“ULTRA marathon? No way, I can’t do that.”
I shook my head and clicked away that link.
But I got back to that link two, three, maybe four times more. There was something thrilling about the thought. I had to admit I was curious about running this race. And the timing was great, I felt strong, hadn’t been injured or ill for a long time and I knew that I could combine the trip with a work trip to Asia.
I signed up. Sign up confirmed. I had to book the flight within 3 days to secure the spot. Apply for Chinese visa. No way back. Oh jeez.
The race was Gui Zhou Tour of Lei Gong Mountain International 100km Ultra Trail Challenge. It was a race covering three days of running – two full marathons on Friday and Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday. 42 km + 42 km + 21 km summed up to 105 km in total over a weekend.
The first race was in a city called Kaili, a small city in China with a population of half a million people. I got up at 05.30 in the morning to take the medical test - body temperature and blood pressure - to make sure I was fit enough to run. I felt a bit dizzy, arrived the night before and had some jetlag – in Swedish time zone this was around midnight.
The weather was fine, around 12 degrees outside and a bit humid. Grey sky, thick clouds. No chance that the sun could break through, most probably some rain. All good.
Went off to the starting area where we had picked up our race bibs the day before. It was a big square outside an indoor sports arena. Lots of people - volunteers and runners – everyone busy with preparing for the race. Noisy Chinese pop music from big speakers. A bit too loud, a bit too intense. The starter’s gun went off and so did we. The first steps of this 100km challenge were taken, many more to take.
The route was simple, we ran back and forth to an old village outside town. The first five kilometers was just downhill. I tried to not think about how I in some hours would be back fighting myself up that hill. And damn, how hilly the rest was. Not a flat section anywhere. Halfway through I met two of the Swedish guys, they was some kilometers ahead of me and had just finished the turning point in the village. “You have something in front of you that you’ll never forget. I still have goose bumps!!” one of them shouted.
He was right. I continued down the hill, the road turned right along the river. I could see the village on the other side of the road and the narrow bridge that would take me there. I could hear music and the noise from people cheering in the village coming closer and closer. Old ladies in beautiful, traditional clothing on both sides of the bridge, smiling, clapping their hands. School kids dressed in tracksuits cheering their lungs out. “Yayao, yayao, yayao!” meaning ‘come on’ in Chinese. I held out my hand for high fives and the cheering increased in strength. Policemen was watching and tried to keep the kids on the sidewalk, to hold them back from stepping out on the street. I ran the cobble stone street and the cheering was amplified between the stones and the house walls. The village was stunning. Old wooden houses, red Chinese lanterns hanging from the balconies. I was in a surreal parallel reality, somewhere in a hidden corner of the world. It was amazing.
Before I went to China I got asked a lot of times why I did it. I was giving all kinds of explanations to everyone asking – including myself.
- Because it’s fun
- Because it’s an experience
- Because it’s a challenge
- Because I want to know how far I can go
- Because I want to get away
- Because I want to rest
When I was hitting the road this first day, this question came back to me. Why am I doing this? None of the explanations seemed to be true. And the truth was that I didn’t know why. I decided to just continue, I might figure it out next day.
The second day I woke up in a city called Leishan, further out on the countryside. It was a cold and rainy morning. My roommate was taking a day off, she was about to watch the race start and then go for massage. I was tempted to follow her, but I switched on the autopilot. I could not give up before I tried and my legs felt lighter than I expected, not at all so stiff as I expected them to be. I got dressed, went out for the medical test in the freezing cold hotel foyer. I ran quickly back to the hotel room, made some oat porridge for breakfast and ate it in my bed, covered up in the duvet to keep warm.
The racecourse was beautiful. Green and lush mountains, surging rivers, farms and tiny villages, rice fields with bright green rice plants sticking up from the water. The cold air was refreshing.
Kilometer by kilometer passing by. I didn’t push myself forward, I just focused to find my most comfortable pace, my flow. Not too fast, not too slow. At 30 km I somewhat started to feel bored. The 12 km to the finish line felt like a very long way to go. I got to think about Kajsa and her advice to put on music when things get rough. I chose the playlist from our BTG Stockholm cheering zone. Justin Timberlake filled my ears and head and body with a childish energy. I was thinking of people at home, thinking of the warm hugs and good lucks from friends and family, from all the cheering from Ssideliners and the BTG community and from everyone at home waiting for an update, eager to hear how I was doing.
‘Cause I got that sunshine in my pocket
Got that good soul in my feet
I feel that hot blood in my body when it drops
I can’t take my eyes up off it, moving so phenomenally
‘Room on the lock, the way we rock it, so don’t stop’
Don’t stop. Don’t stop. Don’t. Stop.
At 35 km I got a blister and stopped to get a band-aid. Then I met Frank, the pacer with the biggest smile. Frank ran up beside me and gracefully adjusted his pace to mine. While I struggled to find a comfortable way to move on with that blister on my heel he smiled even more. “This weather is lovely! Fresh air! And we are running! And you Amanda, you look like a bird, you are flying forward!”
I felt like everything but a light bird, but his words filled me with the energy I needed to continue, I followed his steps, thankful for his kind words. We ran the remaining 7 km together and like the gentleman he was he let me pass the finish line first.
I woke up the third and last morning filled with a remarkable energy. My legs was tired but I could still walk without too much trouble. I was in Zhenyuan, a small village even further out on the countryside. Wherever I went I was hit by the festive feeling, all runners cheered each other on, wishing each other good luck on the last section. There was only 21 km left, a tiny fraction of the race, just the finale.
And what a finale. We started off through the village, along a beautiful old stone bridge edged with people dressed in white performing a Tai Chi dance. The route took us along mountains, forests and rivers, and through tiny rural villages. There were families out cheering with their kids, overlooking the crazy runners passing by their village that day. All the runners were cheering each other on, everyone I met was cheering and waving, shouting a supporting “yayao!” (come on), laughing, smiling, high-fiveing. Everyone was a winner, supporting each other to get closer to the finish line. It was absolutely beautiful.
The race finished back in the main village. Both sides of the street were filled with spectators, their cheering was like thunder, increased in strength between the stone houses and the cobble stone street. I had goose bumps all over my body, every single hair shaft on my body raised in the air. This was the grand finale, just a few more steps until I had finished 100 km. I raised my arms, high five-ing people along the side, thanking them for cheering and they met my hands and waved their Chinese flags. It was one of these moments when everything went fast but my memory of it is in slow motion. I will never forget these 500 meters. I was flying, like a bird, approaching the finish line. And then suddenly… it was over. I had completed the 100 km race.
Goodbye hugs at the airport. It is strange how close you can get to people in just three days. Promises to run together some time, back in Stockholm. We’ll keep in touch.
I was at a plane, alone for the first time this weekend, overlooking mountains and rivers and houses belonging to the biggest population of the world. I could not really understand why, but I cried. Tears rolled down my face when bits and pieces of my fragmented thoughts from the weekend was coming together.
Reminding me how damn lucky I am. How I am free to do what I want, to go where I want, whenever I want. I had a feeling of every cell in my body was linked together. Like my body and mind got connected to an indestructible unity. By squeezing every single drop of energy out of my body I was remarkably filled with new energy. After summarizing my days in China my explanation to why I did it would be just this: to feel all these feelings in the same time - to feel weak, feel strong, feel free, feel small, feel connected, feel lost, feel lonely, feel happy. These three days of running, all impressions and all feelings, had shaken me into my core.