Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Wall Hits Back*

The wake-up call rang in at 2:10 a.m. and Cindy quickly turned on the lights. We didn't even need the call because neither of us could sleep -- me, because I was worried about the lack of food available for dinner (no one in China understands what "vegetarian . . . no pork . . . no meat" means), and Cindy because, well, because she is Cindy and doesn't sleep.

Got dressed, grabbed the "provisions" bags we had packed (and checked 100 times), and went to meet our group downstairs for the 3-hour bus ride to Tianjin where the race would begin at 7:30.

Cindy was appointed the "official" photographer of the day and snapped this lovely picture when we got on the bus.

We had one stop along the way for a "pee break" and to meet up with the other buses that were transporting the approximately 1700 runners to the Wall. (Note: "pee breaks" in Beijing are the subject of a whole 'nother blog, which I am almost certain will be written by Cindy). Here I am trying desperately to carb load on coconut bread on the bus while everyone else was looking for a hole in the ground or a bush to "let it all out".

We arrived in Tianjin at around 6 a.m. and made our way from the parking lot to the Yin-Yang Square where the race would begin and end. On our journey to this starting point, we were greeted by these lovely ladies who put on a show just for us!

Seeing a stage, Cindy and I demanded a photographer and an audience. This is our official "before" picture (ain't we cute?).

I don't remember much about the pre-start activities other than an aerobic warm-up routine. Most marathoners were just worried about making it back to the Wall a second time before the cut-off time of 1:30 p.m. The 1/2 marathon, 10K and 5K racers did the Wall once and then ran the rest of their distances through the village(s). The marathon racers did the Wall twice -- the first time after a 5K run uphill, which at this point, the Wall was mostly downhill with a couple of steep inclines. After getting off the Wall the first time, marathoners ran through Yin-Yang Square and made their way towards the villages for the next 15 or so miles. The gate to the Wall entrance was going to close at 1:30, so if you didn't make it back by then, you would not be allowed to finish the race.

The first 5K was fairly easy, even though it was all uphill on a winding country road. We were all eager to get to the Wall. One runner was a little too eager and he fell on the steps leading up to the Wall and broke two of his fingers. The medics bandaged his fingers and shot him up with something so that he was able to continue on (he finished and even beat my time!).

On the Wall the first time, I did run since my legs were fresh and I was trying to finish the first 10K in under 1.5 hours. There were a few bottlenecks going down areas such as this, where we had to go in a single file or fall off the Wall.

I finished the first 10K in about an hour and 20 minutes, and proceeded to the villages. Running through these villages was the most amazing thing. The people were lining the streets and cheering us on. They rarely see foreigners, so marathon day is like a holiday to them. Lack of English did not make a difference -- cheering and wishing runners "good luck" is recognizable in any language. The children were high-fiving all of us as we passed by. Some little girls handed me flowers that they picked, and others ran along with me for a while. They were just so amazing and happy to see us. The older children and adults were getting a kick out of taking our pictures. I posed for a quite a few of them.

Leaving the villages, I was on my way back to Yin-Yang Square and doing okay on time (in spite of my walking a bit and stopping to pose for pictures). I made it through the gate just after Noon. 

Hitting the Wall a second time (around mile 21) was Heaven and Hell all at once. Heaven because I knew the run would be almost over for me (and I would get my medal). Hell because all the downhill I ran at the start would need to be conquered in reverse this time. Steep, steep inclines -- lots of uneven steps, and even areas where there weren't any steps but uneven rocks. Every time I made it to the top, I was elated, until I saw the next incline. Needless to say, no one was running at this point! My Hong Kong hikes had prepared me well for this and I am happy to admit that I made it through without much cramping, stopping, or barfing (but I was hungry!)

After leaving the Wall for good, it was a quick downhill 5K run back to Yin-Yang Square.  I made it! Cindy had hung around for more than three hours after she finished her 10K to cheer me on at the finish line and I was soooo happy to see her. There was a bit of confusion on my part because I was looking for the timer to see my time -- I had stopped to look for it (which I am sure added seconds to my time). There wasn't a visible timer, but my official Chip time was: 6:35:37.  Worst marathon time, ever -- but I was happy with it and happy with my time on the Wall (I was expecting to be on the Wall much longer). My training had really paid off on those steps.

Romualdo Sanchez Garita, a 37-year-old runner from Mexico, was the winner. He set a new marathon record of 3:18:48. Here's Cindy with him.

And now for our official "after" picture.

*Thanks to Cindy for the witty/clever title suggestion


Dena said...

I am so monumentally proud of you!!!! I can't wait to see you when you get home - when is that?

RoadBunner said...

Congratulations! I love your shirt! Did you do a Disney Tri?

Deranee said...

You are awesome!! That's all I can say.