Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Beijing Travels

*I kept a journal for a part of the trip.

May 14th, Thursday
At 2:40pm, 5/13, Molly and I boarded our plan to Hong Kong in Taichung Airport. This airport was a lot smaller than Taoyuan in Taipei. We had a 3 hr. Layover in Hong Kong. Molly was feeling sick, so she slept most of the time. In all the airports, the effect of the H1N1 virus was evident;bathrooms were cleaned once an hour, even I wore a mask on the plane, "just in case." Both flights on the Hong Kong Express were small. I guess I got used to China Airlines w/personal TVs. I was planning on playing video games or watching a movie during the 3 hour flight. Instead, I finished my book and slept.

We arrived in Beijing at 11pm. We checked into our hostel at around midnight. Luckily, I remembered to bring my alarm clock, and early this morning, we had to catch a bus for the marathon Inspection Day at Beijing International Hotel, so we took at taxi at 4:30am.

After a little confusion, we found the buses, and it was a 3 hour bus ride to the wall. The wall was amazing. Absolutely beautiful. The marathon atomosphere seemed fun, but the people took on more of a party atmosphere than a serious one. While there, I saw a little bit of the village life, and realized how horrible it must seem to them...we spent so much money, probably more than they make in a few months pay, just to do one race...it made me very aware of the differences in priorities.

Now the wall; very, very hard! I'm actually thinking it's going to be MUCH harder than I originally imagined. AND, we're going to do it twice. But I think by the end, it'll be worth it. We've raised over $500-$600 for our charity, which I thought was pretty wonderful.

There were interesting people running --> the group of old men, the woman from Dubai, the banker from India, the frat boys, the sorority girls, the family with the bratty teenagers, the outdoorsy couple. I'm very excited to be running with them. I hope my knees won't let me down.

When we got back, we picked up our marathon packet & relaxed a bit. We walked around, did some shopping & ate dinner at a restaurant with no English menus. All in all, a very good day.

On Friday, we got to sleep in, went to visit Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City (they were in the same area). Tienanmen Square was a lot bigger than I thought it would be. The pictures I've seen of the tanks rolling through the square dwarfed the actual size of it. Nowadays, local people go to the square to relax, eat lunch, and of course, people watch all the tourists.

The Forbidden City was HUGE! We got to see the areas in which the Emperor slept, where they kept the concubines, etc. They made the Forbidden City (where it was "forbidden" for commoners to enter, because it was where the Emperor lived) into a museum, so even though they kept the original buildings, inside each were artifacts and relics.

There were also some art students selling their paintings in the entrance of the Forbidden City. The students were learning the traditional Chinese way of painting, on silk, and using ink and paints. I bought three paintings.

We figured we should try to keep our sightseeing to a minimum because we wanted to save our legs for the marathon the next day. But even then, we walked for about 4 hours. Later that night, we went to a Kung Fu show at The Red Theater. It was more of a production about the beginnings of Shaolin Kung Fu than actual Kung Fu. But it was very enjoyable.
May 16th, Saturday

We did it! At 2:20am, Molly & I took a taxi to get to the bus to get to the wall. At 7:30am, we started the race. We began at the back of the pack, thinking it would be less crowded. For the first 3 miles, it was uphill at a 10% climb. Then the stairs & the wall. In my mind, doing the marathon, there were 4 worst-case-scenarios: Muscle cramps; painful knees; hitting the "wall"/total exhaustion; getting my period. Guess which one I got after the first three miles?

The wall was bottle-necked. We were stuck in the same place on the wall for 20-30 minutes, behind half marathoners, 10k-ers, and the 5k-ers, so even though Molly and I ran the entire uphill part (while most other people walked), we still were behind a lot of people. We sprinted the areas of the wall that we could, and did the stairs as fast as we could. The single-file line was narrow and hard, so it was very difficult to pass people. Then we ran in the villages, the children were so cute and loved shouting to people. The little girls would hand out flowers to runners. We put them in our hair.

I don't remember exactly, but it was around mile 12 where my stomach started to hurt to the point where I couldn't stand up straight, but hunched over. So the next few miles were more of a run/walk, with a huge hill in the middle of the run. I felt bad that I kept Molly from running faster, but I couldn't run for more than a few minutes without having to stop and walk again. Muscle fatigue, even cramps, I would know how to deal with. But a stomachache? I had no idea.

We got to talk with some very cool people while running. And it was encouraging to see the variety of runners out there. The people in the village lined up to see us. We were like their yearly parade.

At mile 21, we hit the wall again. This time, shaving off 45 minutes from the first time. It was strange, before we got to the wall, in the villages, we weren't surrounded by many marathoners. But when we got to the wall, we saw many, many runners, overwhelmed by the stairs. It was like looking at a death march...runners, literally crawling on their hands and knees up the stairs. The stairs ranged from 4 inches to 2 feet. My stomach didn't hurt during the stairs, I think it was because it made me bend over, squishing my stomach. I actually got my second wind doing the stairs. It was very enjoyable.

Then the 5K downhill. I should've ran the entire thing. But instead, only ran the last 2K, it felt great though, I had so much energy left from not using it during the race. My time was awful, but we made it within the 8 hour cut off. I felt bad for the people who didn't...they got a DNC -- Did Not Complete -- for their final race time, even if they did complete it, but not within the 8 hours. Funny, Molly and I don't feel too horrible. We're not so sore that we can't climb stairs or anything. Who knows, maybe it'll all catch up tomorrow.
On Sunday, we decied to stretch out our legs by walking around the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace was built so the royals could escape the Summer heat of Beijing city by going to the lake where there was always a cool breeze.

The Summer Palace was beautiful. Our legs were a little bit tense, but not too sore. With the breeze, we really wanted to find a kite, but no one was selling any. We settled on a ribbon instead. The Palace itself seemed to be built around the idea of meditation and contemplation, views to inspire creativity. The only problem was so many people and tourists there. It was beautiful regardless.

On Sunday night, we went to a dinner for all the marathoners. They awarded some prizes, fastest male and female on the course, the man who ran his 50th marathon on his 50th birthday, and a woman who started running marathons in 1995, and had run 165 since then...which blew my mind...it must've been addicting for her...

We had to go to bed early again because of our early morning flight. All in all, it was a very good trip. I think I would've liked more time to see all the sights Beijing had to offer, but we had to get back and teach our classes. We got to meet a lot of interesting people on this trip. It feels strange being done with something we had been planning it for months, training for months. Now it's over. It has definitely been one of the best things I have ever done.

The Great Wall Marathon

The Great Wall was breath-taking.

Words can't describe how beautiful and how immense the Wall was...when we started our run, the wall was covered in mist.

The marathon was held on a portion of the wall that wasn't normally visited by tourists, and so many of the people in the villages surrounding the wall came out to see the crazy people trying to run.

But as far as the eye could see, there were only trees and forests. It was beautiful.

I tried to take photos to show how awesome the stairs were on the wall, but I couldn't quite capture it all. We ran these stair twice; the first time after mile 3. The second time, after mile 21. The second time, there were people literally using their hands and feet, crawling up the stairs.

The fastest male was 3 hours, 40 minutes. The fastest woman was 4 hours, 3 minutes. We were...much further behind. But we made it within the 8 hour time limit, and weren't last! ^_^ In the middle, when I was having problems with stomach pain, we just decided to enjoy the run and take as many photos as possible.

This experience was definitely the best thing I have ever done. Maybe the next marathon I'll actually run more of the race course, but I almost feel that if I ran faster, I wouldn't have enjoyed the sights more.

While in beautiful Beijing, we also got to see Tienanmen Square, The Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, and a Shaolin Kung Fu show. I promise to post more later.