Mar 21, 2012

Running with the best from China!

This years Chongqing marathon was also the national championships and Olympic trials for the Chinese national team. The prize money was ridiculous so lots of Africans (KEN and ETH mostly) came out to try and snag some cash. There was about 40 000 people running in the marathon, half marathon, 9km, 5km combined... and tons of spectators from the "largest city in the world". I am proud that 6 staff came out to the races and participated in the 5 and 9km races. Andrew signed himself up for the half and I couldnt not run the marathon knowing there was a marathon to be run.

The Chinese are good at adding the sparkles and jazz to any event but sometimes they forget some of what they believe to be minor needs and we (north americans) believe to be major ones. A good example being the lack of  toilets at the start of a race hosting 40 000 runners... hmmmm or the lack of shuttle back to the start  for  the thousands of people who ran 5 and 9km race... I wouldn't have expected anything less really! haha... The marathon on the other hand was the main deal for this event and as far as I coult tell all precautions were in place . This was important as they (chinese government) were choosing the best of the best of the chinese marathon runners to compete in the London Olympics this summer. The course wasn't the most exciting with a 5km there and back and then a 16.5 km there and back... actually normally I would hate this set up but this time being so far back from the winners it allowed me to see them twice. I got to drool, and be amazed by their speed and skill. Since my return to road marathons for this year I was surprised how slow I was back in November at the Hangzhou International Marathon. I was expecting to be running at about the same pace as I was back in 2004 but alas my training has changed dramatically and therefore not the most transferable to road marathons. Unfortunately for the Chongqing marathon I only really had a month to prepare as we were on our 5 week holiday enjoying all the holiday things so training for the marathon was not my priority. Upon my return though I was in the game. I had a month to get it done. I tried to reflect back to the days when I was faster on the road... I was part of a running club and did some interval training.. ahhh running fast... there's an idea... The last several years, I was really into ultras, multi day stuff, trails, and just ran long and a nice pace... forgot about speed training. For one I am no good at it and for two it hurts.... I did my best here and hit the treadmill a couple times a week. To make a long story short... I reached my goal of running under 3:30 but still 17 minutes slower than my PB at 3:11.... I  have one more marathon to go Great Wall, May 19th in Beijing and I hope to improve a little more but it will probably be my last marathon for a foreseeable future.. I just don't find road marathons as exciting as trail races. Unfortunately, where we are in China there just arent any trail races yet... they will come but past my time here. Its been good though signing up for these marathons... makes me feel like I am still in somewhat of decent shape and I look forward to testing my body out in SUP races and adventure races when I am finished my time here in China.

live, love, laugh,...DREAM!

Mar 8, 2012

some thoughts: 3 weeks down....since the vaca and the end of life in China is going to creep up quicker than I realize...

Since we returned from our wonderful vacation.... some unexpected adventures took over our lives for a little bit. Andrew became very ill which caused some nervous tension around the household concerning his condition. It took two hospitals, lots of medicines, and days of just lying in bed to get him back on his feet. Fortunately, he is feeling better but is still not at full strength. I miss my adventure partner...Biking, running and just plain exploration just isn't as fun without him.  Being sick in a foreign country where people don't speak your language and the medicine is all together different and in a different language can be very frightening... luckily, we have a great principle that knew where to take us and was willing to help us through the weekend!

Other thoughts:
We returned from our vacation with some fun starboard inflatable SUPs... now its my mission to find places we can use them on the weekend. It's tough,... there isn't much water close to us, and if we do find water its usually pretty disgusting and the thought of climbing onto it makes us cringe.... hmmm....the language, barrier, not having a car or being able to drive a car, and the pain in the butt of buying train tickets makes this process a whole lot more challenging...

Running and such things:
Another road marathon? YES.... road marathon.... I am not as quick on the road as I used to be.... a little frustrating and demoralizing but yet another motivation to train a little differently. I guess the last 8 years I have switched to ultras and mostly adventure racing which is longer off road and requires less specific training... Although it is painful I suppose the speed training and just more running can only add to my fitness?!?...right?
So I am running my second marathon in China in one week. The Chongqing Marathon on March 17th. We didn't do too much specific running over our 5 week holiday so it only gave me 4 weeks to actually train for this marathon... the motivation: External: 10th place gets 500$ US dollars...the Obstacle?: its the national chinese qualifying race for the olympics.... TOUGH....

Its been an interesting ride leaving such an amazing and beautiful place (Vancouver) and coming to a strange, concrete desgined, not much(actually pretty much zero) outdoor activties, and western anything town to live and work for a year... we've used our imagination in  the first 5 months to find ways to occupy our weekends and keep our love of adventure and outdoors alive; we've slacklined in bamboo forests, found many side roads to explore the nearby farms, enjoyed the exploration of nearby towns, bike toured and did some sketchy camping,..... I hope the last 3.5 months we don't loose our motivation and keep exploring and learning about China...

live, love, laugh,...DREAM!

Mar 1, 2012

Recap of Adventures Throughout China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Hong Kong

It was difficult to decide what to do during our big 4.5 week holiday from Maple Leaf International Schools in Yongchuan, China.

We thought of bike touring, different countries, SUP surfing, hiking, climbing, mountain biking but it all seemed like too much too fast with not enough time to really reflect and research the different areas surrounding Yongchuan, China.

In the end we tried to mix and match as best we could a variety of things we loved to do. It all seemed simple and witty as we tried to use ground transportation as much as we could linking the different areas and activities we thought we might want to do.

We wanted to explore China further but the cold temperatures deterred us from most regions. I read that Kunming was the city of eternal spring so we decided to check out that area of China, in Yunnan province. We booked the train from Yongchuan to Kunming. It was long(22 hours to be fairly exact) but surprisingly pleasant. We could only get the hard sleeper beds but they proved to be good enough for us. I had the lower bunk which allowed us to sit up and hang out while we weren't sleeping. We even had a nice chinese student come speak to us. We were the first foreigners he ever spoke to in english! He saw we were struggling with some noodles so he found the courage to come and show us how to make instant noodles, chinese style!
In Kunming, being a large city we were able to sort out our Vietnamese visas, and various bus tickets. We got to enjoy the city, with video game (think mario brothers) style runs. We were dodging obstacles, cars, scooters, people, electric bikes, children...anything else really random you can think of, we were probably dodging that too. While in Kunming, the Hump Hostel provided great service and a fun place to hang out and sleep.

The visas and bus tickets only took a day so the following morning we were off to Dali to enjoy the mountains and the big lake. A nice man at the Hump Hostel in Kunming told us that the Hump hostel in Dali was even better so taking his advice we stayed there while in Dali. Old town Dali is a quaint town full of hippies, street bustlers, pubs, restaurants, and shops. The neat thing is there is also outdoor adventures to be had right from town. We spent our first afternoon walking around town enjoying cafes and figuring out our plans for the next couple of days. We decided the best use of the weather and time was to try and hike as high as we could up Cangshan Mountain. The night before we left we booked a room at the Higherlands Inn Hostel on the mountain for a unique and different atmosphere. The next day we began our hike up Cangshan Mountain. You can hike right from old town Dali. We managed to get away without paying the park fee but it was lucky... As we took what we though was the short cut to by pass the guards we managed to get a little lost and ended up at the guard station itself anyways...luckily while we were checking out the map a nice older lady helped us find our way but mistook where we wanted to go and told the guards we weren't climbing up so they let us through. As we stopped to get our bearings and our helper kept hiking down we took the high road towards the peak. The road up had a million concrete stairs like all chinese built trails until the Cloud Tourist Road trail which is a trail that runs around the mountain from one gondola to the other, built for day tourists. From the cloud trail we hiked up a little waysmore and found the Higherland Inn. We stopped in for tea and to let them know who we were and then continued our journey up. We quickly ran into snow and lost the trail a couple of times but were told to follow the ridge and so we did until we happened onto the trail again. We left a little too late and the snow was getting deeper and deeper, the wind stronger and stronger, the clouds more and more grey, and the ridge narrower and narrower. We reached a knoll at about 3200m and decided to call it a day. We were in running shoes sans map in fairly deep snow. Having had experience in the snow through backcountry skiing we were able to sense when the time had come to enjoy what we accomplished safely and happily, knowing we still needed to get back down safely. After returning to the Higherland Inn we enjoyed, tea, snacks, and a delicious hot pot meal with the two people running the hostel. We were all huddled around the fire, enjoying the quiet and beauty of our surroundings.
  The following morning we hiked around some more until we felt we had seen what we wanted and headded back down to town. Once in town, we didn't waste much time and rented some bikes to go check out Ersai Lake. The lake is about 4km from old town and they have just built a new bicycle track around most of the lake. We rode around for a bout 30 or so km stopping to enjoy the surroundings before heading back into town.
 The next day we took the bus back to Kunming, took a taxi to the other bus station straight where we would catch the overnight bus to Hekou, the border town to Vietnam. We arrived into Hekou at 5:30am and somehow got talked into taking a very expensive cab ride to a corner store about 100m form the border. There we enjoyed vietnamese coffee and watching the stealthy business man rake in the cash...

Sappa Valley, Vietnam
We walked across the border into Lao Cai Vietnam around 8am. In Lao Cai we weren't sure how or where to catch the mini buses to Sappa so we kept walking until we walked over the bridge and a guy on a motor bike told us to wait at a corner and eventually a mini bus to Sappa came along. Unfortunately, as it goes in these parts we ended up waiting about 2 hours on the mini bus for people, when no people showed we ended up at various orange packers loading the van full of oranges until no more oranges could fit and the van was full. As a bonus for waiting 2 hours, we did get some free oranges in return. We managed to get to Sappa around 11:30am. The weather was gorgeous. In Sapa, we stayed at the Princeton Hotel/ Sappa Hostel where the very friendly owner and his wife treated us like family. Due to the Chinese New Year celebrations normal tourist activities were either put on hold completely or run on a very very light schedule. I had really wanted to climb to the summit of Fansipan (the highest peak in Indochina, at a not very high altitude of 3,143 metres) but when we first arrived we were told that no guides/tours were going up due to the holiday. We arrived on such a beautiful day and did not have much time to spare in Sapa. With a little pleading he managed to find a company with a guide willing to leave within 2 hours that day. So we hurriedly checked in, got our bag organized and went to explore the food options around Sappa. Unfortunately, I can't remember the company we ended up doing the hike with, they weren't particularly cheap but they weren't crazy expensive either. I suppose one has to be prepared to pay at least 90$ US per person for a two day trip. Unfortunately, they make it very difficult for one to hike the mountain without a guide. Our guide was a kid with an attitude. He clearly got told to be our guide without his consent. Although he didn't talk to us or even tell us his name, we kind of liked him. He was fast (great), he knew the way, and he cooked up some great meals. We left Sappa town at about 1:30pm. We had about a 30-40 minute scooter ride up the road to the entrance of the park and started walking at about 2:30pm. The trail began mostly in the forest with a couple view points here and there. We took a small break at the lower campsite after about 1 hour of hiking. After this campsite the views become more consistent and the brush turns into mainly bamboo. The trail goes up and down but mostly up for most of the way. Some parts are cut through the bamboo on a ridge which is kind of neat. We arrived into camp at about 5pm. Our guide made us a lovely dinner of mostly stir fried veggies, rice, and soup. The camp itself is a little bit of a wreck but has so much potential to be nice with a little bit of clean up. There is garbage hangin around and the cabin and surrounding areas need a little bit of maintenance. Although during the day it was warm, at night once the sun set  and the wind began howling it became very very cold at night. We met another couple on the hike but heading down the following day (we were still going up). The next morning we got woken up nice and early for breakfast. It took us about 1 hour to reach the summit. We enjoyed some boiled eggs and awesome views before we headed all the way back down into town. There was a little miscommunication with the guide and his company and caused for an awkward ending to the whole trip as noone was around to pick us up from the mountain top nor at the bottom to return the gear.... oh well....

The next couple of days the fog rolled in and we experienced a different kind of Sappa. We hiked into the valleys around Cat Cat Village and some other smaller minority villages... We didn't realize you were suppose to have a guide but we did a hike/run deal on our own and really enjoyed it and the authorities didn't seem to mind.

P.S. The market had the most amazing coffee...strong and sweet (condensed milk!)....we enjoyed all the french bakeries and food.... YUM!

Halong Bay
We booked the party tour through Hanoi Backpacker's Hostel. We went on the two day, 1 night cruise for 80$/person. We arrived into the train station in Hanoi at 5:30am and found our way through the maze of the a city by foot and gps arriving at the backpackers Hostel by 6am. We hung around until we could store our bags and went for a quick run around town before meeting the group at 7:30am to leave for Halong Bay. The group was a mix but most people were probably around 20 years old and were on the backpacker route through SE Asia. It was interesting to be in the type of surroundings where people drank from 9am until they passed out, puked or late into the next morning. Our crowd liked to drink! we were the odd ones out other than the group of south american ladies who also didn't drink more than a respectful "normal' amount! The food was great and they even made some special veggie food for me... Some fried taro, salads, fried rice, fried eggplant, and other good veggies. We also got to play in and on the water. We jumped in and swam to a little was nice to put some strokes in but I paid for it big time when I got out.... don't think I got warm again all evening despite wearing a hat, down jacket, furry outfit, etc etc..... it was worth it though... later we got to kayaking... the kayaks were in rough shape but noone sank thank goodness... we paddled through a cave and then got out and explored a bigger cave... pretty cool stuff in there.... too bad they didn't tell us to bring our headlamps:) We got off the boat, back on the bus and were back in Hanoi by 4pm.... I would recommend checking out Halong Bay if ever in the area....

Hanoi is a big bustling city. We went to visit Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which was very cool and a little spooky at the same time. Everything was very orderly, the guards in white and keeping the crowds moving and in line. We walked around town a lot enjoying the old architecture, cafes, pho and spring rolls. We spent a day in a half in town and felt like that is just about the right time to enjoy it. We couldn't get into the water puppet show which is something I read about and I think would have been nice. We stayed at a hotel just across from the Backpackers Hostel.Close to everything, cheap and clean but the name escapes me at the moment. 

Bangkok and Pattaya, Thailand
  We arrived into Bangkok and missed the first bus to Pattaya... A little bit of a crazy Russian father and his superstar junior tennis pro daughter asked if we wanted to share a cab over.... we decided it was better than sitting in the airport for another 2 hours and getting in at 1am... so we agreed..... We arrived into Pattaya at about 10:30pm, just as walking street was getting crowded and exciting... Our hotel (Jasmine Hotel) was on a side street from the famous walking street of Pattaya.... This is NOT our scene but it sure was entertaining for one night. Tons of Russian tourists, specifically middle aged men with beer guts walking around with not so pretty, skinny thai prostitutes...hmm... we bought some drinks from 7 eleven and enjoyed the street entertainment for a couple of hours before calling it a night.
   The next morning we took a cab over to Amara Watersports where we met Craig and Amara who run the windsurf/SUP shop. We were getting some Starboard inflatable SUPs from them for future adventures. They happen to be getting ready to run a little SUP race at Jomtien Beach after a big windsurf competition to promote the sport. We ended up helping them out. If you are ever around Pattaya and want to go play in the water go check them out.
  We left Craig and Amara to head south so we could paddle around the Ko Samet, an island not far from Rayong. We arrived into Phe after a long tough to get cab ride there. We stayed at Christie's Pub/hotel... quaint and convenient. The next morning the rain came down and our motivation was a little low. We also started talking about an event Craig mentioned. A friend of his was paddling from Ko Lanta to Ko Phi Phi in a couple of days and wanted some more people to join him. I called him, and the next thing we knew we had booked flights from Bangkok for the following day. We were heading to Ko Lanta.... Change of plans!

Koh Lanta
Check out the SUP in Asia Page or the post below for all the fun SUP adventures we had over here. If you find yourself on this beautiful island check out Lanta Paddle Sports for water fun activities... Also if you need a place to stay, the  Noble House is a great resort! We also spent some nights at the Manun bungalows, cheap, clean, and basic...
I got paddle on the SUPs alot, taught some fitness classes on the SUP, learned to windsurf, we got to go caving, met some fantastic people, and Andrew got to drive a tuk tuk, jeep, and scooter! The food was awesome, the fruit smoothies and iced coffees delicious and basically we loved it there.

Guilin/Yangshuo, China
We arrived, we got ourselves to yangshuo, we cycled, we SUPed the Li River, we hiked, we cooked, we left.
We stayed at the Climbers Inn: lovely and helpful and I would recommend this hostel! We enjoyed Kaya's Bar with their great gin and tonics and friendly people, and the veggie claypot close to Climber's Inn a must for at least one dinner... we had 2 there! We learned to cook some awesome chinese food and woke up at 5am to beat the water police and get on the river with our SUPs. Unfortunately, the only bummer was that it was bloody freezing.... check out this cool town if you get a chance!

Hong Kong
We loved our time in Hong Kong! Thank you Russell Wong for connecting us with jeanette, a lovely and awesome ultra runner who then connected us to Olivier and Jerome from Team of Paris two hardcore athletes who showed us around the trails by mtn bike!
    We arrived by overnight train from Guilin into Shenzhen, China. Our train arrived about 11am. They made it fairly simple and straight forward to get off the train, through customs for Hong Kong and on the Hong Kong MTR which you can take to Kowloon and eventually Hong Kong Island. We were staying at the Lee Garden Guest House near Mirrador Mansions in Kowloon for the first three nights. The rooms were small but clean and comfortable.
   The next day we got picked up at 7am by Dani the driver and Olivier and Jerome (Team of Paris riders). They took us to Tai Mo Shan (the highest peak in Hong Kong) and we went DownHill Mountain biking. Olivier provided the bikes, the van, and was a fantastic teacher and guide. We managed to ride all the trails  that day. It was wonderful and I felt really good on the big bike!!!

  We had the next day to ourselves. We took the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong Island. We took the escalator up to the end and then ran/hiked up to Victoria Peak. Unfortunately it was a cloudy day and we couldn't see much of anything from the top. Regardless we ran around the trail and up to the peak. We returned to find some food and explore the hustle and bustle of central Hong Kong.
 The following day we met Jerome and Olivier again for a cross country moutnain bike/trail run adventure on Lantau Island. In Hong Kong you can only bring your bike on the slow ferry to Lantau. We got on the 10:30am ferry (Andrew and I borrowed bikes from Olivier: Thank you again!) and it took about 45 min to get across. Once we were across we had to head to Friendly Bike Shop to grab some helmets and then we were off. We rode on a paved path around the coast to get to the trails. It was beautiful so I didn't mind too much about the pavement. Once we arrived at the trail head we did two loops. We started off on a forbidden trail which was a nice fairly smooth single track up and then down. The second loop was the traditional cross country mtn bike ride and it had a bit of everything from rocks, stairs, smooth and fast, straight and windy, great views and in the forest... Really a fun trail! We said good bye to Olivier and the three of us dropped the bikes and headed out for an hour run on the trails. Jerome took us up to a peak (I was suffering a little on the steps... sooo many!) and then the trail had some flow of up and down. Again beautiful views and just so nice to be on trails again!

  We grabbed our bikes and had 30 minutes to ride back to catch the 3:30pm ferry back. We made it with 8 minutes to spare....phew. Once we were back on Hong Kong Island we enjoyed some refreshments with Olivier and had to move house to the east of the island at a hostel called the Y-Loft. The Y Loft is at the end of the metro line at Wai Chan. It is a great little hotel, modern, clean, big and part of a youth education square!
  The next morning we had a date with jeanette for a trail run along Dragon's Back and Shek-o trails. Again the weather did not really cooperate with us as we were supposed have some stunning views along this trail but instead enjoyed strong winds and dense fog! Despite the lack of views we really enjoyed running with Jeanette! The trail was varying and ended at Big Wave Bay Beach. After an hour or so of running we enjoyed some french toast and coffee and bid farewell to jeanette. We came back to Big Wave Bay later in the afternoon to enjoy a SUP surf session, our first on our Starboard Inflatable boards.

 We later met Jeanette in Central Hong Kong for some Mexican at iCaramba! Delicious....
  Friday it was time to leave but before we headed out Jeanetter told us about a fun little trail run from Causeway Bay to Stanley... It was about 1 hour minus the bus rides but gorgeous again. We went over the twin peaks and past some reservoirs! Stanley is a totally quaint town on the back side of Hong Kong!
 After our run we grabed our stuff and made our way back to Shenzhen via metro! About 2.5 hours from Wai Chan to Shenzhen Airport!

A lovely vacation of mountains, beach, cities, runs, bikes, paddles, and friendly folks!

live, love,laugh, DREAM!...