This morning I ran the Shanghai Half Marathon 2011, a race I participated in a couple of times over the past years already (incl. the full marathon once). Because I did the New York marathon less than a month ago and I took a break in training after that, I did not really think I would be able to run a good time. My aim was to have a fun race and test how good my condition was after 4 weeks without hardly any practice.
Because the start was at 7:30 I got up at 5 AM so I could have a decent breakfast more than 2 hours before the start. I have learned over the years that a big meal full of carbs (pasta) the night before a full or half marathon makes a huge difference, but that a breakfast is even more important. So I had half a liter of yoghurt with muesli and two knackebrod with jam, plus a huge mug of tea (with sugar for a change). Then my driver picked up Grace and me at 6 AM to drive us to the start at the Bund.
We could not get very close to the Bund because of traffic control, so we had to walk the last couple of blocks. It was still pretty cold at this time, so a lot of people were doing their warm up runs. However, I decided to enter the starting area the moment it opened (at 6:30) in order to get a good place to start from. Over the past years I had learned that if you don’t start at the front you will lose minutes right away and you will spend the first kilometers overtaking other people.
I managed to get a place at the very front, so I had a lot to see. As usual in China a lot of people sneaked in from the side in the last 20 minutes before the start, or they just fought their way from the back to the front. Outside China this may cause a fight, here people seem to just ignore it.
At 7:20 the professional athletes entered the starting grid and a few minutes later about 20 young guys were also let in by the security guards. At first I thought they were local top athletes or so, but they were not wearing typical top athletes running gear. After the start they took off very slowly (I passed most of them in the first kilometer, and 2 others who got away fast were walking after 10 km already) blocking other people. I assume they are probably related to some high level government officials so they don’t have to queue at the start. Typical China.
After the obligatory speeches and the Chinese national anthem the race started at exactly 7:30. I took off fast with the front runners and ran my first km in just over 4 minutes. A bit too fast, so I slowed down a little bit to a pace just below 14 km/h for the next 2 km. I still felt great, but I know the risk of starting too fast so I forced myself to run slower (not easy).
After 5 km the biggest hurdle of the race was in front of us: the Nanpu bridge. I slowed down a bit on the way up (to about 12 km/h) so my heartbeat would not go up to too much and then accelerated on the way down to 15 km/h. I still felt pretty good when we entered Pudong where we would run straight ahead for almost 8 km. Quite some people were singing, clapping and screaming “Jia You” along the road, making running even easier.
At the 10 km point Grace and my driver were cheering for me and they took some pictures. Always nice to see people you know along the course. I told them I still felt great, and that was indeed the case. The next couple of km were quite boring, especially the part over the old Expo 2010 area where most buildings had been demolished already. The Dutch pavilion was still there though. At km 14 we saw the front runners of the half marathon who were at km 19 already, cool to see them race. I gave me inspiration to run even faster.
The last couple of kilometers were a bit harder, especially my muscles were a bit painful. Not running for a few weeks comes at a price I guess. But I kept up my speed (around 13 km/h) and did not feel particularly tired. Some other people around me seemed to be having a harder time, so at the 20 km point I decided to speed up one more time.
There was still a bridge right before the finish and I managed to pass quite a few people there. Then we ran down, took a left and 200 meters ahead of us was the finish line. I looked at the clock and realized I could still finish below 1:36, so I gave all I had and managed to finish the half marathon in 1:35:53. A new personal best for me, despite the rather difficult course and not training too much. A lot faster than expected, but considering that I don’t feel very tired I might have been able to run even faster. I was #183 out of a field of 8000 half marathon runners, which I also was quite happy about.
After the finish I picked up my medal and goodie bag (pair of socks, energy drink, some cookies and a Snickers) and then went to look for Grace. I found her at the finish line and we walked around a bit until the finish of the men’s full marathon about 35 minutes later. Great to see how fast these guys can run and how skinny they are. After the first women also finished we walked back to the car and by 10:30 I was home and had even showered already.
All in all a nice race, although I did not particularly like the course. There are a lot of things that can be improved, but compared to a few years ago the organization was already much better. One important thing they have to change though: the organization was serving local herbal tea at the refreshments posts… I had no idea what it was (I assumed it was cola), so took a cup, but after one sip I threw the rest away. A terrible taste, something bitter made of raisins it seemed, but certainly not something you want to have in the middle of a race. Grace told me that at the 10 km point they ran out of water after 1 hour already, this can absolutely not happen and is actually dangerous. It’s a local race, so you can’t expect too much I suppose, but these are basic things that should not happen again next year.