Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Running into 2010....in Xiamen

Almost a month has passed and we are coming into the 2nd. month of 2010. This is the first year I ushered a new year away from Malaysia. John and I went on a vacation with 11 other friends to Xiamen where we also ran the Xiamen International Marathon.

I was informed that the Xiamen International Marathon is one of the 2 leading marathon competitions in China, co-organized by The Xiamen Municipal Government & Chinese Athletic Association. It is held on the 1st Saturday of January every year. This year - it was on 02-01-2010.

The marathon course runs largely through the scenic sections of the coastal city and large landscaped areas, which are almost flat and considered to be ideal for running the marathon. This year, The 5th C&D Xiamen International Marathon attracted entries from 50,000 runners...drawing runners plus tourists from across the nation, the region, Asia and beyond.

At guntime, we were experiencing temperatures between 13-15 degree Celsius. Cold for some while others felt it was just perfect for racing. The race started at 8.30am for all categories. Although the full marathoners were given the privilege to move ahead first, it didn't really make much difference. Needless to say, I was sandwiched amongst the thousands and by the time I reached the starting line I guessed I was easily 5-7 mins behind. It was difficult to even start running with such an overwhelming crowd, therefore I resorted to a jogging mode.

After 3km, it got better and I heard my name being called. It was from Seow Kong, a Malaysian runner residing in Shanghai. He was running the full marathon. Like some of us, Seow Kong enjoys travelling and running abroad for races. I remember we first met during the Honolulu Marathon and then Pattaya etc. Throughout the race, I was amazed by the number of spectators and supporters that came out to cheer us. And they really cheered runners with all their hearts! As I am absolutely lousy at manoeuvring my way through the multitude of runners, I asked Seow Kong if he'll allow me to just jog along side with him. He obliged and we took the oppportunity to chat and catch up a bit and soon, Seow Kong alerted me that we'll be arriving at 21km. It was the half way mark for him and for me, I was required to turn right and run to the 21km finishing line. I wished him well at 20km as he was aiming to do a sub-4.

As I was on the way to the finishing line, I was surprised to meet John who intentionally waited for me there and we ran the last 500 metres together. I believe my official time to be 2hr 03mins (my personal worst so far but it was okay as I took it as part of my training during a vacation). The rest of my friends didn't fare too well either but who bothers?

The men marathon was won by Ethopian Feyisa Lilesa at 2:o8:47 while women champion went to Batya Atseda with 2:28:53. That evening, we went for foot massage and had dinner joined by Seow Peng, Luc, Seow Kong and wife. I was happy to learn that Seow Kong eventually finished his race at 3hr 57mins. He must've sped like crazy soon after he left me at 20km. Congratulations!!

What was GOOD about this marathon?
It was a Carnival - the loud display with 150,000 pots of flowers decorating the route added colour and life to the event. Dancers, drummers, bands and mascots certainly made one 'feel' that he/she should be part of the event.

Strong Media Campaign - everyone in Xiamen was aware of the event. The Hotel where we stayed put up a board to welcome runners and specially prepared breakfast for runners from as early as 5.30am. The whole event was telecast 'live' on TV with repeats of the recording throughout the day in one of the local stations. It was also broadcasted 'live' on radio.

Great Supporters - the highlight of the event! I was so overwhelmed by the supporters from the very young to the very old who came in busloads. We were cheered and greeted by them throughout the race...from the start line to the finishing line. No one will miss their cheerings and motivation. These people really cheered us from their hearts : for the guys they got, "Suai Ker Jia Yu!" (Handsome, keep going!) for ladies we received "Mei Ni Jia Yu!" (Pretty Lady, keep going) and older folks like Uncle Hooi and Francis were greeted with "Yeh Yeh Jia Yu!" (Grandpa, keep going). Oh, I love this!

Race Course - There were no traffic, roads were closed and there were polices and marshals everywhere which made running very safe and comfortable.

Others - There were ample water supply and the medal is nice. Returning of the timing chip was hassle-free for marathoners. Certificates with personal results were distributed almost immediately after the race.

Some shortcomings...
Starting Line - Too congested at the start line. Should stagger the guntime for the different categories.

Timing Chip - Time was not recorded during the guntime which I believe was due the capacity of runners all starting together. Time was only taken at the finishing line.

Finishing for half marathon and 10km - The finishing was in the middle of the marathon course. Runners had to make their way back to the marathon site themselves. There were no sweeper bus. I took a taxi back to the hotel with John and Agnes and it was not easy.

Toilet facilities - There were not many mobile toilets along the way. Should provide enough toilets to avoid the long queue since there were about 50,000 runners and a great number of volunteers and supporters.

The rest of our time were well spent at Xiamen. We toured the famous Tu Lou Hakka Village and Gulangyu Island. Tasted very good authentic local cuisine. We had a very patient and accomodating guide Mr. Kua, who took us to where we wanted to go, what we wanted to see, to buy and to eat. Overall, it was one of our most enjoyable trips...good company, good food, decent hotel located at convenient spot for us to move around and everything else was almost flawless save for the weather that went incredibly cold some days.

Credit goes to John for making all the necessary arrangements. And to all our friends travelling with us on this trip...Thank You!

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