WenShan TH3 Marathon: 10 January 2004
| Report 2
| 8km Results
| 16km Results
Report from Nei Tait -
After a successful KOTH season last year, I was gratified to be invited along with Choi Kau to compete in KOTH's inaugural overseas event in Taiwan. With brief details of the 16km course provided by race director, Keith Noyes, my racing appetite was fully wetted - my first overseas run, tough and unknown Taiwan opposition and my first head to head with Choi Kau - an athlete who demands a lot of respect. Unfortunately, through work commitments Choi Kau couldn't make the trip to Taiwan. Nevertheless, in his absence, the course and the standard of competition left me with plenty to contend with.
This was my first time to Taipei, and the trip from the airport with Keith Noyes late Thursday evening offered a brief glimpse of the city. Taipei has been given more room to expand than Hong Kong, hence the buildings are not so densely packed or so high - that is with the exception of 'Taipei 101'. With occupied floors up to 1470 feet this purely symbolic building dwarfs the city and is now recognised as the tallest building in the world - how long before our stair running friend Pedro makes his way to the top of this one - good luck!
With the race scheduled for Saturday afternoon, Keith and myself headed out Friday morning to check out the course. For lazy 'gweilos' such as myself, it soon became evident that getting by using English doesn't work in Taiwan as it does in HK! Fortunately, Keith's excellent Mandarin skills guided us seamlessly to the Chi Nan Temple, which is located in the hills above the easterly commuter belt of Wen Shan district. I thought Keith's mention of a photo shoot was tongue in cheek, however upon arriving at the temple there was already a waiting group of race organisers and sponsors.
On with the sponsors trail vests, everyone into the cars and then off uphill to 'ideal' photo shoot locations i.e. close to the road but picturesque! This being my first photo shoot I took a bit to warm up and get into action shot mode, but soon I'd sold out to commercialism and was jostling with Keith along the tight trails to the delight of the photographers, well at least the female ones. With this pre-race hype and attention, a concern that was new to me started to set in ... people have put faith in me and with HK's reputation at stake I'm no longer just running for myself - what if I don't do well?
With photo shoot out of the way, myself and Keith got on with the real task of the day - checking out and marking the course. Unlike HK's KOTH trails there were no white or green painted arrows, the course was marked using flour. Weighed down with 10kg of flour the course seemed increasingly harder as Keith and I left the first flat section of trail and headed up a slippery switchback track to the first water stop - as I panted for breath while walking up the track, Keith stated that "to win this race you will need to run up here". I wheezed and told him that he had a misconception of what we were capable of in the KOTH! Beyond the first water stop the trail continued steeply uphill and then narrowed as it passed up and over rocky knolls and weaved between tightly packed trees. Having topped out, we enjoyed a hazy view of the surrounding tree covered hills - probably no chance to enjoy such views on race day. The downward section towards the second water stop required extreme care with stones / steps slippery under a green moss - unlike HK, Taipei isn't guaranteed a dry winter and the trails, which are covered by trees, seldom fully dry out.
Beyond the second water stop the trail climbed under Buddhist prayer flags and twisted such that it was hard to keep a bearing on where you were relative to the start. Through Keith's trail marking efforts our flour load was getting lighter as we made our way down another technical section and emerged into a sparsely populated farming area with tea plantations, paddy fields and bamboo plantations. The location for the third and final water stop marked the lowest section of the course and the start of a gradual climb to the finish. With a myriad of trails through the plantations I tried to memorize our route. Unlike the well-known 'automatic pilot' trails that we often run in HK, concentration would be required towards the end of the race if disaster were to be avoided - memories of a navigational error that cost me time on the Lantau Walkathon came back to me. To my constant chorus of "are we there yet" we made our way along trails, up roads and across temple forecourts until eventually we reached the Chi Nan Temple, which marked the start and finish. Skirting around the front of the temple the route followed a lantern walkway before turning sharply for the final 400m up a steady hill - Keith tried to excuse the last hill by recounting that he wanted the finish at the end of the lantern walkway, but to my subsequent benefit he had been out voted and the finish was up the hill and into the car park.
With 10kg of flour laid and a good knowledge of the course we headed back to Taipei for a dinner of pasta and a further dose of banter with regards who to watch out for - the list seemed endless!
Race day dawned. With an afternoon start I was rewarded a lie in and a relaxed morning. On reaching the race site, I started to get a race buzz - there were competitors of all ages, attire and evident ability. Through the crowd I was happy spy a familiar face - Babs - a few of the hashers were disappointed that Babs wasn't sporting his Christmas fairy outfit, but probably best for him as his police escort to the start sounded dramatic enough. With the sun now bright overhead I opted to carry an energy drink, which I knew would come in handy during the latter section of the course.
With the sound of the starting hooter the pre-race nerves disappeared and I made a valiant effort to stay with the pack - I new there were some fast roadies in there and didn't want to be stuck behind them when we hit the first trail! The game plan worked and I entered the first trail section in first place, however as we snaked along the trail the runners stayed packed behind me and I knew then that things were going to be tough. Emerging from the trail I knew the switchback track was next on the agenda and I eased a little. This allowed two runners (Ng Yau Ka & Chan Chung Yan) to open up a 20m lead by the time we hit the track - Keith's words regards running the track echoed in my mind and I adopted a more conservative survival pace, while the two front runners continued to pound upwards. After a few switchback turns I succumbed and 'fast walked' the steep sections losing sight of the two front runners - with the tail end of a head cold my chest was heaving and I was looking for excuses as I watched them go! After the water stop the trail narrowed and steepened to the extent that I knew nobody could run it, but as I made way up I heard a runner closing from behind - the thought of myself struggling for a top 10 finish went through my mind! As I topped out, Wong Chuen Yan was sat on my tail. Now suffering from a stitch I set out slowly on the downhill and was surprised that I held my position - mm, me thinks, anyone who runs up hills like that and slows on the downhill must be a 'roadie' - perhaps I can still get him on the downhill.
Emerging at the second water stop I was overheating and needed a few waters over the head - Keith shouted that the front-runner was 3 minutes ahead, but I made the mistake of letting Wong head off first - big mistake, he was a roadie and for the second time that day I lost sight of the opposition as he ran off up the hill under the prayer flags as I succumbed to a 'fast walk'. With the thought of more runners bearing down on me I opened up my pace and after the final technical downhill I was rewarded with a sighting of Wong. Eventually I closed the gap and had regained a precarious third place as we entered the third and final water stop. From here on in it was survival mode while paying attention to the trail so as not to get lost. While weaving through the bamboo I caught sight of second place Chan - he was clearly paying for the initial uphill, but with not much gas left in my tank there was not a lot I could do. Aware of Chan ahead and Wong behind I was surprised to suddenly find that it was Chan who was approaching from behind - he'd taken a detour through the bamboo. Together we ran the final section and I shared my energy drink in the hope that he might show mercy! Emerging into the Chi Nan Temple Chan showed no mercy and opened a lead through the lantern walkway and onto the final hill. As we headed up the hill, I decided I had better go down fighting and I put in a sprint past him - he didn't respond and I opened up a safe gap for second position - 'he who dares wins', or in this case comes second. The winner, Ng Yau Ka ran an impressive race and despite us closing the gap to just over a minute in the latter stages he showed us all a clean pair of heals. Only when Babs finished and complained about the high standard of the local veteran runners did I clock the fact that the winner was a vet! Oh well, I'll be there myself in a few years. Respect to those runners such as Eric Dingler and 'Marathon (age 50+)' who were chasing me all the way and ready to kick butt if I slipped up!
Within the finish compound we were treated to post-race cakes, snacks and drinks as we dissected the days race. Despite some language difficulties this was a good opportunity to share thoughts with fellow athletes and extend invitations for a Taiwan contingent to visit HK for some of our races. An Asian KOTH series will not emerge overnight and would clearly require a lot of work, but the chance to compete against unknown competition in different countries certainly adds to the excitement and fun of racing. Upon latter reflection and given the way the race went I was happy with my second place, but now I know how these guys race I'd love to give them a go on home turf!
In concluding this rather lengthy report, I give the race a big thumbs up. The course was superb and offered up a big variety. Given the opportunity, I'd love to return next year and would encourage anyone else to do so. Only downside - the prizes weren't very exciting. Finally, I offer my thanks to those who invited and looked after me in Taiwan: Keith Noyes, Race Director; Kevin - sponsor and importer of Brooks shoes; Taipei Hash House Harriers - organisers; and Jed, who gave me a place to kip and a lot of banter as to who the opposition were!