedaris stories, and my ever present Chinesepod lessons (which incidentally do little to motivate the thighs).

i packed up my bag, peeled myself out of bed.Bit of a rush job actually: forget a visiting the 7-11. Find a taxi. Now. Helloooo, taxi??? I got the recon point and for the 3rd time hopped onto a 3:30am bus off to the Huangyanguan Great Wall. This felt much more respectable than crawling onto the bus after a night of booze and bands as I'd done previously.

Few hours later, i hopped off the bus, and was shocked to find how f'ing cold it was. i was wearing 2 shirts and a pair of vintage bell bottoms which i thought might be more pragmatic than my shorts. Got a hot drink to try and warm up, but my shaking hand kept spilling the coffee all over my wrist. I was not impressed.

Waiting for the sun come up and squeezed into a windless corner w/ a handful of other intrepid runners, i had an opportunity to ask moronic questions like, "How important is breakfast before a full marathon?" After rolling her eyes, a blonde girl was so generous as to toss me a granola bar.

Eventually the sun did make its grand entrance. I hurriedly peeled off down to my running outfit, which announced loudly to my peers "This Guy Isn't A Runner", and huddled into the start line group.

Then we were off. Running, running, running. Running like... turtles. We were a cloud of skinny limbs, gently nudged forward by the breeze. The road zigzagged up the mountain, and the large majority of people around me opted to walk. Sounds good to me. There was a long way to go, why burn out on that stuff? Last year i did the 1/2 in 3 hrs, s. i figured anything under 7 hrs today would be a smashing success.

Once we got on the wall itself, more walking. Waiting. Walking. Single file sometimes.

Then down and running again.

A bit of chitchat w/ a guy from Detroit. Nice enough dude, but in the end we didn't have tons to talk about, and it turned a bit uncomfortable that we continued to keep passing each other. I started keeping my eyes peeled for him so I could either keep ahead or stay behind him. Maybe slip past him at a water station.

The 21 km marker passed, which took it's lazy ass time to show its face, loitering at the crest of a hill. No fanfare, no bananas or water or smiling underage race officials waving you on. But i did notice i felt infinitely better than when i had hurled myself over the finish line last year. Were i not running, i'd have paused for thought.

By this point, my inadequate breakfast was certainly filling my thoughts more than it did my stomach. Confused by the lack of anyone selling chips, chocolate bars or cookies, i would note every tab of plastic littered on the road, indicating that some foreigner had imported and consumed an energy bar or power gel.

Eventually i found a spot to duck into, and wasted a few minutes before deciding on some arrowroot biscuit copycats. Immediately I started popping copious amounts of these delectable wafers into my mouth. Mmm. Mmmm. Strangely melting in the mouth without making it dry or pasty...

Chitchat w/ some southern US girl about hills and stairs. Later i chitchat w/ some guy from the southern US about his cowboy hat and other such miscelanea. For some reason i mention the girl i had just met. "Yeah. That's my girlfriend. You were running 200m ahead of me." Ha. We eventually caught her at a drink station, and i let them lovers be.

Then round 2 on the wall. At this point, there was only about 15k to go. I'd noted earlier that some runners looked like they were dying. Pasty, pale, and sticky. Others looked like they were just plunking along, as if they were a bit late for book club. Not a hair out of place. In fact, I fell in the latter category. So i figured i oughta step it up a bit before i got to the finish line. By this time on the wall, i was passing quite a few people. Notably for me, i was passing quite a few people who looked rather like runners. You know: short shorts and Ts made of synthetics. Belts holding cute little plastic bottles of red gels. As opposed to me in my faded brown cargo shorts and knock-off Astroboy T.

I ran up some stairs since, hell i'd practiced in a few towers beforehand. That seemed to impress a few onlookers. Then it was just about 6km left to the finish line, all paved, all downhill, so i figured i oughta run it w/out stopping. Which was actually pretty hard. But i was passing people like mad which was gold for my ego.

However, when i run really tired, i start breathing strangely loud in a rhythmic Huh-Huh-Huh! Frankly it's quite embarrassing in that unintentional drama queen way. So i tried stifling it into a more subtle Hooh-Hooh-Hooh, in an effort to keep fellow runners from thinking i was some freak who was knocking himself out to pass them. At any rate, i avoided eye contact so as to remain ignorant of their judgement.

i even passed this crazy mofo who had at this point ran 40k in scrappy old SANDALS! Nutbar. i suspect a Thai nutbar. Eat my dust, Thai nutbar.

Anyhow, i crossed the line and felt good. Not good like these other runners who were posing for pictures exultantly holding their medals in the air, but still considerably better than when I almost passed out last year. i almost felt... disappointed. All that expectation. All that fear about my shorts chaffing my legs into bloody welts (which i've seen on runners before). Sure, there were some people waddling around like elderley mallards and a few limpers. But my body seemed anticlimactically...fine. No vomit. No seized muscles the next day. Nada.

Final time: 6hrs, 15 min. Not bad! Plunked me down somewhere in the middle of the finishers. I gloated a bit 'cause I beat sponsored team runners in their fancy outfits. After I checked the times and my placing, i felt like next time i shouldn't putz around taking pictures, purchasing stuff, or popping into buddhist temples and feeling forced by monks to make donations. (Yeah. i did that).

Next year? Maybe. Truth is, the race is kind of a monetary rip off, but it is one of the few ways for me to muster up the energy to exercise. Well there's also the BJ marathon in Sept, which i'll pbly do later. They say a regular marathon is a piece of cake compared to the great wall. Maybe. It also seems considerably less interesting to run 42k of polluted flat city roads. We'll see.

Anyhow, for now, it's shoes in the closet, and back on 2 wheels.

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