EzFun is probably the greatest series of races I ever participated in. During the year, four of them take place in Taiwan. So I think it is equivalent of Grand Slam for cross-country runners. These races provide a good balance of hill climbing, running downhill and require a lot of endurance.
Last Sunday I participated in EzFun #3, a long anticipated run near Keelung. The previous race in the series took place in May, and then there was a 3-month break due to the hotness of the summer. But the Summer Moved On (but it is still really really hot!) and so here we are ready to run!
I like the way these races are organized. This time they provided a bus from Taipei downtown to the place of start. The bus was scheduled to depart at 4:30 AM from Chiang Kai Shek memorial hall. Can you imagine people waking up at 4 AM to particiapte in a mountain race? I would call such people crazy, at the very least. But Here I Am, sitting in the bus and waiting for it to depart. I always thought that Taiwanese people are very polite, and this is why we spent some time sitting in the bus waiting for late people to show up. Anyway, we arrived to the start point at around 6AM. And the rain began! What a miserable start of the day. But Thanks God the rain stopped almost immediately. I had some time to explore the shopping booths along the start/finish line. They were selling various kinds of equipment. I bought CompresSport elastic bands for hips and ankles, which are supposed to reduce muscle fatigue. Even though they cost a lot (more than 100 USD per set), the claim is that it really helps in the long run. I bought it, I tried it, - and you can see - I finished in top 5%. So seems that this CompresSport technology really works.
I started the race in the end of leading group. I did not dare to jump ahead immediately, as based on previous races I cannot sustaion such a fast pace for long. The funny thing is that the path became very narrow and it went sharply uphill. So people queued one after another and thus a peloton formed. I spent first 5 km in the peloton. Was it a good experience or bad? Well, from one point of view, I could go a lot faster than the peloton. At some point it virtually stopped, as the path ahead was too steep. Many people from behind piled up. We spent about 5 minutes in this bottleneck which seemed like eternity. But after the 1st water station there was a stretch of paved road, and the distances between the runners increased. There was no peloton for the rest of the distance.
The second part of the race was to climb a 600m mountain, and this is where I needed energy saved in the peloton. During the first part of the race we climbed about 200m, so only 400m remained. But still it took a lot of energy to make it through, without stopping too frequently. In fact, I had to stop only once to catch my breath, but I am still quite happy with my pace. I always kept the leading pack in sight. Apparently, those expensive elastic bands were doing pretty good job. When we approached the top of the mountain I suddenly saw the clouds floating around me. It was a humid day with clouds floating at low altitudes, so we could not enjoy the gorgeous views from mountain top, but we enjoyed the clouds.
Then the descent began. This is my weakest point, I am always afraid of slipping on the rocks. But this time I decided to be bold, so I jumped fearlessly on the rocks. And I had to pay the price for my self-confidence - I felt on my back with lots of sharp rocks around me. But I was lucky on that day - I did not hurt myself, I only became mud-spattered. The good part was the final stretch of the distance. It was actually a paved road going downhill. You do not have to spend much effort to run along such road. This is why I call this type of activity flying, rather than running. And you can see my photos as I fly toward the finish line. My efforts paid off - I was able to catch up with the leading group in the end of the race. In fact, during the last 500m I took over the leading woman, so I can say that I won the women race! Should this make me happy? Well, at least during the marathons I never managed to run as fast as the best woman. So, yes, I feel proud about that.
The finish line was located on top of a small hill. The organizers like to play jokes with exhausted runners. Apparently they thought that after climbing a 650m hill, we certainly wanted to climb more! But this hill was not as toll, and the finish line was round the corner. So I climbed this hill in a rather joyful mood.
After finish we had another surprise. One thing that marathons in Taiwan are certainly lacking is shower! For some reason, there are no showers in local schools (where the marathons are taking place), despite the hot climate! This time the organizers put up containers with water right on the street, so that runners could pour some waters onto themselves and clean up their shoes and cloths. After taking such “shower” and changing my shorts (in the toilet of course) I felt really happy and relaxed. As I finished rather early, I had to wait for about 2 hours for the bus back to Taipei. I went to finish line and watched other runners. Lots of young and happy faces.
Mountain running is a very joyful activity!