Running in China & Wuxi (无锡)

Our initial move to China was stressful and even more frustrating because of the fact that I could not run. I somehow injured my foot in May 2015 after the Bayshore Half Marathon and decided to take a break during the moving process. Despite the poor air quality in China, I tried to run a few times with very minimal luck. Even 5k was enough to cause unexplained pain, so I took up lifting again and thought my running days were over…Turns out I had a super old pair of running shoes and probably should stretch more after running. Almost a year and a new pair of running shoes from Hong Kong later I was back in action like nothing ever happened. Strange that.

Happy China 10k

特步欢乐中国10公里锦标赛

Complete with low air pollution and “hero ring” if you could finish within 18 minutes of the fastest finisher of your gender, the happy 10k was my first race post “new shoes” and subsequently the first one in China! Fortunately the air pollution was low and it was a relatively cool sunny Sunday morning in June. 10k is absolutely my least favorite distance though, so no PR here, but I was glad to be running again.

Happy 10k

TaiHu International Half Marathon

苏州太湖国际半程马拉松

Some of my new running friends convinced me to sign up for a nice December half marathon near TaiHu (太湖/extremely/very/too lake) lake in Suzhou. Don’t let the shorts fool you, it was about 50F, but that means I was comfortable! Unfortunately I was also severely congested and had seriously debated if I should run or rest. Three days after our return from Bali I decided I had put too much work into training to give up on this race and worst case I could walk the whole thing in this condition…and walk a little I did towards the end when my heart rate got too high. 1:56:57 was  pretty good for a sick person I decided and no lasting damage was done. It also probably did not help that the aqi was over 175…I am pretty convinced my sickness was pollution induced in the first place too, but that is a debate for another time.

TaiHu Half Marathon

JinJiHu International Half Marathon

苏州环金鸡湖国际半程马拉松

Next was the course so close to home I literally got to run right past my own apartment! JinJiHu (金鸡湖/Golden Chicken Lake) is my normal running route, so I thought it would be convenient to run the race around it. My preparation had been a little hit and miss with all the travel we did early in 2017, but I decided I can sleep when I’m dead, so participate I did! It was a terribly humid day with so-so air quality, and I made the horrible mistake of wearing capri leggings for the first and last time ever in a race (I always get too hot, you would think I would remember that…). With around 30,000 people crammed in around the start line I managed to lose my friend Li within the first 5 minutes when she took off like a bat out of hell. We found each other around mile 6 or 7 and managed to hang together for a while until she got too warm and had to ditch one of her shirts. The last 3k my calf threatened rather convincingly to take me down, and I walked a lot of the last kilometer in protest. The course was pretty good, but I think lack of sleep and the rock that found its way into my gut for the first half of the race held me back. Fortunately I was signed up for another race the following weekend where I planned to avenge myself.

JinjiHu Half Marathon
How appropriate, a medal with a golden chicken on it for our run around golden chicken lake in the year of the chicken (rooster).

Wuxi Half Marathon

无锡半程马拉松

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David is not amused by my new baby, compliments of the race committee.

Preparation for the half marathon in Wuxi the following week was rather strategic. I had decided to book a last minute hotel room and explore the city a little bit the day before the race. Nothing spells success quite like walking 23,000 steps the day before a race. The city itself is only an hour away from where I live in Suzhou, but the only time I had been there was to visit the Ikea during our first two weeks in China! Wuxi is perhaps most famous for its cherry blossoms in the spring at the YuanTouZhu (鼋头渚/soft shell turtle head islet) scenic area. In addition to spending the entire weekend there, I forced myself to get 7.5-8 hours of sleep every night the week before, drank a ton of water the two days prior to the race, and ate very strategically the day before…where the primary strategy employed was to eat as much delicious looking food as I could find…and I found plenty!

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Part of the run went through the scenic area we visited. That was for sure my favorite part of the run despite the too narrow roads.

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Wuxi Festival Food
Strategically chosen delicious food cart feast for lunch!

After lunch it was time to take photos of the first cherry blossoms along with the rest of China. We were still about 2-3 weeks early for the full impact this park is famous for, but it was nice to see the trees that had started flowering at any rate.

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Close up.
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The rest of China.

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We also got to take a nice walk along the grand canal that runs through Wuxi in the afternoon.

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QingMing Bridge Ancient Grand Canal Scenic Area

IMG_7182After our extensive city walk we met lots of lovely people at a pre-race dinner in an Italian restaurant. I proceeded to have a celebratory beer in honor of a friend who had just gotten a new job offer…and then another one for me. So much for staying well hydrated! On the way back to the hotel we decided to buy some water and I insisted on this fancy looking number with an orange stripe on it claiming it had magical powers. Obviously the higher price ($1 vs $0.50) was due to these magical properties and it would surely help me achieve my goal the following day. I decided I should be able to run under 1 hour 55 minutes, my second fastest half marathon to date. I made the reasonable assumption my current record of 1:52:12 was out of reach because I had not been training well and took a year off for my foot.

The next morning we got up at 5:00 am, boarded a bus at 5:40 am, got dropped off at the wrong location at 6:00 am, got back on the bus to get dropped off at a better location at 6:10 am, met up with our group of new friends at 6:30 am for some photos, dropped our bags off at 6:45 am, headed to the start line via the porta-potty lines around 7:00 am, and did not actually arrive at the proper starting area until around 7:25 am due to an emergency second bathroom stop. The race began promptly at 7:30 am. Unfortunately this meant I started too far back in the corral and had to slog my way through too many people for the first 10k. Oh well.

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Pre-bathroom stop #2.
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Joining the masses (again, around 30,000 people here).

Please enjoy the following race narration by pictures:

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Somewhere after 5k where I had already finished the entire 500ml water bottle I was carrying and discarded it in a recycle bin. Still too many people around to slow me down, obstacle running continues.
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“Talk to the hand” Seriously, this is the only “official” race photograph you have of me? I had more people ask to take selfies with me than photos the official race photographers ended up with. Disgraceful.
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Somewhere after 14k where I had both caught up with Annelies and stolen a full water bottle from a highly surprised and slightly offended volunteer who was pouring water into cups. In my defense I drank almost the entire thing by the end of the race, and I didn’t have time to stop and explain myself…in Chinese.

The result: new personal record!

1:51:02

Wuxi Half Marathon

Overall the combination of high sugar/fat/alcohol consumption the day before likely improved my running, so I think it is safe to say I should continue to include that in my pre-race preparation plans. The moderate temperatures, light breeze, sleep, and hydration of course being secondary contributors to this effort. While I enjoyed this course I do believe I was hindered by the sheer volume of people I had to pass in the first 10k. The roads were too narrow to accommodate everyone well at the beginning, especially when you started as far back as I did. Bathroom stop #2 was critical though, so sacrifices had to be made.

To illustrate this point I will refer you to Figure 1 below. The orange trend from Wuxi clearly shows a decreasing pace until around the 10k mark when I felt everyone was spread out enough that I did not keep tripping over or dodging around people to keep going. This is a clear deviation from my normal positive split in both the Great Lakes Bay and Bayshore races where I started off fast and died pretty good somewhere around mile 8/9. While the negative split is new to me, I do believe the first 5k had the largest impact on my potential. It was not as though I was maintaining a slower steady pace, it was more stop and go where I would get stuck behind several people on occasion. Nevertheless, I shall have to keep this method in mind for the future…perhaps there is something to running negative splits. The slight increase around mile 12 (the last 2k) can be explained by the monsoon we found ourselves caught in toward the end of the run and, not wanting to fall and ruin my chance at victory, I exercised some caution as the finish line approached.

Race Graph
Figure 1. Race Pace as a Function of Distance for My Three Fastest Races to Date

Upon further reflection it may have helped that I caught up with one of my friends around 14k and had her breathing down my neck the last third of the race. She is usually faster than I am, so I think that helped keep me going!