Life is all about the choices we make. Sometimes, those choices are small. Left or right? Paper or plastic? Red or white? Sometimes, the choice can change your life. Lacing up a pair of shoes and choosing to finish a marathon falls into that category. We travel a lot for races and sometimes two races fall on the same weekend or the same day, like this year when the Rock n Roll series added a new race in Chengdu the same weekend as Los Angeles. That creates a choice that’s full with opportunity.
Getting to Chengdu was a 14 hour non-stop flight from San Francisco. We met Jeff and Maggie as we waited to board and also Paul and James, connections from the Marathon Maniacs page. I can’t thank Sherry enough for using one of her United Global Pass upgrades to get me set up with seats in business class. Susan was in 1B, Sherry and I were in 4A and 4B. The flight attendant was a little confused that she saw two Carinos not sitting together (‘WHAT?! My WIFE is on this plane too!?’). A few movies naps and meals later, we were landing after sunset halfway around the world.
Friday, October 27th.
The time change actually wasn’t too bad. We arranged a car for 3 with Travel China Guide for about $100 for the hour-long drive. Right away, you got a good taste of why first timers really shouldn’t drive in China. Lane lines are suggestions and the electric moped and pedestrians were absolutely fearless at intersections. I was amazed we never saw an accident the entire time we were there.
We slept a good 7 hours and woke up in time for breakfast at the Uvila Resort and Culture in Dujiagyan (found through Agoda.com – some pics of our room below). It’s a higher end hotel by any standard with pricing in the $150/night range. The key criteria for us was the location, a 10 minute walk from the start and finish lines. The sponsored race hotels were located in Chengdu, 40 miles south and train and car round trip can easily eat up cash and free time.
Packet pick up was at the Dujiangyan Sports Complex, about 5K from the hotel down the main streets of the city. The guide books said that the Chinese aren’t shy about staring and apparently, we were quite the sight. They were very polite though the language barrier was pretty high. I recommend getting an international data plan with VPN, Google Translate and WeChat (in that order). The locals did a good job with their own phones, too. Everyone was very friendly. The route to the stadium crossed a few bridges, some great photo-ops and more crazy driving episodes.
We ran into Andrea at the Sports Complex and had a few photo ops with the CGI rep who traveled to watch over the inaugural event. Aaron, Andrea and Sherry were 3 of the 4 who’ve run the table on RNR events so far (Leon was the fourth). All of them were taking on the challenge to finish the half in Chengdu, get back to the airport and fly to LA for the half in the states the next morning. The dateline would help them as long as they caught all flights and they were reasonably on time. Stacey and Chip from RNR were going to let them start with the full marathon start, giving them a few extra hours. We weren’t sure if there would be any problems if the half marathon bibs crossed the finish line early. That might be hard to explain if you didn’t speak the language.
Susan went back to the hotel to get off her feet and Sherry, Aaron and I did a little exploring, trying to find the best route to the starting line for the noon start. We did a bit of climbing and found a Wal-Mart to get some race supplies. Let’s just say the selection was a bit different from what we’re used to at home.
We dropped off our supplies at the hotel and found a back way to the starting area. The stage was as big as any of the US races and they were doing sound checks that we could hear from the hotel on the other side of the hill.
We had dinner at the hotel. Night races always make for a difficult fueling schedule, but the pasta was pretty good. Yes, that’s a pineapple pizza.
Saturday, October 28th. Full Marathon
The noon start actually worked really well since it gave us an extra night to get fully rested. I woke up around 7, went down to grab a light breakfast and started prepping for what looked like a warm rainy day until just after noon.
The starting area was just what you’d expect at a big Rock n Roll Marathon. Security was tight, but once inside the zone, it was a well-organized with a party atmosphere and plenty of space for people to warm up. We met a handful of Marathon Maniacs at the start including John, who’s done every Inaugural RNR Marathon.
The first mile took us through the cobblestone streets of the city to the west side of the Minjiang River over the irrigation system that was constructed in 250 B.C. And it still works! This was an out and back with the half turn at the Panda Preserve. I was able to catch Sherry before the turn and saw Aaron, Andrea and Leon on the way back.
It was a really good day for a marathon. The mist was keeping us cool and there were a few mile long stretches of frontage road that were lined with trees. At the accessible points, the locals were out in force.
We noticed one cheer in particular repeated all the way along – “Jai You!”. When we did the Rome Marathon in 2008, the locals would cheer “Die! Die!” (I think that translated to “keep going”, not the English meaning”). I figured at some point, I’d have to figure out what Jai You meant.
Miles 11.5 – 13.5 were a 3% uphill grade to the turnaround at the Qingchengshan Temple. I was on about 5:10 marathon pace, but could feel the incline taking its toll. This sign couldn’t come soon enough. I’d been following the fellow in the green shirt for about 5 miles. He asked me if I was a professional race walker. Yeah, I wish.
Cramps started on the turn downhill. So much for the PR, but I was still in good shape for a 5:30 finish. I saw Susan coming up on the hill about 5 minutes later. The lady in the orange just ahead of her was a story I’d hear about later.
At about 30K, a local named Soon Ri (I’ll edit the spelling when I see the Chengdu results post), pulled in beside me. He spoke just enough English to hold a basic conversation and told me this was his first marathon. His target time was 5:30 and he was having trouble with his pacing, so we started clicking off the KM’s together. He’d never been outside of China but eventually wanted to visit the states. I told him I was enjoying China much more than I was expecting. Running connected us even through the language barrier. He was the one who told me that Jai You translated into “Keep Fighting”. Google’s version – ‘add oil’ – was in the spirit, but not nearly as motivating.
The thing I love about out and back courses is that you know the route and what to expect after the turn. You can save something for hills and keep focus mentally when you get back to the long stretches of monotony. Making the last turns over the dams meant we were within sight of the finish line. The stairs going into the South Bridge at KM 41 so pretty on the way out, but the dozen or so steps on the way in were good for a wince or two.
Soon Ri had friends waiting for him on the other side of the bridge, snapping pictures as we went through the markets and on to the finish line. This was a sweet moment for him. I was happy to be there to share it. We came close to our target time, but its his new PR.
Susan finished about 10 minutes later, hand in hand with the lady I saw her with at the turn. Her new friend didn’t speak a word of English, but through hand gestures, they fell into the same run/walk interval and made sure each other were staying hydrated and motivated. They were together for 20 miles.
Both of us finished will within the 6:30 cutoff time with enough extra to take a lot of pictures. At the finish festival, Jeff reminded us we needed to pick up our World Rocker medal for completing a race outside the US.
When we signed up for the race back in June, it was the last continent we needed to visit for full marathons. Some of the running clubs are recognizing the new Zealandia continent, but until that gets internationally sanctioned we plan to rest on our laurels and work on half marathons in new states for the next few years.
That’s a choice we’re making now. It seems like we’ve made a number of good choices in our lives since we started racing.
Rock n Roll Chengdu was the inaugural Rock n Roll event in Asia. It was announced in the last few months of the negotiations with the World Triathlon Corp, operators of the Ironman series. With numerous Ironman events already running in Asia, it’s probably just a matter of time that more Rock n Roll events are announced on the continent.
The course starts in the parking lot of the Mingguan Ancestral Temple and finishes nearby at the Chongsong Ancestral Temple. After crossing three bridges in the first few miles, the course turned south on highway 59 and 4 past the Panda Preserve at mile 6.5 (the half marathon turn). The Qingchengshan Temple marked the turn at 13.4 miles. The scenery was a good mix of high density residential, country back road and tourist attractions. Susan says it her favorite full marathon course on the Rock n Roll circuit. I’d have to agree.
While the results are still not posted to date, the estimated participation was in the 8,000 range for the full, half and 6K fun run. I hope it is back for 2018.
If Chengdu is in your future plans, be sure to get your Visa application in early. Most US-based embassies will take about a week to process it. The San Francisco office required photocopies of your passport along with the application, passport photos and the ticket number for your flight (both legs). Take a world phone with you or activate T-Mobile unlimited or AT&T International Day Pass (I was told that taking a US phone and trying to install a local SIM card there doesn’t work unless you register with the local authorities). The data plan comes in handy for character recognition/translation apps and taxi cards. The locals really appreciate the effort.
Aaron, Andrea, Leon, Sherry all made their flights and landed throughout the night before Rock n Roll Los Angeles. All four are on track to race in 25 locations in 2017 as all were in Savannah and Vegas and plan to race in San Antonio. It was great to watch the extra level of awesome in action.
We spent 3 days in Dujiangyan and another 3 in Chengdu. We had enough time to see both Panda breeding facilities and the Giant Buddha statue in Leshan and walk around downtown Chengdu day and night. It was a wonderful way to finish our last continent.