Sunday’s race ended up being amazing for me and really painful for Andy. I would’ve written about it sooner, but the internet has been super crappy and I just caught a cold. Sigh. China…
Anyway, I was jazzed about the race from the moment I woke up. On the other hand, Andy seemed a bit hard to read and I didn’t realize why until later. I buzzed around our apartment getting ready and putting on my race gear while he seemed to sigh in one room after another.
Off we went. It was a chilly morning, but we had to underdress so we could check a race bag and ultimately run at a comfortable temperature. We shivered. At the bus stop, the zipper in my brand new running shorts broke. 😥 I was really unhappy about it because the pocket with the now-broken zipper is also the only pocket that holds my
iPhone… We resolved that Andy would carry both our phones for the race and that we would have to stick together for the entire race (because meeting up in China with cell phones is difficult enough).
The subway was crowded (understatement), but all that body heat warmed us up!
It was unreal when we reached the race starting point. If you’ve ever attended a major race in the United States, you know some of what to expect at an event like this… but adding to all that race day craziness the Chinese element? Oh my gosh. Mascots! Dancing! KFC! I was laughing pretty much the entire time. Andy wasn’t finding it as funny as me, but I figured it was just because he doesn’t really like crowds (Chinese or American).
We tried to meet up with some other expats for a group photo, but we weren’t allowed to cross into the expo center. Our race number bibs were labeled B, which was for the “short marathon.” This requires some ‘splaining. (If you’re an I Love Lucy fan, you know what I
mean by that… 😉 ) The Suzhou Jinji Lake International Half Marathon includes four separate races: the half marathon (13.1 miles), the short marathon (14k, which is what we registered for), the mini marathon (5k), and the family marathon (2.4k). I have no idea who decided on these distances (or the prize money, frankly, since the winner of the half got ¥30,000–about $4,300–and all three other races the winner got only ¥3,000–about $430). Nevertheless, the fact remains that on Sunday in Suzhou, everybody ran a marathon.
I mean we ran a “marathon.”
In fact, use of the word “marathon” seems to be lost on many people, no matter where they live or what language they speak. In the U.S., I ran a few half marathons and every single time a coworker or a family member would ask, “So, how long is your marathon?” as though there could be varying distances indicated under the larger category of marathon. This, we runners know, is ludicrous! The only marathon is 26.2 miles (a crazy distance, whether because of the high mileage or the lousy 0.2mi/1,056ft that separates a marathon finisher from someone who merely ran 26 miles). But even here in China there is a misconception about the length of a marathon, or, perhaps more concerning, what a marathon is. Not every race is a marathon. But every marathon is a race. This is conditional logic, people. It’s really not that hard… every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square. Capisce? Same deal.
At any rate, we couldn’t meet the others in our group, so we stayed outside (shivering)
waiting for the race to start. The familiarity of racing events took over for me at this point. I was laughing at people in costumes and taking pictures with mascots. I was followed by more than one photographer, I presume because I’m 6’0″ and not Asian and this was billed as an international race. But, hey, it doesn’t bother me. I hammed it up for some of the cameras, smiling and posing. It was fun for me, but Andy still wasn’t talking much. I let him stay quiet, as he is often wont to do, to find his own zen. I was practically having a runner’s high before the race because I was so excited to be running in China.
But let’s not forget that we were running this race in China. You know, the place where sometimes we have to wear masks outside because of the air pollution. Per our morning ritual, we had checked the pollution levels while getting breakfast, and they were in the orange–unhealthy for sensitive groups, including yours truly–at about AQI 160. Not great (see above photo of “short marathon” entrance for a visual of the pollution). We had to make a game day call when we checked the race bag, though, because no way were we throwing away good masks. We checked the levels, which had dropped to yellow at AQI 99, and decided to give it a go without the masks. (Whether or not this contributed to the cold I now have 24-48 hours later, I may never know, but draw conclusions where you will. Andy isn’t sick, by the way.)
Once people lined up behind us, we got warm again while waiting for the race to start. It was anticlimactic because there was no national anthem or anything. Just suddenly people in front of us were running, so we ran too. There was the typical race start bottleneck, but it wasn’t any worse than other big races I’ve run.
I don’t remember running an easier race, honestly. The first 5k flew by. Usually I’m checking my watch before the first mile is up (because the first mile is the worst mile!) But I felt amazing. I was undertrained and facing the air pollution, but not once did I feel like I needed to slow down or stop. (This is a very big deal for me.) Andy, though, needed to do both and that’s okay because halfway through our race–at around 7k–he finally revealed to me what was bothering him: this was the longest distance he’d ever run and he was feeling nervous. Not just longest race–longest distance ever. This is a very big deal every single time! Conquering a new distance is a serious feat. I hadn’t realized that he had never run more than 10k before. Now his morning of reticence made a lot more sense to me. I slipped into coach mode, and told him that this was his race, that he needed to call the shots on our pace and stopping, and that I would advise about when to get water or food on the course.
His knees were bothering him, so we walked a little then stretched a little, then kept running. Maybe getting out of my own head helped me not feel so labored about this race? I have no idea. I just focused on Andy, his needs, and getting us to the finish line. After we passed the turn off for the 5k runners, there were only two choices: finish the 14k or drop out of the race entirely. I checked in with Andy every once in awhile and he got better about telling me what he needed. It was a learning experience for both of us. I tried to dial back my enthusiasm a little to be empathetic about his pain (because I’ve definitely been there–I thought my left Achilles tendon would explode during my third half marathon!), but I was also up to my eyebrows in a runner’s high. No doubt about it–I was having visions of rainbows and butterflies whilst running towards the overcast horizon littered with crushed paper cups. I haven’t felt a high like that in a LONG time, but it was beautiful and it helped me to be a good partner for Andy, even if I was a little annoying sometimes… 😉
So we finished. We crossed the finish line a little unceremoniously. There were no medals, finish line photos, or photo opportunity backdrops. There wasn’t an announcer or a big crowd. I presume that fanfare was reserved for the end of the half marathon, as opposed to our “short” marathon… So even though we ran a marathon according to every other person who knew about this race, there was no fanfare.
The anticlimactic ending was not feeding my runner’s high, but fortunately Andy was as hungry as I was and we were on the same wavelength about going for Indian food. 😀 We meandered to our favorite place, Namaste, walking yet another mile or so, and partook of the Sunday buffet. It was an incredible deal, we got to try many new dishes, and we were positively stuffed by the time we finished. It was a perfect ending to a race that was by any other account a major victory for both me and Andy.