On Saturday I got up very early to particpate in a 30 km mountain trailrunning race. My driver picked me up at 4:50 AM and we drove over to Hangzhou in less than 2 hours. I had my breakfast in the car and then managed to sleep for another hour or so. The start and finish of the race was next to the Hangzhou stadium, and at 7 AM it was already quite busy there. I picked up my start number (no. 23) and prepared my running clothes. Despite the sudden cool temperatures (only about 15 degrees early in the morning) and a bit of rain, I decided to wear a short sleeve shirt.
Before the race I talked to some other runners, and I met Myckel Bodt for the first time. Myckel is an experienced trail runner (he among others did the 100 km Sunrise to Sunset in Mongolia earlier this year) and he is behind Happy2Run.com, a website for runners in China. He was actually the one who first told me about the Hangzhou race (thanks for the tip Myckel). About 200-300 people particpated in the 30 km race, including several relay teams. After the start I ran and talked with Myckel for the first 1.5 km until we hit the first mountain. We had to climb 700 steps up to the top, which was a nice warm up for the rest of the race. I had decided to take it easy today (for me the race was a training for the 100 km trailwalker in less than 2 weeks) and let Myckel run his own pace up.
After the first hill the trail was still quite easy, with lots of stones for grip and broad enough to pass other runners. But after a couple of kilometers the trail suddenly became narrow and quite steep. At a certain point I even had to use my hand and feet to climb up and (more difficult) to go down. Running was difficult because of the trail, and I also realized I could not get into a steady speed because there was hardly any flat part, it was either up or down. The scenery was fantastic though, running in wooded areas and and running through tea plantation on mountain slopes. Too bad the weather was not very good, so you normally could not see more than a couple of hundred meters.
After about 10 km it started to rain harder and it got colder (probably because of being higher up in the hills). I thought for a second about wearing a coat, but decided not to do it because then I would need to stop for a minute. Looking back I probably should have put the coat on, because I got quite cold and wet over the next 20 km. Another mistake that I made is that I did not eat enough during the race. I knew I had to eat, but my body just did not want the food. It’s hard to explain, but you have to force yourself to eat during such a race. You don’t feel hungry despite burning thousands of calories and if you try to eat it’s hard to swallow. Eventually I managed one pack of energy gel, which is the easiest food to take while running. However, I drank a lot during the race, in total about 4 liters of sports drink and water.
Halfway the race a group of 3 runners passed me and I managed to stay with them. They had a nice speed and it felt good to just run their pace. Going down a slippery slope one of the runners fell and could not manage to pick up the speed anymore, so it was just the three of us. The runner up front had a lot of friends on the route cheering for him, even at unusual places such as the middle of the woods. I found it a bit awkward bit did not think much of it. Another awkward thing was that people took a lot of pictures of us running, when I ran alone not many people took a picture of me.
After running with them for an hour we passed a water station where the guy up front took a bottle but let it slip out of his hands after about 100 meters. Then one of the spectators ran back, got him a new bottle and ran along with us to give it to him. When later on a girl tried to give the runner a small present during the run (he of course could not take it) I suddenly realized this guy must be famous, that was why he had so many friends and why so many people took pictures of us! I still have no idea who he is actually, we did not talk during the race and after I had a quick stop to eat my power gel I did not catch up with them anymore.
Everything went quite easy until about 22 kilometers. Then I suddenly got cold and tired, before that I just ran without really feeling the pain. But while going up the last mountain before West Lake I had a hard time. I was completely on my own in the woods, I did not see or hear anybody ahead or behind me, and I hoped I did not miss the trail somewhere (I did not luckily). After reaching the top and starting to run down my muscles hurt terribly, each step was like hitting my legs and knees with a piece of wood. I tried to focus on the beautiful nature, but it was not easy.
Luckily after about 15 minutes I reached West Lake and ran over the dike to the finish. At least that’s what I thought: it turned out that there was still one long, steep climb plus downhill between West Lake and the finish line… Every muscle in my body was hurting and my mind told me to stop this madness, but of course I went on. Upon reaching the top of the hill and getting my last stamp I could see the stadium already and I felt better. I finished in 4 hours 28 minutes, about the time that I had expected to finish.
Looking back I am not very satisfied. The time was OK, but I felt worse than I had expected. Partly because of the relatively cold weather, partly because of not eating enough, but also partly because I am not in good enough shape. I did not do enough runs in the mountains. It’s a bit worrying with the 100K Trailwalker coming up on November 9. That’s more than 3 times as far and the terrain is similar.
If a 30K mountain run is already quite difficult for my body, how will I react after 60 or 80 km? I don’t know, but that’s also why I participate in the Trailwalker. I want to know where my physical limits are. Over the next 2 weeks I cannot improve my shape anymore, so I have to do it with my current physical condition. I am not sure if I am really ready for a 100 kilometer race, but I will go for it. The Hangzhou race was a good training and at least I was once again reminded to eat and drink enough during the race.