This would be the last day of the Gui Zhou Tour of Lei Gong Mountain International 100km Ultra Trail Challenge 2015 and the last 21km of my 105km multi-day running adventure. 85 kilometres down and 21 to go. This final stage of the race would start off in the beautiful town of ZhenYuan (镇远: far town) with a 50 meters climb out, then back to finish in the town centre with screaming crowds and narrow cobbled streets. For me this would be a classic case of the second-wind, with a sluggish start and a speedy finish.
The night before the race our group heard of the awful events in Paris with an attack on the national football stadium, a restaurant and the Bataclan concert venue where more than 100 people lost their lives. This was a real tragedy and, although thankfully none of us knew anyone who was personally involved, we had a number of French people in our group and many of us had some personal connection with the city or it’s people. We all wanted to show our solidarity with the victims and thought that a big sporting event like this would be a good opportunity to do this. I’ve never run an organised race in Paris but I’ve been there may times and ran along the Seine, in the Gardens of Versailles and even past the Eiffel Tower and under the Arc de Triomph. I love Paris and felt that this attack was nothing more than an assault on the values of secularism and liberty in a modern society. So, without being able to find black armbands for the race, we wrote stuff on our arms. I had ’13/11 Paris’. Some of the Chinese runners joined in too and it was nice of them to show that they shared our sentiment. This just goes to show that the attack was an affront to right-minded free thinking people everywhere.
On the final day we would also be wearing our bright orange sponsors shirts for the ATK3 triathlon club. We were meant to wear the shirts on the last day because this would be when most of us had our best chance of finishing. And about six or seven of us were still in with a chance of finishing all three stages. Only Santi was a slightly doubtful after bruising his foot the previous day, but given that we only had 21km to go there was a good chance we would all finish.
The start was close to our hotel again. It was noisy and lively, like last time, but everyone was starting to look just that little bit sleepy. And when we set off my feet felt unbelievably heavy. It was like wading through a river. My pace was around 5 minutes per kilometre and I couldn’t do anything to speed up. Santi was in a similar position but running a bit stronger. We noticed a guy in front in an even worse state, swaying from side to side with his legs apart like he’d been riding a horse. There’s no way this guy could finish the race. I was pushing hard just to keep this slow pace and I could feel the pained expression on my face. But we were running in a beautiful place. At one point the road was lined with ladies in white practising Tai Chi, so many I couldn’t even count them. Then we ran onto a beautiful old Chinese bridge with red carpet. It was unbelievable, like running through the set of a kung-fu movie.
At around kilometre 5 we started climbing the hill. This is also about the point at which my legs started to work again. I guess they must have needed some distance to loosen up. I still felt tired and sore but the running felt a lot smoother and more natural. So I found my rhythm and started winning some places back. The problem was I didn’t want to push too hard and find myself exhausted before the end of the race, so I held back just a bit.
This was an out and back course turning at the end of the 12th kilometre so pretty soon I met the elite athletes on their way back. And Sven was pretty close to the front of the race. Running around tenth place and he was looking as relaxed as ever. I was closing up on another orange shirt up ahead but couldn’t figure out who it was. Right before the turn I met Alex again coming back at me. This time I knew I wasn’t too far behind so I counted the places between us as I approached the turn. Twelve. He was twelve places away and I was sure I could catch up before the end of the race. Now I was counting backwards from twelve until I could catch him.
So, with less than 10 kilometres to go, and nothing to lose, I picked up the pace. I soon caught up with the lady in the orange shirt up ahead. It was the nice Hong-Kong Canadian lady who travelled with her husband. I met the rest of the guys running toward the turning. Santi, Fred, Gerome (who was running this stage with his girlfriend Armmelle), Jo, Mehdi, Colin, Brendan, and all these guys. It was a great way to finish off the weekends race. I made sure to shout each one of these guys on. We’d all done great to survive this far into the race.
I was full of adrenalin knowing that I had such a short stretch to go. So I didn’t even slow down to take my water. I grabbed a plastic cup at full speed splashing a good part of it on the ground before swallowing a gulp and pouring the rest of it over my head. Taking water like a pro.
I slowly pulled past each of the runners between Alex and myself. When I caught up with him I gave a shout of encouragement. We ran together a bit before I pushed on. Alex had ran consistently well all three days and was still going strong. I pushed onto the 16th kilometre slowly taking another four or five places until all I could see of the other runners was a single fluorescent yellow shirt in the distance. My pace was now around 4:15 minutes per kilometre and I was tracking this guy down all the way to the end.
When we reached the river again for the last kilometre he was about 100 meters away and I was running hard. I closed the gap to around 20 meters as we turned into the cobbles of the town. I was worried about falling but for the last 300 meter sprint to the end I let go. I was flying and just pipped him to the line. It was great to finish the weekend on a high and give the crowd a sprint at the end. I’m sure the sprint had done nothing for my ranking and very little for my time but it’ll give me a bit of confidence of the next race.
At the end I could see Sven was already enjoying a massage. Alex arrived soon after and it was smiling faces all around. A great achievement for all of us. I think Alex had knocked about an hour off the previous year’s time and he was a good half hour ahead of me. Sven finished 10th overall and all the guys in the team who finished the previous two day’s races were able to complete the 100k in good condition. So, a great result all round.
My times and placings for the race were as follows.
Overall (105.48km) 9:13:06 35th
I was happy to have ran and ran well for the majority of the race. That’s without stopping to rest or walk. I mean, I was quite slow at the end of the second day, but it didn’t feel so bad as a lot of the other runners were keeping a similar pace. I’d love to run this one again. A nice target would be to finish in under nine hours. I’d like to think that a bit of a better race strategy could get me up there, but realistically I’d need to train hard to build up my overall fitness. In any case, the race was a fantastic experience and I’ll carry the memories for a lifetime. Well worth repeating.