Thursday, April 05, 2007

Xiamen International Marathon

Note by KC: Next posting is on Wednesday 11 April.

Selected photos are by courtesy of Hoo Ching Tai. Please click here for a link to his two photo albums.
Written by Moira
A journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step … an account of the most scenic run in the world!
Saturday, 31 March 2007
5 am : The morning of the marathon started well enough, the morning calls came precisely at 5 am and the usual routine started for the 12 registered marathon runners, 3 registered half marathon runners (I was registered in this category) and 4 registered 10km runners from our running club. After doing all the necessaries in the wee hours of the morning, cheerful smiles were exchanged with one another in the hotel lobby despite the previous few days of hectic touring of beautiful southern China. The weather was cool and the sun was beginning to rise at around 6 am. A few Sudanese elite runners were also waiting in the lobby but we were definitely having more fun laughing with one another whilst the elite runners looked rather serious (perhaps contemplating on the formidable task before them!)

6 am: Our bus ferried us along the marathon route which is the highway leading from the international convention centre to the convention centre. The sun was slowly but surely peeping at us and I was reminded of a photo I had seen where Paula Radcliffe (the current women’s marathon record holder) being ferried to the start of the New York marathon. The mood was calm and relaxed but silently filled with anticipation whilst our pre-packed breakfast to carbo-load were handed to us by Ching Tai and our tour guide William.
Smile... you are on camera (Sonny and Tuck)
6.40am: We arrived at the starting point and the atmosphere was already charged, some 25,000 + runners of all categories were expected to arrive for the start at 8am. Elite runners from China, Kenya, Sudan and other parts of the world were warming up next to us – what a sight! We quickly took our group photograph proudly displaying the yellow banner “Pacesetters” and went about our own business, depositing our bags and depositing (ahem!) other necessary matters before the run. Our pacesetter members including Uncle Sonny were interviewed by local television media and Ching Tai being the shy one whisked himself away when asked to give his comments!! Nonetheless, Ching Tai returned quickly to his task of great importance which was to encourage and organize the few of us and was busy snapping photos with his camera.

7.45am – 8 am:
Loud patriotic music blaring through the loud speakers as if to get us all into high gear for our run ahead but I would rather have listened to “Who let the dogs out?” (again, this is my personal opinion). Light rain followed by heavier rain fall at this point cooled the weather but did not seem to faze the runners. A few compulsory speeches and then the starting gun went off! Imagine all 25,000 + runners from all the various categories starting off at the SAME time! It was a stampede!!!! The wiser runners (including yours truly) stayed at the side ways of the path but nonetheless, over-enthusiastic runners did manage to knock my arm and my I-Pod (MP3 player) went flying off my arm band holder and imagine trying to retrieve the fallen I-Pod with a stampede coming my way!! (thankfully, after some careful maneuvering I managed to safely retrieve the same).
Ng Chooi Lin, Tuck, Moira, Teck, Sonny, William Chin.
8 am – 9 am:
The runners are all running on the highway leading to the city of Xiamen and the road is situated next to the beach/sea. The roads were wide and clean and well manicured with trees and plants and flowers (Xiamen is known as a Garden City). Several bronze statutes of runners of all sizes and shapes lined a small part of the route. What struck and impressed me however, was not that the route was pretty (as was already expected since the Xiamen marathon is touted as the most scenic marathon in the world!) but that there were so many supporters that had turned up to cheer the runners on! We are not talking about the helpers but local folk who had turned up from 7 am onwards till I- don’t- know when to clap and shout and cheer the runners on!

All along the route - the supporters lined up were friends and family and children, staff from hotels and staff from companies were all along the route, friends from the Xiamen University were also along the route and were shouting “Chia yiew! Chia yiew!” literally translated is “add oil! Add oil!” but of course it means to “push on!”. Some groups organized their claps and cheers calling “Mei Nui, chia yiew!” (ie Pretty girl, push on!) and “Suai Nan, chia yiew!” (handsome man, push on!). A group of older ladies were dressed up in traditional costumes and played their drums!

By this time, the sun had slowly but surely crept up and was blazing full blast!

9am – 10 am:
We were now on a stretch on highway (locally called the “white highway” as the rails were all painted white and white lighting illuminated this highway) which was elevated from the beach and offers a spectacular view of the impending city and the beautiful Gu Lang Yu island just off the island of Xiamen (“Tidal Drum Wave Island” - so called as when the waves hit the rocks, the sound that is produced is akin to the beats of a drum. No vehicles save for a few approve ones are allowed on Gu Lang Yu island). It is here that we see the elite runners that are now on their return leg of their run. Wave after wave of packs of elite runners ran in the opposite highway as we clapped and cheered them on. This stretch of the route is as spectacular as it is hot as there is no shade what-so-ever for the runners.

We met up with our fellow pacesetter runner Amelia who was running the full marathon (I recognized her from her yellow pacesetter waist pouch) and tapped her shoulder and we took a cool photo together! It was great to meet someone from our group.

It was around the 15km mark that Tuck (my husband who was also running the half marathon) reminded me to stop taking so many photographs of the route and focus on my running! I decided to accelerate a little bit since so far my IT band syndrome had not acted up as I had stretched it over and over again at the beginning of the race and the few days prior to the run. I had also done some weight bearing exercise to increase the strength of the leg muscles as advised (please refer to Note1 below).
Moira took this photo to show the lads and ladies who came out in throngs to support - these are uniformed ladies and gents from various organisations in xiamen!
However, acceleration was not doing my already fatigued muscles any good and by 16km, the dull ache caused by the IT band syndrome (please refer to Note 2 below) had almost certainly returned even though I was trying to ignore it since I was having a breeze till about 15 km (in the recent KLIM, the dull ache started as early as the 5 km mark).

Water stations at every 5 km and sponging stations became a necessity at this point because of the searing heat. I was elbowed by a lady runner at a water station but put if off as excitement on her part. I felt 3 tables for the water stations was truly inadequate to cater for some 15,000 runners at this point (note: the 7km and 10km runners had finished their race at this point).
Moira met up with fellow pacesetter Amelia - camaraderie rules!!
10 am to 10.30 am:
We had run into the City centre at this point and the supporters who had lined the streets continued their applause, cheer and claps to all runners. My running was alternating between walking and shuffling whenever I could to dull out the pain on the IT band – it was bearable and I stopped to stretch whenever I could to relieve the pain. The city centre is a straight road lined with longan trees that will bloom soon and the straight road reminded me of Champs-Elysees in Paris except that the blazing sun reminded me of the Sahara desert (please refer to Note 3 below) and the pain reminded me that I was mortal after all!!

I was so happy to see the finish line for the half marathon and my heart went out to my fellow runners who had to take a left turn to complete the full marathon.
Two elite runners - back ground is the lovely gu lang yu (tidal drum island). Moira took this photo while running.
10.30 am to 2 pm:
I could only imagine how my fellow friends running the full marathon were feeling at this point as the sun was raging and the temperature had reached about 28 – 29 degrees Celsius. Blazing sun plus no shade is a lethal combination. I hoped that adequate water supply was provided. Amelia told me post mortem that she had “suffered” due to fatigue and her exhaustion was compounded by the fact that water stations ran out of water for runners who had come in a little later. No food was offered and Amelia even had to pick up bottles of left over water by other runners en route to the finish line. Some nuns offered her tea which gave her temporary relief. Amelia said she almost gave up but soldiered on to complete in under 6 hours to earn her well deserved finisher’s medal!

The spirit and courage of the marathoner is indeed to be admired and the marathon route of 42 km is to be respected each and every time the marathoner begins his or her first step! Well done to all our runners who completed the Xiamen marathon!!

Chefs from a hotel also lined up to cheer the runners on

Post mortem:
1. It is indeed a beautiful route with spectacular views of the beach, sea, Gu Lang Yu island, the university and the City;
2. China being a sports mad nation with sports culture had inculcated sportsmanship to its people which was reflected in the wonderful support of the locals who lined the streets giving cheer and support which really means a lot to a runner at any point of the runner’s journey.
3. The route is quite flat with occasional slopes leading up and down the highways.
4. Spitting is to be expected and the challenge of every runner is to successfully dodge it!
5. The starting time should be changed to staggered intervals for each category of run to avoid the crush and stampede.
6. Water stations should be adequately stocked with sufficient water and food such as banana and gels should be adequately stocked and offered. Toilet facilities should also be increased to accommodate the huge number of runners.
7. the Starting time should be adjusted earlier to accommodate marathon runners who are in the 4 – 6 hours finishing time category to avoid the blazing sun and resulting heat.
8. The tour schedule prior to the marathon should be short and easy before the run to avoid any fatigue during the marathon OR alternatively, marathoners should run the marathon first and thereafter proceed for their intended tours.

(1) Tim Noakes, the author of the “Lore of Running”.
(2) IT band syndrome or Iliotibial Band syndrome causes pain almost always on the outside of the knee making it unbearable to run, particularly when descending a hill but will stop immediately when the runner stops running and resumes walking.
(3) Ngae and Dr. Tan – I hoped that you had finished your ultramarathon [Ngae and Dr Tan were completing the ultramarathon in the Sahara Desert for the Hospis Malaysia charity at around the same time we were all in Xiamen).

List of Pacesetter Runners and finishing times

Full Marathon (Male)

1) CC Hoo - 5hrs 17mins
2) Kenny Choo - 4hrs 21mins
3) Ong - 4hrs 55mins
4) Uncle Sonny - 5hrs 57mins
5) Mr Lim - 4hrs 6min
6) Lee Tat - 5hrs 45mins
7) Patrick Lee - 4hrs 31mins
8) William Chin - 4hrs 32mins
9) Mr Thong - 5hrs 11mins
(Note: Ching Tai did not run due to recent injuries)

Full Marathon (Female)

1) Chooi Lin - 5hrs 7mins
2) Amelia - 5hrs 54mins

Half Marathon (Male)
1) Ah Teck - 1hr 46mins
2) Ah Tuck - 2hrs 32mins

Half Marathon (Female)
1) Moira Toh - 2hrs 29mins

10km (Male)
1) Mr Teh - 1hr 40mins

10km (Female)

1) Aunties Jenny - 1hr 30mins
2) Sharon Yap - 1hr 02mins
3) Christina Ong - 1hr 20mins

By Moira


Anonymous said...

Hi Moira

A very well written report. Good job well done !! Meanwhile, my heartiest congratulations to all runners who completed the runs in Xiamen.

Molly Ang

moira said...

thanks Molly! next year you and other runners can experience and enjoy the most scenic route in the world!!

Anonymous said...

Must salute Ah Tuck, the model loving husband who always stands by his woman, Moira by finishing after her.


Anonymous said...

Well written. Interesting read. Looking forward to reading more running stories from you.

KK Wong

Ngae said...

Hi Moira, Yes as you see from KC's posting, we completed our Sahara Ultramarathon. If you look at the photos, the terrain does not permit much running, unless you are really really strong and fit. The heavy backpack (mine was 17kg with water on day 1)and fear of injury also make sure we cannot really run. However I enjoyed the 42k marathon leg on second last day where I could run and completed in just under 7 hours. It was my most enjoyable day in Sahara. Looking at KLIM and Xiamen pictures, I missed running the marathon. I will put away my bicycle and backpack and train for the Penang Marathon, hopefully enough time to regain my marathon time of around 4 hours.

Moira said...

Hi Ngae,
Congratulations and well done on completing the ultramarathon! I can only imagine the satisfaction and jubilation you and Dr Tan and all the others felt when crossing the finish line!! The photos are amazing!! Never thought that that the desert was so colourful and beautiful! What an achievement for a worthy cause!!

Thanks! K K Wong, I hope to write better and more interesting stories in future!!