Yangzhou Half Marathon, China, April 26th 2009
This was to be my first road race for about 20 years so I was looking forward to it with some trepidation. Would my knees, hips and other geriatric bits hold out? In addition to this there were the 'Oh my god it's a foreign race' problems. Would there be water stations at regular intervals as in UK races. Would there be kilometre markers so I'd know how much agony there was yet to endure? Would I be able to find a loo, preferably not a squatty, before the race? Where would I put my belongings? So on the day I had the usual race nerves plus the communication bit, me trying to speak Chinese, failing miserably as everyone else chatted away at great speed, before I accepted that it would be better to give up the heroics and just rely on the English speakers of the group. After that decision I began to feel more relaxed and started to go more with the flow.
On the day we got up early for an 8am start. I followed the crowd, was told where to leave my stuff and gave it in for it to be placed seemingly randomly with hundreds of others, then was shown where the loo was. A squatty but who cared. Then we joined the throng to await the start, which left a couple of minutes early by my watch, so no hanging around. The first few kilometres were pretty crowded, so we could only jog along which kept us from going off too fast, too soon. The first feeding station was rather chaotic as thousands of runners tried to get water from three small tables where volunteers were frantically trying to pour water from small bottles into small paper cups. Thankfully by the next feeding station the runners had thinned out a bit. The course was flat, had plenty of feeding stations and clear kilometre posts, so no worries there. The crowd were very supportive too and there were regular shouts of 'Jia you' and 'Come on' to spur us on. Fellow runners encouraged each other too and they kept saying to me 'Don't give up', 'Keep going until the end'. 'Don't stop'…….. Did I look THAT bad!!!! To test this theory, I told the next person who asked 'How old are you?' that I was doing well for 92. 'Really?' he said!!!!!! Ah, Chinese honesty. Time for a face- lift, methinks.
Kilometre followed kilometre smoothly as the Greenwood grit kicked in. At 9km we could see the faster runners at 13km with some of our Ipaobu team runners amongst them and I thought of them finishing while I was still plodding away, heading relentlessly for a PW.
My finishing time was roughly the same as it took the winner of the London marathon to run twice the distance on the same day. Not earth-shattering but I was pleased enough, felt fine and was the proud possessor of a race T shirt, towel and a Chinese medal. Good value for money. All that was left to do was to pick up my bag by shouting up my race number and having the bag hurled at me from a great height. Luckily I had nothing breakable in there!
So, my fellow Ipaobu runners, wearing their distinctive bright orange T shirts (which I shall wear with pride at the first Pub run), carrying the ubiquitous banner, all talked about their race ( I think!) and then headed back to the hotel for a shower before going out for one of the best meals I've had in China. A memorable weekend.