Late in 2015 I heard about an event in China, the organisers were looking for International athletes of a certain standard to participate in a 50km event in the Gobi Desert. They would cover much of our expenses. It seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. That year had been a great year for me performance wise. I had achieved personal bests over 50km, 100km, 12 hours, 100 miles and 24 hours.
Four years later I am one of just a handful of athletes from around the World that has attended every event conducted by the Kirin Sports company and major sponsor Changan Ford. Each event gets better in regards to organisation and attendance. Each experience was different, set in vastly different areas of China. The Gobi Desert was dry and cool there was not much vegetation. The Fuxian Lake Ultra was hot and humid and we ran past small farms where farmers tended their crops by hand. In Xianning we started in a busy city centre and ran through the country side and then completed a couple of loops of recently developed lakes district.
The first year I was competitive finishing 4thin a 50km trail type event the field was competitive. At that time I had undiagnosed Breast Cancer a small lump in my left breast. I returned to the Gobi Desert to run 100km recovering from Breast Conservation surgery and Radiation Treatment and determined that Breast Cancer would not get the better of me and I finished not last but in the back end of a competitive international field. In 2017 I attended the 50km Trial event for the 50km World Championships. I competed in the 50km discovering that I was still very much in recovery from Breast Cancer and now realise my Breast Cancer medication was now hampering my training and competing. I finished again enjoying the experience afforded me.
The fourth year I am considering a comeback year. My training had gone well, I was hampered by a hamstring injury in July but otherwise my progress has been great. I was thrilled to be invited by the race organisers to return to China. This year the race would be held in central China, we crossed many rivers and passed lakes on our 1 hour 45 minute bus ride from Wuhan airport to Xianning.
On arriving at Race HQ the Honeymoon Resort race and accommodation check in and payment of travel grants was seamless. I was soon settled into my container room at the Sweetbox Hotel and headed out the door to explore the facilities. I soon hooked up with the Australian’s and New Zealanders joining in the fun and several headed out for an easy run to shake out the legs after travelling so far. I was pleased to discover I was rooming yet again with fellow Brisbane athlete Marita Eisler, we roomed together at the 100km Championships in Qatar and again in Winschoten.
The meals were provided in either Restaurant A or B and it was a pretty good spread even for a vegetarian. I enjoyed noodles at every meal including breakfast and there was always plenty of fresh fruit and salad. Volunteers were everywhere in the café come bar and also the little general store all contained within the resort. Volunteers make an event and the majority were students from Wuhan studying English who were respectful but if approached were really engaging and helpful. I now have several new Instragram friends thank goodness for the translate option.
I slept well but woke up early the body clock still firmly tuned to Brisbane time. China has one time zone and it is 2 hours behind Brisbane so I woke very early. A small group headed out for a short run the road was smooth and the surrounds recently landscaped was pleasant but the humidity was noticeable. I took easy pleased to find I felt reasonably fresh and took some photos and video on the run.
I enjoyed banter over breakfast with the Oceania team followed by coffee at the café. I think the staff had not had so many orders at once but we had all morning and the company was great so we didn’t mind. The race organisers appear to have engaged a media team and we were often photographed and interviewed. I was interviewed in front of the gang but it was fun, it’s not the first time but it is always strange to have this attention as an ultra runner.
The focus for the rest of the day was race preparation, a technical briefing was provided in English and Chinese. Walter Hill the IAU representative lead the English briefing and introduced those of us who had attended all 4 events which was nice. The competition guideline provided some amusing translations. Runners often called ‘players’, and the following are just some amusing examples.
“race number will be marked as a sign of finishing, please do not doodle on the race number.”
“Processes at the finish: participants dash out-get finish items-recovery massage-collect finish line bag-leave in shuttle bus for athlete hotel.”
“it is suggested that runners should immediately fill in dehydrated water”
“dressing and warm keeping”
The rules were in keeping of the standard of a competitive international event. No portable music devices, no outside assistance is allowed, no pacing, no littering. The Chinese are very proud of the pristine environment in which this event was held and runners appeared to really respect it. Aid stations were every 5km and personal drink bottles had to be dropped in before 6pm. Everyone was to be on the bus at 6:45am SHARP. Our race would start at 9:00am.
An early dinner more noodles although the meal was lighter this time and we headed to bed.
26thOctober 2018 – Race Day
An early start again. I’m still firmly on Brisbane time so it was not hard to wake before 5am and head down to breakfast. Then it’s a last minute check of race finish bag and we are on the bus. Ready to run. The bus ride to the start is uneventful we arrive in downtown Xianning a city in Central China which appears to be bustling. We travel down a six lane road which will be completely closed to traffic for a couple of hundred ultra runners in an hour or so. I’ve packed snacks for the bus ride and put away a banana and a Clif bar and share around some Revvies.
The race precinct is impressive as usual. A helicopter buzzes around and we make good use of the toilets. In Asia most often the toilets are a squat set up, luckily this is pre race not post race although I have managed to squat mid race in a 24 hour event.
We take a few photos, pose for selfies with anyone who asks and enjoy the buzz. Then it’s time to run. Rain and a cool start to the day had been forecast but this doesn’t eventuate and as the sky clears I regret for a second forgetting a visor and not bringing my sunglasses. The field soon spreads out down the road but there are locals intermittently watching from the roadside, we pass what I later learn is a school with a small group of children waving flags I high five a few as I pass.
My run is challenging, the course was considered flat but I certainly notice the slight undulations. I ease through the first 40km feeling comfortable and happy and I feel this will be a good day. I note around this time that I am missing lunch as I am passing our accommodation at this point. Police line the course every 500m or so standing attention on the roadside. They do rotate shifts and at one point I spy a police motorbike with a side car and 5 Police on board. Three on the motorbike and 2 in the sidecar. I was pleased that they didn’t have to stand in one place for too long just for me.
Through the heat of the day I made good use of the sponges sitting in iced water to cool me down and walked through the aid stations to ensure I took in water. Briefly I wished I had taken the 50km option but it soon passes. I soldier on, as 50km runners finish the number of runners on the road dwindles. The road stretches out in front of me from time to time and I take in the fields of flowers at certain points on the course. I marvel at the sunset over the lake as I run, later the sun large, heavy with a pink hue sets around 6:40pm and I have about 15km to go. I relish the cool that comes with sunset and enjoy the final stretch in the dark, ticking off the final kilometres I am constantly doing mental math to work out how much under 10 hours I will finish.
The finishers medal is one of the prettiest I have seen and another handy finishers token was a towel which I will use often. I finished in 9 hours 57 minutes and 10 seconds, 12th female in an Internationally competitive field. I am extremely pleased with the result the culmination of a good few months of training.
It was an amazing day. Another fantastic China experience. I arrived home Sunday morning after flying all night and in transit for 18 hours or so a little tired and with very sore quads but otherwise in one piece and into the great hands of the team at Body Leadership Physio who do a fantastic job of keeping me running. THANK YOU.