Friday, 20 May 2011
The North Face Challenge 100km China
One step on the Great Wall
A view back over a flat section
Ming Tombs on the run route
7th May 2011
Definitely a ‘just for fun’ race for me, the North Face 100km China run near Beijing was a very late addition to the calendar. I received entry about 7 weeks ago, and even though I knew that I wouldn’t really get a chance to do any specific distance training or change my ironman training schedule to focus on the race, I still jumped at the chance. I’ve never been to Beijing and really wanted to see the Great Wall. Here was a race giving the opportunity to run on the Great Wall, through the Ming Tombs and surrounding mountains. Awesome.
With some trepidation I toed the start line at 4:30am, headlamp on, 100m climb up some stairs of the Great Wall just few yards away as the ‘warm up’ ahead of the 500m climb up a ruined section of the wall just around the next corner. I stuck with the lead group for this first 8kms, right up until about 300m up that first mountain, by which point I knew I was going far too hard. These 50kg ultra runners were FLYING up that mountain, and I knew it was time to let some of them go – otherwise I was in serious danger of ruining my chances of finishing. From then on, it became a much more solitary race. The 200 strong starting field had been spread out on the first section of the Great Wall, and that first mountain trail blew the field apart completely.
I hadn’t been anticipating quite how much of trail race this was going to be. With a 20km section of the Great Wall to run and being near northern suburbs of Beijing I had expected much more road and hard surfaces to contend with. I’d imagined stone and stairs. I’d not been wrong about that – there certainly were stairs and Wall, but about 60-70% of the course was on single track, (the ruined section being boulder track), and much of that was goat tracks up or down mountains and heavily foliaged brush trails which, had they not been marked, I’m not sure I would have found. It was a run, a scramble, a climb, and – more and more towards the latter half – a hike though the beautiful landscape north of Beijing, though small rural villages, remote orchards and fields, and through Chinese history: The Ming Tombs at 70kms (see photo) were a hidden gem, found somewhere between a gradual 5km climb on road and a 400m stair climb up the next mountain.
By the time I had reached the Ming Tombs I was in quite a bad state. The section from 40kms to 70kms was tough, both mentally and physically. I could no longer hold the ‘natural’ pace that I’d been enjoying in the earlier sections (barring the uphills!), and the constant steep climbing and – more importantly – descending on twisting, uneven and often loose surface trails had made my calves (up), quads and knees (down) really start to hurt. The walk-run strategy had really started to kick in.
By the 70km mark, I knew I would make it. There may be some walking, but I would get there somehow. There were also more runners on the course now as the 50km race course converged with ours there, so I fed off their motivation and numbers, enjoying having company again.
At the finish I knew I was properly broken as I could not even run the entire last kilometre without having a walking section. I’d gone much further than my training should have allowed and my body was telling me to stop. So with 10:45 on the clock and 10th place in the bag, I did just that.
But of course the next day we went sightseeing: 4 hours walking around the Forbidden City is a true test of how easy walking is (or isn’t). O yes, there are stairs in the Forbidden City too.
An AMAZING race. Highly recommended.