After a short break back home, I found myself back on a plane heading to China for another two races. There was question marks as I whether I was going to be able to get time off work while I was over for the last trip and there was another offer of joining another team for another China race waiting for me when I got back. I had quite a stressful weekend, as I managed to find myself in a bit of a lynch pin position. The outcome of a meeting that Monday determined the future of about three or four teams for various races!
Tai Mountain is a famous place in China, described as one of the top 3 places to go in China (according to some online research) and almost as famous as Mount Cook in NZ. It is as far north in China as I have been so far, somewhere between Shanghai and Bejing and certainly doesn’t quite compare in my books to Mt Cook, still it was a cool place to be having a race. Again, almost miraculously all of our baggage came out, and it was off to the race hotel for some preparation.
Run, 14km ( 6000 steps up, 4000 down), Abseil-swim-run, 5km, kayak 10km
This race started with probably one of the shortest opening ceremonies we have had so far. It was super hot and looking like it was going to be a long hot one. Starting from the gates of some cool looking square we made our way up through town to the famous stairs up the mountain. As with most of our running in races Julia set the pace, which was quite quick to start with. This saw us through to a good start up the front with the big boys. We settled into a good pace alongside Thule, in about 3rd or 4th position. The stairs were full of tourists making their way up to be summit, and packed as with most instances of Chinese crowds. Aside from the pain of climbing hard, my vocal cords were getting a right workout. I’m not sure I have ever yelled, let alone spoken that much in such a short space of time in my life! Chinese people were not great about getting out of the way or even loking around to see what’s going on so it was almost harder than climb itself! Nearing the top was short stretch involving arrying a traditional Chinese pole with two boxes of water, about 10kg each hanging off each end. I was in charge of carrying the pole while Flavio and Nathan helped me by carrying the boxes. The hardest part of this section was keeping in time with both of the box carriers.
Once at the top it was chaotic, people everywhere,the GPS had no signal and it was pretty impossible to tell where we needed to go for the final flights of stairs. It was desperate times but we had Thule still with us for company to figure it out together. The Adrenalin was pumping all the way to the top, but down the otherwise everything became calm, less people and back to being on our own, a completely different race all of a sudden. We kept a good pace down the hill, almost knowing that the Chinese behind us would make up time on us coming down. They came flying past, almost like we were standing still, then Julia’s ankle started to give her grief (the week before coming over she managed to roll it, resulting in a chipped bone). Unfortunately this slowed us down considerably, and with nothing more that we could do to help here it was upsetting and painful just to watch her push through. The valley we descended down was sheltered and the sun was showing us it’s full force. Eventually we made it to the Transition, not conceding too much time to those behind us.
Harness and lifejacket on, over the edge of a dam we when and into a disgusting, green, slimey cesspool at the bottom… it was pretty bad even for China standards. From the end of the rope was a good 20m of swimming with the mouth firmly shut! The short run to the start of the kayak was enough to get some sense of dryness in the mouth.
Jumping on the kayaks was a relief for the legs, but punishment for the lack of paddle training I have done since the last race in Baise, too long ago already. Towing did not work in the choppy conditions, so at the first checkpoint we did a quick change over to improve control and speed. The improvements made a huge difference, but did not help my legs from cramping up. We powered out way into the finish for day 1 maintaining our position on the water…. or so we thought. The team directly behind us in time and position dropped a checkpoint in the kayak, taking a 30min penalty in a ‘strategic’ move. Not sure if the ethics of this move but annoyingly for us this dropped us back one place.
Run, 1km; Wheelbarrow, 1km; run, 1km; Mtbing, 67km; kayak 11km; run 5km; GPS orienteering, 3.5km, flying Fox to finish.
On the way to the start of Stage 2 the buses got caught in traffic then made some wrong turns resulting in us arriving at the start a bit later than we should have. I have always struggled with bus rides to the start of races. I think I get a bit hyped up in the stress of getting to the bus on time, then you are able to relax… but gradually as you get closer and closer to the start area, the nerves start to build and I wish that the bus would just keep going a bit longer!
Before we were called up to the start rather hurriedly we did what we saw everyone else was doing and left out bike shoes out of the bin. Setting off at 15 second intervals was a bit of a shock to the system. Those stairs from yesterday had taken a bit of a roll to the quads. 800m or so in to the race our favourite special activity was waiting for us, the human wheelbarrow. The path for the narrow this this was quite bumpy and a bit difficult to negotiate, Flavio did a great job steering with push assistance from me. A welcome relief to be done with the barrow, it was a short but fast sprint to the bikes.
When we arrived at the transition we were in trouble, not the only ones but because we had not put out shoes in the bin we received an official warning…. whoops, a bit of a trap for young players. Onto the bikes we sped out of transition in hot pursuit of a couple of teams in front. Due to the flat nature of the stage a bit of a bunch formed around us with all of the teams we were situated around in the rankings. The Chinese team were dropped about three quarters of the way on a slightly technical part, but besides that I was a case of grin and bare it and hold on for dear life in the chaos of tow lines and bikes everywhere!
Transition to kayak was not great but we got out there into what looked like a nice little artificial lake. Nearing the first checkpoint the sight of a couple of large dead fish sort of changed my opinion of the lake slightly…. Today’s kayak wasn’t quite as bad as day 1 for us and we came out in about the same placing as we went in.
From the end of the kayak it was a 5km run to the end of the lake all on the road. Julia once again set a cracking pace, Nathan started to lag a little so out came the row rope, then Flavio pulled out his to help me out. The media van following us thought this was great with our girl out the front leading the charge with all three guys suffering away behind!
The next transition wasn’t great, the map with the co-oridinates sprinted off in hot pursuit of the team in front without us with the GPS. Like all other GPS orienteering sections we didn’t have the locations on the map which was blank with just the coordinates. We made a mess of the first checkpoint collecting out arch rivals in the process. They blatantly followed us for the next few checkpoints as I lead the direction on the watch while Flavio banged the numbers into the GPS. It was quite tricky following the direction though the dinosaur theme park we seemed to be in. Had we had a proper orienteering map with controls on the map or would have been pretty cool I think… oh well it almost felt like orienteering. To finish the stage was a flying fox over a fake water fall. There was a good drop on this one so we could get across with minimal effort, just some rocks to negotiate first! The short hop to the finish line saw us end the stage with the fifth fastest time for the stage. A good solid effort.
Kayak, 10km; Mtb, 27km; Run, 16 (with flying fox)
Rough justice was probably the order of our day and karma hit the team just in front of us in the rankings when one of their team members left their race bib back at the hotel. This didn’t change anything for us right then and there and we had a battle on our hands right from the start. I don’t think I’ve ever started a race with a kayak so it was a novel first to be running down to the water’s edge with a kayak first thing in the morning. The water in the river was calm but no cleaner than your standard Chinese river. Once again there was some dead fish at the first checkpoint….. we pretty much held our position on the water, just behind our rivals team number 7 and just in front of the Chinese. The North Island Multipsport team with their impressive kayaking fire power blasted past us making up 2 mins and adding another two to that.
Out of the water, and onto the gravely bank, straight into Mountain Bike shoes without thinking. Great a whole lot of stones in my shoes! Well, I’m just going to have to put up with it I thought. We moved out of transition with great speed in hot pursuit of those just in front. Julia was worried at one pont she had a flat tyre, I was a little concerned about my bike for a while too and then when Flavio had Julia on the tow he thought that there actually might be something wrong with it. However I think as it turns out the Steep climb and descent on Day 1 and the long flat fast ride the day before had left us all feeling a bit flat. We were not as flat as some teams though and started to make ground. Then Julia’s chain came off and the Chinese we thought we had got away from were back licking at our heals. The hill climb to finish the ride really separated the teams out. We caught a glimspe of the team 7 in front and almost the same thing that happened in Baise happened again, we started to knock on the wall that was rapidly building itself up in front of us.
Nathan was at the limit and unfortuantley thinking I was a weaker rider than I was I had not fitted my tow rope, so Flavio had to move to help him out. I did my best to help Julia with the occasional push from behind but kicking myself for not having the tow. In hindsight it cost us probably something like 3-4minutes, but then again on the following run, both Flavio and I went through a bit of a bad patch. Transition from the bike to the run was a welcome relief the race was almost over! It was actually a quick but tough run to the top of the mountain where two team member had to do the flying fox. There was a wait time here and although it gave Nathan a chance to recover a bit it didn’t do me any good at all. After Julia and Flavio completed the flying fox I went into a dark place for a bit. I didn’t have enough food and probably too much water.
Almost an hour later with about 6-7kms to go we rallied a bit as one of our rival Chinese teams caught us, the difference between 6th and 7th. The tow lines went on and I worked hard to keep us within sight. I started to come right again and with Nathan under tow, we powered through a very cool area to run. It was a bit sad we were all a bit stuffed to enjoy it much and it was a relief for us runners to hit the sealed road to the finish line. Nathan, I’m not so sure as the tow rope went pretty tight as I tried to keep us close to Flavio and Julia sprinting to the finish in an every second counts situation!
We finished up well I thought, and managed to keep our placing, maybe losing one and gaining one on the final day. The team in front copped a 10min penalty for not having the correct race bib so some rough justice alright for us, and what felt like rightfully 7th place.