When I was working at DaimlerChrysler Northeast Asia in my early days in China, the company had a bus factory (Yaxing-Benz) in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province. I went there regularly, but did not like the city at all. There was nothing to do in those days, the city literally pulled up the sidewalks at 8 pm and turned off all the lights. The factory was old and dirty and there was a lot of joint-venture politics going on that I don’t even want to think of anymore. When at a certain point the German CFO of the company (Juergen Pfrang), who I worked with closely, was murdered in Nanjing I sort of decided I would never go back to Yangzhou anymore.
Anyway, I had not been to Yangzhou in over 10 years, but when I saw that there would be a half marathon there I thought it would be interesting to see what had become of the city. My plan was to train hard to run a good time, but too much travel and work hindered that plan a bit. I am generally in good shape, so even without training specifically for this I felt I should be able to run a decent time.
On Saturday afternoon my colleague Joop Dorresteijing and my dad took the car to Yangzhou, about a 3.5-4 hour ride. In the old days the ride took us about the same amount of time, even though we still had to take a ferry across the Yangtze river (now there are several new bridges). But there is so much more traffic than 10 years ago that you can’t drive fast anymore.
We arrived in Yangzhou around 6 pm, checked into our hotel (the same as I used to stay in 10 years ago, luckily it was completely renovated now) and went to pick up our numbers at the marathon office. That went quite smooth and 15 minutes later we were walking around Yangzhou’s city center. I could hardly recognize the place anymore, it had been completely transformed in 10 years. I guess this was to be expected, but somehow I disliked Yangzhou so much that I thought it would still be stuck in the old days of no bars and restaurants and bikes instead of cars. It was actually a quite pleasant city, not as busy as Shanghai but with all the modern conveniences. A bit like Shanghai 10 years ago I guess.
The half marathon started at 8 AM, but we had to be there before 7 AM already so I got up at 5:40 to eat a small breakfast (half banana, small piece of banana bread, some yoghurt and a cup of coffee) before driving to the start of the race. We got there on time and found that we were in the 2nd starting grid behind the professionals. Pretty good, because that means you don’t need a lot of time passing slower runners in the first kilometers of the run. However, we quickly found that this is China and many people went into starting grids closer to the starting line. At a certain point hundreds of runners even entered the starting area for the professionals!
So what do you do in that case? Just do like they do and also move to a better start position. So 20 minutes before the start we managed to get right behind the professional athletes and we could watch them do their preparations. The race was also the Chinese national championship, so a lot of top Chinese runners were at the start. Of course the usual Kenyans were there as well, you see them at all marathons in the world these days.
The start was supposed to be at 8 AM, but because it was broadcast live on TV as well and the program started at 8 we had to wait a couple of more minutes before we were allowed to go. But then at 8:05 the gun was fired and we were off. As usual the professional runners were out of sight within a couple of minutes, I’m always amazed at how fast they run. My dad and I decided to run together and we quickly settled into a speed of just over 12 km/h. Because the course was broad and mainly flat (except for a few bridges and a hill in a park north of Yangzhou) that was an easy pace to run. The first 10 km we ran in 46 minutes, an excellent speed for me.
The number of spectators was amazing, many more than during for example the Shanghai marathon. They were all screaming Jia You as loud as they could and some groups even had drums. At some parts along the course there were so many people watching that the people in the back of the crowds could hardly see the runners. As a participant it’s great to see this and it makes running a lot easier.
The scenery along the race course was beautiful. 8-lane roads in the city and smaller paved roads in the parks north of Yangzhou. The organization was good (except for the problems at the start line) and there were refreshments and water every 5 kilometers. I know I dehydrate quickly when it’s sunny (which it was during the run), so I drank some water while running at almost every stop.
My dad and I kept on running together, but I noticed he was having a hard time in the final kilometers. I slowed down a bit to stay with him and used my extra energy to wave at the public and clap my hands above my head, which led to the spectators doing the same. Too bad I could not film it, is was really cool.
Around kilometer 20 my dad told me I didn’t have to stay with him and that I should pick up my own speed. I had calculated I could still run within 1:40 if I would really go for it. I still felt great, so I sped off. In the final kilometer I passed a lot of people and eventually crossed the finish line in 1:39:55. A record time for me! My dad finished about a minute later and we had some water while waiting for Joop to finish as well (he came in at 1:49, also an excellent time). We all felt pretty good and were very happy with the race course and organization. If you are into running and live in China this is a race you should check out!