Crazy Chinese Adventure Race – 160km over two days

May 6, 2018 at 4:14 pm (China) (, , , , , , , , )

I’m not kidding. Jess and I ran/walked/cycled/kayaked 160km using our own bodies during the GZBN Global Business School Multi-Sports Challenge. The race took place along the beautiful Chishui River Valley. It was a truly amazing and unforgettable experience!

About a month ago I saw a post on the Chinese mobile platform wechat asking if any foreigners were interested in competing in the event. It looked grueling and crazy, exactly up my alley! I just needed to find someone stupid enough to do it with me.

Tada… the crazy Kiwi Jess! She was keen as mustard so we sent off our registration and were accepted. We really didn’t know what we had gotten ourselves into and doubt started settling in the days before the race. It didn’t help that Jess is only recently off crutches after straining her ankle during the Suzhou half we ran together last month.

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We nearly didn’t even make the race! We couldn’t land in Zunyi due to bad weather so the plane landed in Kunming instead. We were stranded! The Chinese passengers were far from impressed and put on quite a spectacle. The yelling got louder and louder, they threatened to riot and at one stage even tried to march back onto the plane!

We speak barely a word of Chinese between us so we were very lucky that there were two other foreign teams on the flight. One team decided to take their luck catching a train (which they missed) and the other stuck it out with us at the airport. Luckily we did because they talked their way into getting us on the next flight to Zunyi, quite a feat for Spring Airlines. This involved us racing through the airport to make the flight, even though we’d been suggesting this as a possible solution from the go set. Interestingly, my ticket had been issued to British Citizens! No wonder they looked at me funny when checking my ticket against my passport.

After spending most of the day in transit, we finally arrived at our hotel in Maotai. We missed most of orientation but got to select our bikes which we fondly named Greg and Gary. We also received a brillant race pack:

  • waterproof sack
  • running t-shirt
  • racing t-shirt with name and flag (mine has the British flag 🇬🇧😂)
  • light wind proof jacket (in pink, mum has already claimed it)
  • running sleeves
  • visor
  • headband
  • buff
  • foldable shopping bag
  • luggage tag
  • tea
  • waterproof case for our mobile
  • Chinese liquor Maotai Baiju with a special race label (this was our personal favorite)

Crazy, huh? By the time we had eaten, sorted out all our new goodies and organised our clothes for the next day it was already midnight. Certainly not the best way to prepare for a race but better than the train boys, who didn’t even arrive at the hotel until after 1am!

59E6F97A-84A3-4F63-84E2-BC5704C0CE4F-733-000001138E78FEF7_tmpAt the starting point we were beginning to shit ourselves. Would we finish Day 1 in the eleven hours allocated? Would Jess’ ankle hold up? We knew we hadn’t done enough training and that only sheer determination and a lot of stupid chatter would get us through the event.

The first 6km we ran through Maotai town before picking up our bikes. We quickly got into a good biking rhythm and settled in for the next 55km. The bike path was spectacular! It hugs the side of the valley right next to the river. Even though we were freezing (it rained all morning) we couldn’t help but marvel at the landscape and luscious greenery around us. We just kept staring at each other and asking ourselves if this was really happening.

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The bike leg was hard work due to the rain and coldness. Going down was a relief to the legs but so very cold with the wind and rain whipping into our faces. Everything we were wearing and carrying was wet. We felt like, and looked like, wet rats.

Of course it didn’t help that the Chinese are not exactly the best riders in the world. They would constantly pass us without saying they were there, or stop in the middle of the path for no apparent reason. Many of them struggled up the hills in a zig zag fashion or had no idea of how bike gears work. Many would come to the bottom of a hill and just start pushing without even trying!

When we finally finished the bike leg, I think we were in a state of shock! We were doing well for time, soaked but on a high. We fuelled and moved on quickly for the 20km run.

Ok… Let’s be honest run/ walk. We were very conscious of Jess’ ankle so we took it fairly easy, at first running intervals of our own choosing. After a motivating chat with my mum and then another with Olli we decided to get map my run going and ran/walked the remaining kilometers in tandem. This worked really well for us and kept the pressure off Jess’ ankle. It helped that the scenery continued to be breathtaking!

IMG_7323When we arrived at the kayaks we just wanted to get in and get the job done! The 11kms were the hardest part of the day for me with my scrawny arms. I never do any arm work so it was tough. Jess has a vision impairment that cannot be correct with glasses so she steered the boat and I was the eyes. She was amazing though and we powered through, overtaking at least ten canoes.

The trip was beautiful but also highly amusing. We watched kayaks go in circles, people barely dipping their paddles in the water and the absolute looks of shock amazement as these two tiny white girls powered past them. Heaps of teams actually came and told us how well we did on this leg which was nice.

To finish the day one of us needed to do a short zipline off the bridge. Jess was all business, scrambling up the stonework pushing past other teams and getting the job done. Determined to run strong through the finish line, I dangled a cereal bar in Jess’ face and ran in front entincing her with it and before we knew it we were running through the Day 1 finish line.

We were relieved, not as cold as we thought we would be and hungry as hell. Most importantly, we were so impressed with ourselves and our bodies. We had travelled 92km and we could still walk!

After a massage, we walked barefoot through the ancient town of Tucheng to our hotel for the night. Apparently walking barefoot is not normal for China. We had so many people staring at us that it was quite unnerving.

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Day 2 began right in front of our hotel but we missed the start because we were too busy chatting and playing on our phones. Typical! Our legs felt better than expected and we took the first 6km easy. It was a nicer start than the day before, we ran through cute alleyways and passed shopkeepers setting up their wares for the day before heading back to the riverside.

IMG_7340We were thankful that there was no rain for the 39km bike ride and sunshine instead. It was definitely tougher! I’m proud to say I didn’t push my bike once up any of the slopes. Greg and Gary served us well but we were also quite happy to say goodbye. 😉

After a quick lunch which consisted of the best tofu I’ve ever had in China, we were on our way walking through Binan Ancient Town. This was a beautiful leg so we couldn’t really complain when we realised that only one of us was supposed to do it. At the lunch check point we were supposed to split… One do the ancient town run and the other abseil down the face of a bridge. Oops!

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It was my turn for the rope activity so I got to do the abseiling and Jess took the role of photographer. It was fun but not as fast and exciting as I would have liked. I just wanted to get down and keep moving. We only had 22km to go!

We ran/walked using map my run again which turned into map my kayak when we got to the kayak leg. We were kicking ourselves for not having it running all day as it would have been interesting to find out all our splits. For those interested, we ran about 7 minutes per km and kayaked about 8 minutes per km.

The kayak was excruciating. Neck, arms, back… Mainly from the bike, everything was hurting but we pushed on singing our favorite hash song (Thank you Jesus) to keep us motivated. The finish line was insight.

Everything hurt, but you couldn’t keep the smiles off our faces. We had done the impossible. We had moved our bodies 160km and we were still walking, still smiling and ready for that second massage.

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This race was an out of body experience, one that I will never forget and will be telling my students about for years to come. The scenery was breathtaking, the company amazing and every step, every pedal and every paddle was absolutely worthwhile.

I would like to thank Raid International China and all the sponsors of the GZBN Global Business School Multi-Sports Challenge for this amazing experience. The race was extremely well organised and everyone was so lovely.

Most of all I would like to thank Jess. Thank you for your stories, your laughter and your encouragement. Thank you for always staying 50m from me, for sharing everything and for simply being the best Crazy Chinese Adventure Race partner I could ever have asked for.

xoxo

P.s More photos?

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Hong Kong Hockey

April 29, 2018 at 4:15 pm (Travel) (, , , , )

A9BAC1CC-05D2-4599-BEFF-EA369DE46DD5-202-00000003A54D5481_tmpAfter much deliberation I decided to head to Hong Kong for the Hockey Sixes once again this year.  The Shanghai Dragons were nice enough to allow me to join their team again even though I did not make it to a training in Shanghai once since last Easter.  That really is unacceptable and I now have big plans to make sure I get up to some trainings before the summer.

My weekend was simply brilliant.  I was once again reminded about how much I miss the sport, and more importantly how much I miss the community.  Team sports are fantastic for getting people together and having fun.  I see that in my Gaelic team even if my heart isn’t really in the game.  It’s why I go to training even though I can’t kick or catch most of the time.

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The most beautiful hockey pitch I have ever had the pleasure of playing on!

I enjoyed playing much more this year because our team gelled really well together.  I got my touch in early, even scoring in the first game.  Everybody enjoyed playing both on and off the field and I don’t think I stopped smiling all weekend.  We ended up second in our pool and lost a tough final match to be runners up in the plate division.

Of course, we were also notorious off the field.  We danced the night away, participated in some hockey themed races and paid the price on the hockey field.  Exactly the way a tournament should be!  A special mention must go to my amazing roommate Onny who took me on without even meeting me, and to Giles and Silass for a very memorable walk home.

I feel so extremely lucky to be a field hockey player and part of a wonderful community that has branches all over the world.  I am looking forward to being part of a regular team again and continuing to add and contribute to this amazing international hockey community.

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I’m hoping that wherever my travels and my career take me, that I find myself back at this competition with the Shanghai Dragons again next year.  I simply had a blast!

xoxo

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Finally Spring in Suzhou

April 8, 2018 at 4:09 pm (China) (, , , )

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It’s taken a while but it is finally starting to warm up in Suzhou.  The cherry blossoms are out and the sun is starting to shine again.  Everyone has more a spring to their step after the long winter.

I feel like every weekend has been filled up with some kind of event… mainly hashes to be honest.  Olli managed to pull his ‘last’ hash streak for another three hashes which in total meant that I went to his last hash FIVE times.  A little over the top if you ask me.  He is now well and truly gone and I am adjusting to life without my Suzhou best friend.  I’m a bit lost without him but holding strong so far.

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I’ve been babysitting Banyu a lot which I love.  He makes me smile with his joy for life.  We’ve got into a good homework habit which has taken a lot of pressure off his parents and is good for him to be seeing it as a fun thing we do together.  Some Banyu highlights have been taking him on the hash and managing to return him without shoes (they disappeared but were found again at the restaurant) and having a movie night with him that included two viewings of the Lego Batman movie.  Never a dull moment with that cutie.

I was excited to finally play in a competitive Gaelic football match.  I’ve been training with the squad for over a year now but every time they had a match I couldn’t make it.  I was starting to think I would never get a real game!  We travelled to Shanghai and played some friendly games with them.  Afterwards we headed to Little Creatures for dinner and drinks.  Little Creatures is a joint venture with the Perth brewery and made me feel like I was back at home when actually I was in the middle of Shanghai.  It was great that we managed to get a Ladies team together and I had a great day out with them.

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Another birthday has come and gone.  My friends here organised ice-cream and a dinner which was quiet with no fuss.  I was spoiled with presents, flowers and wishes from all over the world.  Alyssa even came in extra early to leave me a present from her and Jess as well as a cake on my desk.  I am excited to see where my 34th year takes me.

xoxo

P.s  More photos?

 

 

 

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Suzhou Half Take Two

April 4, 2018 at 4:11 pm (China) (, )

IMG_7112Although I had signed up before Christmas, the Suzhou Half was suddenly upon me.  I had been training but did not feel anywhere near ready for the 21.2km race.  I knew I could do the distance, but that it would be slow going.

This year I was lucky enough to be able to share it with both Jess and Olli.  Jess only committed to racing the day before after a number became available and Olli decided to run the race at ‘Kate pace’ so as to not push himself too much.  For me this was a new experience as I had never run a half marathon with people before.  It was a lovely change from doing it solo.

IMG_7121Racing in China is more like taking part in a spectacle.  It’s an experience in itself and we had a lot of fun marveling at the crazy things we saw.  Firstly, over 30,000 competitors competed in the race.  That means there were people EVERYWHERE.  The beginning of the race is a push and shove to get anywhere because EVERYBODY, including the mini and short marathon runners, all start at the same time!

This year, we spotted a lot of people running for the KFC running club.  They all had matching T-shirts on, much to our amusement.  We wondered how many people would go to KFC afterwards to celebrate their success and more importantly, how many people needed to exercise more because of KFC in the first place.  Somehow for us, the connection between running and KFC seemed to be ridiculous.

Along the route we spotted more entertainment than I remember last year.  Perhaps this was due to the better weather?  I loved passing the different old women’s dancing groups in their traditional costumes.  We saw women dancing with ribbons, balls, fans and my personal favourite… badminton racquets.  At one point, as we were crossing a bridge the ladies dancing flicked their beautiful red fans simultaneously and we all burst into cheers and applause.  It was so bizarre but at same time so amazingly special.

IMG_7124Those of you who have run races before, know that there are generally food and drink stations along route.  I don’t think I have ever so many in any of other previous half marathons.  Of course being China, the food offered was quite different.  Olli had quite some trouble finding a banana but if he wasn’t so picky he could have had what looked like a plain sponge cake, weird looking biscuits or our personal favourite… two minute noodles.  I kid you not, we saw runners stopping for a a quick bite of boxed noodles!

The Chinese love photos and most of them were keen to make sure they got their picture taken on route.  They would be walking when suddenly they spot a photographer.  This would boost their energy and get them running, jumping and smiling for the camera.  I don’t know how many times I got cut off by someone determined to have their photo taken.

Cramp spray was also very popular.  It was sprayed everywhere and you could find somebody with a can about every 50m along the track.  There were even people getting sprayed in the final 100m of the race.  I’m not really sure why that would be necessary… but we are in China right?

IMG_7129I was slower than last year with 2:28:22 but it’s not really about the time.  I had a wonderful day with friends and shared my experience with them.   We celebrated with an amazing buffet lunch in the sunshine with a view of the lake and the pants building.  (Although we did jokingly contemplate going to KFC) I received a medal with bells on it and wore it proudly at school the next day.  I jingled like Christmas all day much to my students’ amusement, but tradition is tradition and my 2018 half marathon is complete.

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Cambodia continued…

March 30, 2018 at 4:55 pm (Travel) (, , , , , , , , , )

I left Jen for a night and made my way down to the small seaside village of Kep.  My main inspiration for visiting was to do some walking in Kep National Park and my plan when the minibus pulled in was to get to my accommodation, drop my things off and head straight there.  It turned out that Stuart, who was also on the bus, had exactly the same plan.  He’d booked a hotel right next to the park and mine was miles away on the other side of the town.  He kindly offered to share a tuk tuk to his hotel and suggested I leave my stuff there so we could explore together.  It was the perfect plan!

IMG_6827We planned to do the 8km circuit but did manage to get distracted at a few points.  The park has signposts yet these are curiously marked, often pointing towards one thing but not actually telling you when you get there.  We particularly liked the Remarkable Tree, which was actually remarkable and easy to spot along the track.  It was lovely to spend a day out in nature and Stuart was a fascinating companion.  He spent a whole year cycling around India with his wife!

For dinner we headed to the Crab Market and ate at a recommended restaurant.  The food was to die for, especially the lemongrass coconut squid!  Of course we also tried the Kampot pepper crab which the region is known for.

IMG_6867We decided to team up again for the next day for a tuk tuk tour around the local area.  I wanted to see a pepper farm and we included some caves as well.  We visited Phnom Chhnork and Phnom Sorsia and it was another grand day.  Part of the trip had us tuk tuking past farmers working on their fields.  We saw boys as young as 12 watering the fields using two old fashioned watering cans.  It really gave us an insight into the current farming techniques for many local Cambodian farmers.

IMG_6882Jen joined me in Kep and the next day we headed to the island Koh Rong Sanloem.  It took us a whole day to get there, as well as a jungle trek across the island, but when we arrived at Sunset Bay it was all worth it.  The beach was simply stunning, with beautiful clear water, sandy slopes and only a handful of people to share it with.  We stayed in a fun glamping style tent and enjoyed not having electricity or wifi for a couple of nights.

Jen only had a day and a half on the island so we made the most of it.  For our full day, we hired a kayak and paddled around the bend to Lazy Beach.  Lots of people we knew from school were staying there and Jen wanted IMG_6891to see them.  It was fun turning up in the kayak and well worth the sunset we had as we paddled home.  I spent the day sunbaking and swimming, while Jen caught up with old friends in the sunshine.  It was a magical day.

After dinner back at Sunset Bay, we headed into the water to see the plankton.  I had seen these years before on Koh Phangan in Thailand but it was Jen’s first time.  I don’t think it matters how many times you swim with plankton, it’s always a magical experience.  The plankton light follows your fingers around they swirl around you in a dizzying almost out of body experience.  It was the perfect end to a wonderful day.

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We spent the rest of our time together chatting, sun baking and enjoying the sunshine.  Sunset Bay was truly a beautiful destination and one of the most relaxing places I have been to.  Somehow, I am sure that I will spend time there again.  My trip was made all the better for the precious time I got to spend with Jen. Thank you for your hospitality, the laughs and most importantly, your friendship.

I spent two more nights on the island at a Mad Monkey hostel, where the beach was nowhere near as nice in comparison.  I didn’t even bother to take any photos!  It was a good place to meet people and socialise though.  Backpackers always have interesting stories to share.  I didn’t appreciate being asked if I wasn’t interested in having a partner by one 18 year old though!

My original plan had been to go from the island to Kampot but after the long bus ride through from Kep I cancelled my original booking thinking I would either stay on the island or in Sihanoukville.  I’d forgotten about Chinese New Year though and hadn’t had any internet during my time on the island to organise anything.  When I finally got to Sihanoukville, there was no accommodation to be found and I ended up back on my way to Kampot with a new accommodation booking at Kampot Oasis.

This turned out to be perfect.  The guys running the place were all expats and I had the best breakfast in Cambodia there.  They were super friendly and helpful and I had a room to myself in a really chilled out backpacker like atmosphere.

IMG_6913I decided to take it easy and do a tour the next day.  We visited Bokor National Park, with its colder climate and mist that brings an eerie light and atmosphere to the abandoned buildings from the 1920s and 30s.  I loved the artwork on them and the juxtaposition to the jungle and mist that swept in and out so creepily.  We saw some wildlife on our way up the mountain a highlight being when our guide stopped to pull out his drone to take pictures.

We were all looking forward to seeing the the abandoned Bokor Hill Station, which the French had built atop Phnom Bokor (1080m) in the 1925.  The pictures we had seen promised a large eerie building perched upon the clifftop and we were disappointed to arrive to a restored building that looked nothing like what he had expected.

The whole area is being redeveloped, although nobody on the tour was sure why.  There’s nothing up there but mist and gloom and it is little surprise that the station was abandoned twice.  Yet, there is a huge new Chinese hotel and casino on the site with plans for more buildings.  Quite a mystery to us.

IMG_6937After arriving back in Kampot, we had a couple of hours to spare before a sunset river cruise that was included in our tour.  I was lucky that there were two guys on the tour close to my age.  Jake, Kyeand I set ourselves up with some beers and french fries and the time flew as we swapped travel stories and experiences.  I really enjoyed the time with them because we connected with our love of travel and all had different experiences and memories to add to the conversation.

The sunset cruise ended up being much better than any of us expected.  I think the boys were actually quite thankful that I conned them into waiting around.  The sunset was phenomenal and the trip relaxing in the dying light.  We saw fireflies on the riverbank and were mesmerised by their beauty.   Our conversation continued right through to dinner and evening drinks and their company was much appreciated.

Last stop was Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat.  I only had a day and a half so it was off to the temples for me, no matter the weather.  I shared a tuk tuk tour for the day with Mike, who I had met in the Mad Monkey hostel.  We began in the pouring rain and had a very disappointing sunrise.

IMG_7013It did clear though and we weren’t subjected to rain during the day.  We did the small tour loop and visited Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm.  They were all spectacular in their own right but Bayon in Angkor Wat was my favourite.  This temple has 216 faces carved into it.  Among these faces were two familiar ones as I bumped into Jack and Sue from school!  I also loved Ta Prohm were the temples and nature seem to be entwined together in a loving embrace.  I can’t say I loved all the Chinese tourists though.

My visit to the Angkor National Museum the next day, made me appreciate the history of the temple complex much more as well as the timeline for completion.  I spend the remainder of my time shopping, spending the last of the money and finding products at the Made in Cambodia market.

The time I had for Angkor Wat was simply not enough.  Next time I plan to hire a bike and explore properly, or perhaps to complete the Angkor Wat Half Marathon which takes place every year in December.  The race would be hot and stuffy, but the views would more than make up for it.

xoxo

P.s  More Photos?

 

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