racingtheplanet Taklamakan
100K - A New Challenge
RacingThePlanet 100: Taklamakan Competitor
 
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Life on the Run
25-Aug-2010 08:21:30 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]
Going forward I will be blogging at a new location:  Life on the Run, Expert: Eric LaHaie
Check it out when you have time, thanks!

Run with your heart, not your feet.
 
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Final Thoughts
25-Aug-2010 07:54:35 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]
The Taklamakan Ultramarathon is over and I was able to come out on top; what an amazing experience. It was the first time I have run almost the entire course in an ultra (all except the infamous "sticks" section at the end); and I was proud I was able to push through even though I constantly thought about stopping to rest or walk. This is not to say the course wasn't challenging; it was actually one of the more difficult course I have encountered - tons of soft sand which slowly drained the energy in your legs with every step. Here are a few topics to touch on while they are still fresh in my mind:

The Staff/Volunteers:   What a great group! It was a longer course with fewer volunteers, so they had to work that much harder and boy did they. They were up for 24-48 hours straight with little to no sleep, but at every checkpoint they would greet you with a smile and encouragement - and they put up with my random babbling at each checkpoint about who knows what. After 1-2 hours out at night by myself in the desert between checkpoints, I was just so happy to talk to another human being that everything that was on my mind would all come out at once. Ha! The volunteers were really amazing and embody what these events are all about.

The Competitors:  When I think back, this is always what I remember most from an event. There are just so many unique and inspiring people who do these events that getting to know them and their stories is a cultural experience in and of itself. And there is no better feeling than sitting around with fellow competitors after finishing the race and comparing stories and rejoicing together in the great accomplishment of finishing. It was extra special for me as I had several friends from other races and from Hong Kong who were competing. I was so proud of them, not necessarily for doing so well (which they did by they way), but more for achieving a goal which they had set out to accomplish - to finish the Taklamakan Ultramarathon.

The Course and the Race:  What can I say; the Taklamakan is a harsh and awe inspiring place. I will never forget the start of the race; the wind was blowing hard and sand was shifting over the rolling dunes that were in front of us for as far as the eye could see. It looking wild and untamed, and was the first time I felt a little over-matched by a landscape. However, once I got into the dunes it was if the desert accepted me and I found a way to work with it. I weaved up, over, and around the dunes with little resistance. It was an absolutely stunning first section and a feeling like no other to be surround my these wild desert dunes. Later on the dunes flattened out a bit and the terrain became less harsh for a couple sections (2 & 3). During this time the sun was setting and moon came up - running under the moonlight desert was so peaceful and quiet. All I could hear was the crunch of the sand under my feet and my mind was calm and focused on the moment. The sand was mostly soft, with some hard packed parts, but I was still somewhat fresh at this point so it didn't bother me much. 

My calm jaunt through the desert under the moon abruptly came to an end in section 4. We went back into more dunes, and this time they seemed higher and closer together. It was most likely because now it was pitch dark (the moon had set) and I couldn't read the best route like I could in the section 1 dunes. I would see a glow stick and head towards it only to run smack into a dune, I would climb up the dune on my hands and knees and hoist myself over the top where I could spot another glow stick. Then I would stumbled down the dune towards it only to run into another dune and repeat the process all over again. It was tough going, but looking back it was a ton of fun. I felt like a wild animal being chased by a predator - the Chinese runner Yanqiao (if you met him this would be hard to imagine as he is half my size and a super nice guy, but it was a good mentality to have). I didn't know how far he was behind me, but I pictured he was on my tail the entire race. This kept me going and moving fast. 

Section 5 was relatively easy terrain, but long and tiring. We ran along a river and here the soft sand finally started to wear me down a bit. But before it could zap me completely, we ran into a village where the next checkpoint was going to be. I ran down a long flat road, fended off a few barking village dogs with claps and shouts, and expected the checkpoint to pop up at any moment. However, the course took us off the main road and down these farm paths for what seemed like an eternity. But it was all worth it when we turned back onto the village road and there was the checkpoint where the staff & volunteer where joined by local villagers who welcomed us with fresh watermelon and a can of coke. What a treat!  

With sugar pumping through my veins, I headed off feeling good and ready to take on the last 30K. It was meant to be moderate, and I thought I could easily cruise in without too much trouble - boy was I wrong. Section 5 started out easy by exciting the village on little farm paths again, but quickly we were back into the desert and more dunes. These dunes weren't as high as the previous ones, but the sand seemed a bit softer and running in the dark meant more stumbling and crawling forward. After about 5K in the dunes we ran through a bushy section which was over grown and sandy. I dodged back and forth through the shrubs and waited for the 4-wheel track that would be the final 7K or so of the section. I finally hit it and now I thought it was just a matter of cruising to the final checkpoint. However, this is where the soft sand finally had its day. The 7K track was slightly up hill and ALL soft sand. I was weaving back and forth all over the track and on the sides, but there was just no solid footing. About 2K in my legs were burning and I was huffing and puffing like no other. I wanted to stop and walk, but I decided there and then that this is where I was going to win the race. So I put my head down and powered through the finally 5K or so, running the entire distance in the soft sand. Coming into the final checkpoint I left confident I had given it my all (later I learned that I had done that section almost an hour faster than an other runner). I was elated to hear from a volunteer at the cp that I was an 1hr 20mins ahead of the Chinese runner in 2nd place! What a relief, only 15K to go and a nice gap. 

As I left the checkpoint, I struggled to get my legs back underneath me as I had burned them out coming up the 4-wheel track. Erin later told me I stumbled out of the cp like a drunken old man, ha! I jogged a bit until my legs left a little better and then kept heading forward. I stopped to walk for a couple minutes, but then I would get paranoid that they said it was a 20min lead and I just thought they had said 1hr 20mins. So I ran on over more 4-wheel track with bush scenery (and biting bugs) all around. Finally after about an hour I made it out of the desert onto the final road that was supposed to be 7K till the finish. However, after about 100meters we took a sharp right off the road onto a sand service road with sticks laying all over the place. These sticks were to give vehicles more traction, however for runners they had much the opposite effect. I attempted to run on the sticks for about 5mins or so, but I kept tripping on them and almost falling over. I decide that it was the safe and smart thing just to walk this bit until the terrain got better. Even walking it was very challenging and I spent the next 15mins wondering if it would be like this the whole way back. Luckily it wasn't, and we turned back onto the main road. There was just over 5K to go now, and I decide to buckle down and run it in as fast as I could. I did the final 5K in sub 5min/K pace and just focused on the next glow stick in front of me. 

Finally the glow sticks stopped and we tuned left back into the dessert. I knew this had to be the end though I couldn't see any lights that normally accompany the finish line. I went up and over a few small sandy ridges and then as I dropped off one there the finish line was about 20 meters in front on me (the flood lights had cut off just 10mins before I got there). I didn't mind as it was a nice surprise to be done all of a sudden. The Event Director, Sam F., welcomed me in and the camp team brought me over to the tents and brought me hot noodles and water. As I lay there eating and recovering, my cramping and shivering were overshadowed by an extreme sense of accomplishment. I had trained hard for this for the last 4 months or so, and it had all paid off. It is definitely an experience I will never forget.

Run with your heart, not your feet.
 
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Go Time!
19-Aug-2010 06:35:25 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]
It is the morning of the race and we are heading out to the desert in a couple hours.

I am excited and nervous, but I think overall ready to go. I feel a bit under prepared, but I know my training has been good, so I just have to trust that thought.

The last two weeks have not been ideal because I have been traveling a lot. I was still able to get 100k and 80k in though, so not too bad. Just did 20k this week and rested and tried to get over jet lag.

From what I am hearing, the course is going to be very sandy, which means some difficult going at times. 100k is a long way and I just have to pace myself and keep on going.

Thanks to all for emails of support and I will follow up with a wrap up blog after the race.

Also, check out this interview I did today about the Taklamakan Ultramarathon:

http://www.theworld.org/geo-quiz/

Run with your heart, not your feat.
 
Comments (7)
Week 13: Slow and Steady
01-Aug-2010 02:31:40 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]
Mon: counted toward last week
Tue: 10K
Wed: 15K
Thu: 20K and spin class
Fri: 20K
Sat: none
Sun: 50K

Got in another 115K this week. Was aiming for 120 - 130, but was happy with the 115 in six days. Got in the 50K I so desperately needed too (mentally more than anything). I did it on Hong Kong Trail with a few diverts here and there. First time running the route since I bonked a few weeks ago on it. I made sure to bring tons of water this time and eat properly, and it made all the difference. Instead of hitting the Tai Tam catchwater with an empty bottle like last time, I hit it with about 2L of water. And I went through every last drop of it and felt great. I took this long run very slow and steady, as I didn't want to bonk again with such little training time left. My focus was on completing the run instead of smoking it in a fast time. Did it in just under 5:30 which is fairly slow for me, but felt great afterwards. Still one week left for some speed work and one or two mid-distance runs (30-40K). Then taper time baby!

Run with your heart, not your feat.
 
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ERIC LAHAIE

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