May 21, 2012

Great Wall Marathon Race Report: An interesting situation

Andrew's consolation for my unique situation at the Great Wall Marathon 2012 was that at least it would make a good story... Let me see if I can try and sum up my little adventure running the Great Wall Marathon into an interesting story about racing, being competitive, fairness, awards, rewards, pride, and support. 
Andrew at the finish

Andrew and I before the start

Here is my story and thoughts:
In the fall of 2011 another teacher at Chongqing Maple leaf International School approached me to see if I was interested in running the Great Wall Marathon. Luckily Andrew and I had mentioned it between ourselves beforehand as a possibility for the year. I naturally was excited that someone else would also be interested so we got our entries in for the early bird discount which solidified our May 19th 2012 weekend. Closer to the time of the marathon we booked flights and secured a what turned out to be a great farm house bed and breakfast close to the race start, and a hostel (365 Inn) in the city centre of Beijing for the Saturday evening. While booking all of these necessities we also realized that we would miss the race package pick up time and got our packages sent to us before the race as we were not to arrive until very very late in the evening on Friday night, the day before the race. 

When i received my package I did notice I was in coral 2, I was bummed but as I read through the Great Wall Booklet, nowhere does it tell you how you actually get put in a coral. Because the entry form never asked for my best previous marathon times or racing history or even predicted times I think it is a fair assumption to assume we were placed in the corals at random  and therefore results had to be based on timing chip time as otherwise it would make no sense and be completely unfair. We were also forced to get a timing chip which further confirmed to me that times would be measured on timing chip. I assume due to congestion and a random assignment of coral the winners would be deduced by chip time. It is the only way it makes sense to me (still now). 

We left school at 3pm on Friday and made it to the airport at 7pm by means of taxi, bus, and metro... We checked in for our 8:30pm flight and arrived into Beijing airport at about 11:30pm. We got picked up by the lovely people who ran this awesome B&B. It took 2 hours to get to the B&B being 2am by the time all things were said and done. The house was situated in a small valley among steep hills about 3km from the race start. We got a light nap of just under 4 hours before the alarms went off to get up and get dressed for the start. I wasn't too hungry in the morning but managed to eat 3/4 of my PB sandwhich and a chocolate granola bar... some sips of cold coffee and some water finished my pre race food intake. The nice people dropped us off at the race start. This race is quite tight with security and they checked us and our tickets on every step of the way. The place was packed already at 6:30am (race start at 7:30am). I found the bathroom and stored my bag and started to stretch... The place was funny as it was definitely a race for foreigners, there were people from all over europe, australia, US, NZ, and CAN as majorities and only some chinese folks.. No prize money kept the speedy kenyans away:)

The staff was doing a good job with security and wouldn't let those without the correct coral number on their bib through and so I was forced to wait for the second wave start. This secured my thoughts that time and placement would definitely be identified through the timing chip scores, I had no doubt in my mind that winners could possibly be decided from gun time. I was at the race at 630am and never heard an announcement of any rule change of gun time change or the possibility of changing corals, believing it all to be pretty final. 

So I got myself in the front of coral 2 and we began the race 5 minutes after coral 1. I was out in front and to my surprise and excitement quite quickly started catching people from coral 1. The race had a long road climb to start things off. This is good for me and despite the crowds of walkers in front of me I managed to squeeze my way through at a strong running pace. I was passing people throughout the entire climb and still feeling good so kept my pace up. Then we hit the beginning of the wall. Here I had a little trouble with slower folks but luckily I passed most slower folks on the wider road, I had a few frustrating moments where I wanted to pass but people either couldn't hear me because they were wearing earphones or were obviously not wanting me to pass them or sometimes it was just clogged up... but I was yelling my way through and managed to squeeze in between people whenever I could. I don't think I pissed too many people off but I knew this was my forte and would need all the speed I could get from it before we hit the flatter road section. I was pretty impressed with my energy and speed coming out of the wall. I then kind of found a pace for the flat sections, I really am terrible on the flats, my head just doesn't tell my legs to move quickly and I find I mentally drift away... luckily there were a couple of dirt road patches and hill climbs to liven me up and get me out of my road rut speed.

 From about km 26 to about km 32 I had some wacky out of body experiences that made me nervous as I thought I would either faint or hallucinate very soon... As soon as I could I grabbed some bananas and ate a Nuun straight up. I felt a little better but still had to walk for a minute or two to get myself together both physically and mentally. I forced myself to concentrate and get back on track as I felt like I was still running quite well and didn't want to mess it up now.. At about km 34 or so we were back at the base of the wall running it backwards to the way we did at the start, The uphill stair cilmbs were a real mental battle for me at this point. I luckily explored different methods of trying to climb consistently without getting my breathing to become too heavy and finally found a a funny strategy that worked for me. I used my hands and feet, looked down, and really focused on slow deep breathing (think yoga) which allowed me to maintain a very consistent speed. I knew this was one of my strengths and wanted to remind myself to use it in a positive way. I managed to sort of run the downs and flatter sections.

 At about km 36 I was really really craving a sprite or a coke. I remembered I had stashed a coke NUUN in my shorts and so pulled it out and popped it into a waterbottle I was using. The coke flavored NUUN gave me a little lift that was well needed. Unfortunately for me, the last 5km was my other weakness in road running (strangely enough in most sports, steep downs)  steep road descents. It was here that I sort of lost it. I am sooo annoyed at my inability to be fast on descents (its backwards because most people are better at the descents and weaker on the climbs) It is here where I finally got passed by the girl who later winds up with the 3rd place award despite my time actually being 4 minutes faster than hers. But without a doubt she was much quicker than me on the descent. On a little climb in the middle of the descent I managed to almost catch her again but she was off again once it got steep and down. We had less than a km to finish on the final flats and unfortunately for me it just wasn't long enough for me to catch her. There was nothing I could do but sprint hard. I was hoping that she had started in coral 1 and I would possibly still beat her by time. To be honest I didn't know we were fighting for 3rd place across the line. In the end it was a very pleasant surprise for me. So as it turns out I was 1 minute behind her across the line.  As it turns out she did in fact start in coral 1 which means she started the race 5 minutes ahead of me. So infact I did beat her by 4 minutes. My final time was 4 hours 26min and 22sec and hers was 4 hours 30 min and 44sec. What followed has made me forget all of my awesome struggles, proud moments of getting through mental and physical slumps, and enjoying some of the ease in which I could just run uphill without thinking about it twice,  enjoying my strengths and getting frustrated with my weaknesses, ... all I can remember is what ensued after I crossed the line. 

Thank you amazing Canadian man from Ontario who ran the half marathon. You were my stone and support when I felt so alone and upset. Andrew had not finished yet and the other girl that came with us had decided to leave and so there I was alone... At first quite happy. I was 4th across the line (which is great in itself) and quite quickly it got announced that I was third female overall.. I was so proud of myself for this success as I was beginning to doubt my running abilities after the last two marathons I raced in China this year. They were significantly slower than my times in 2003-2005. Once the awards were set to take place we, all 4 of us went to the stage, I was confused that the girl who crossed the line in third thought she won third but the announcer clearly called my name with my time. ONce on stage I went up to the race director to confirm the results and what happened after that is a blur as it was pretty disappointing for me. I was told that at the race meeting on Thursday evening the race director had announced that the award winners would be deduced according to gun time shots and people could change corals on this night if they felt they needed too (something like this, I was in a daze, upset, not thinking too straight at the bad news). Well, I am a teacher in Chongqing for the year and we cannot take holidays other than the preset ones and therefore although I would have liked to be at race meeting (I always go if I can) it was impossible to be in beijing on Thursday evening. I left Friday evening after work. I didn't know about this change or the new news. I felt it very unfair; as far as I could tell there was no way to change your coral. On stage I was asked if I was at the meeting I explained that I was not and it was impossible for me to have been there due to work. They then told me I should have known to change to coral 1. But I was wondering how they expected me to know this? It was not mentioned race morning, there was no email sent, there was no way I could have known this detail. Because there was no written rule about it being gun shot winners I feel it very unfair for those of us that because of work or other commitments didn't get the correct spoken rule change information. It was decided on stage that the girl who crossed the line 3rd should get 3rd as that is what he said on thursday and although I had a time 4 minutes faster than her I would not get an award and receive 4th. 

I followed the rules I was given and feel betrayed with the awards, I am unhappy, and am feeling very negative about racing because of it. It is important to me to have the proper recognition for a strong performance and it feels good and right to get rewarded with the correct award that one deserves. 

I was cleary upset,and my new canadian friend provided very nice support for me. He had told the race director to at least recognize my achievements on the microphone (which he did) but unfortunately the bad news was just too fresh and raw in my mind.  I felt betrayed. I felt angry, I felt disappointed, I cried and shook and just felt soooo awfully sad.. 

Eventually Andrew crossed the line, and he did great and looked relieved and happy at the same time. I shared with him the "excitement" of the events that just occurred, he tried to comfort me but I was just too upset. I managed to sort of go in and out of disappointment. After Andrew recovered enough, we eventually got our lunch, got on a bus and made it back to Beijing for about 6pm. We showered and joined the other two at the hostel bar for a tube of Beijing beer and pizza. 

We had a pretty early night as we were all pretty zonked from the lack of sleep, long run, and bus rides etc. I couldn't sleep very well as my mind was racing with the post race events that occurred. I was up at 630am and went for  a walk through the streets and couldn't believe how alive the city was at 630am: tourists yelling in microphones, music blasting from stores, street vendors out and about... I also enjoyed some coffee, read my book, and just enjoyed watching the bustling of the street from the deck of the hostel. I was trying to erase the bad from my brain and remember the good... It worked sometimes but then would remember the moment I was told I was faster but would get 4th and feel my disappointment all over again. I know it is a little ridiculous but I am emotional and I take these things to heart, probably too much,.. but that is ME.

We eventually had some breakfast and made our long journey home to Yongchuan... and so the Great Wall Marathon has come and gone with feelings of pride, joy, sadness, unfairness, soreness, fulfillment, and many other emotions. Another adventure for the books.

Now its time to focus on stand up paddleboarding..... yes, more races, yes I am a little nervous to put myself through the emotions and possible unfairness involved in the whole scene but at the same I am excited to get back on the board and see how hard I can push against myself and others. I love the sweat, I love the pressure, I love the community,... I can't let this one experience put me down.... I WON'T let this one experience put me down...

live, love, laugh,..DREAM!

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