Day two of the tour of Lei Gong mountain brought us to the beautiful LeiShan (雷山), the thunder mountain. This would be an out-and-back on tired legs up and down the valley of the river Danjiang. A marathon after a day of running a marathon with the certainty of a tough half marathon the day after. Not a prospect for the faint hearted but a fantastic experience and a great day out in the mountains of Guizhou.
The day started with a hearty breakfast in our hotel which was just a stones throw away from the start line. This meant plenty of time to enjoy the excellent buffet. Sven and I had seen them putting up the scaffold over the start line the previous night. This was before visiting the golden bridge over the lake where we had our photos taken with some of the local schoolchildren. Foreigners are still something of a rarity in this part of China so we were made to feel a bit like celebrities with the school-kids following us around. And there were plenty of spectators at the start-line too. It seemed that the race was a big event in the town and the local people were very enthusiastic.
It would be great to run with the event animals and ATK3 triathlon club team again for this part of the race. One of our group, the Spaniard Santi, was making a video of the race with a go-pro on a selfie stick and took a nice team photo at the start. Alex told us where we would be running, down the valley through the fantastic scenic mountains. These were the tall steep oblong sort of mountains that are so indicative of the Chinese countryside. This would be fantastic.
I don’t remember any gun or horn to mark the start of the race, just watching the clock count down and starting to move when it reached eight thirty. And it was a good bit harder to get going than the day before. The one day marathoners just skipped past us and Sven let me know that he was also feeling the strain. Running a marathon the day after running a marathon felt like madness. I was pushing hard but I just couldn’t get above a pace of 5:30 per kilometre. It felt like I had lead in my shoes. As the one day marathon runners continued to file past us I decided to focus on the other 100k guys who had different coloured numbers on the front and back of their jerseys. If I could keep up with some of these guys I’d be fine.
On the way through the town I caught up with Santi then pushed on to catch up with one of the fast African runners. Unbelievable, a kilometre into the race and I was running with a Kenyan. I mean, we were still quite far back in the pack and I am pretty sure the guy had pushed too hard the first day and was saving himself for the half-marathon on Sunday, but it was still a nice experience. I even pushed past him a bit but he came back to run beside me and we ran together until the start of the steep hill on 3km. Here the guy left me for dead. The fast African runners are quite lean and they don’t seem to have to slow down so much for the hills like other runners. The hill continued and continued to get steeper until the first aid station at 5k where my African buddy dropped out. I guess he couldn’t hack my pace 😉 The total climb had been around 80 meters and I was certainly starting to feel it.
The downhill was a big relief, but it was hard to capitalise on the gradient with stiff legs. I caught up on a Russian guy who also seemed to be suffering. He’d ran a very fast race the day before and, like myself, didn’t have any experience of multi stage races. The hardest thing to take was the fact that we were less than half way the race and had very little idea of how we could recover for the 30 odd kilometres ahead, not to mention the 21km the next day. It was downhill for now, but we knew we’d have to make it back up.
When we reached the bottom of the hill each side of the road was lined with people in traditional dress cheering and shouting us on. Up to 9km then uphill again. The legs where really starting to hurt now but the scenery was fantastic. 10k and almost a quarter of the way through. From here on in it was downhill all the way to kilometre 24.5.
At some point I caught up with Fred, our French team captain from Beijing. This guy was running with a full size DSLR camera in one hand stopping to take photos along the way. I later found out he runs a marathon most weeks. He was making the 100k race look like a walk in the park. Soon we passed the elite runners coming back the other way after the out-and-back turn. I couldn’t understand how these guys could be running so fast up-hill when I was struggling so much downhill. A little later Sven came running back past me and a little later still Alex. It was good to see these guys still running strong after the previous day’s exertions.
At this point I was running alongside a team of Chinese club runners dressed in fluorescent yellow. Two of them were holding hands running as a couple. It was good to see people really enjoying the race and taking time to take in the beautiful scenery.
Before the turn there was a steep downhill and we had to go back up this after the turn. But the uphill didn’t feel so bad, I think I was getting my second wind and was able to push past the fluorescent yellow running team. Then I passed Gerome, the French guy, on his way to the turn. He looked fresh. Santi also looked in good condition, really enjoying the race the both of them. I think I must have seemed dead tired and sluggish when I looked back.
Around km 28 we had a short detour of 2km off the track where I met Alex again. He was already about 2 kilometre ahead of me and running well. I was also bearing down on the Russian guy I’d met on the first steep hill, it looked like he was struggling. At km 29 we turned back out of the detour and I passed him on the hill. I then met Gerome again. He looked strong bearing up the hill and I was sure he would catch up with me before the end of the race.
After the detour it was a slow slog uphill. The last 10km. By this point my pace had slowed right down but I felt good in that not too many of the other runners were passing me. I was even able to steal the odd place while other runners pushed past me. I think I must have been holding my position more or less. Some of the runners were familiar from the previous days race. There was dark blue shirt guy who paced himself well and sailed past me around km 30 (both days) and ‘team china’ 中国 shirt guy who was always somewhere around. It was great to know that other people were going through the same thing as me and I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t going too fast or too slow and the scenery was still fantastic.
Around km 35 I’d slowed to a jog. At least I wasn’t walking and this was good enough. And Gerome caught up with me somewhere near the end so we could run the last few kilometres together. I needed the encouragement for the last push on to the finish. We didn’t quite go back up the tough hill at the start but it was bad enough. On the last hill we passed a couple of run/walkers before being passed by a fast guy. I picked up the pace but couldn’t quite catch this guy before the finish line. I wouldn’t go for an all-out sprint knowing I still had to face the last stage and another 21km the next day.
I’d finished this one on 4 hours 1 minute and 47 seconds in 44th place. About half an hour slower than the previous day but I was happy to have survived. Alex had run another good race along with most of other guys in the team who finished the previous days race.
So, it was a quick shower back at the hotel, another tasty lunch and a bus ride on to the next hotel at Zhen Yuan (镇远) for the final stage and the final 21km. The end was just a short distance away and if my legs could hold out then it could be counted as a successful weekend. I fell dead asleep on the bus (again) and dreamt of glory.