Cut out windows and doors
In the house as you build;
But the use of the house
Will depend on the space
In the walls that is void.
So advantage is had
From whatever is there
But usefulness raises
From whatever is not.
It all started in Korea, the race that never happened and the race I had prepared long hours.
I had planned for my other commitments, then training, then to my post-race recovery and now with no race to be sore about, all I was left with was a dwindling fitness and travelling plans to Impress Marco Polo.
Where to go from there? A couple of drinks and some silly talk with Mandy and inspiration came quick.
Shanghai October 20, leave on Tuesday, travel (with all the gear) to Nanjing, train at the hotel, find a driver and of you go, Nanjing is not too far after all, what can possibly go wrong ?
Incredibly the plan actually worked, so there I was, lost in thoughts, in a traffic jam on a highway between Nanjing and Chongming Island, the rural heaven at the outskirts of Shanghai... well it’s a rural heaven now, but in the old days it was a wasteland;
A famous bit of wasteland in Chinese history though, thought to be the very home of Lu Dongbin, one of the Eight immortals, a Taoist master renowned for his wisdom and -of all things- disorderly drunkenness … as to say there was really nothing but mosquitoes here and plenty of time to think about the mysteries of life and get wasted in the process. In a turn of events, this whole flat remoteness turned out be an asset, so now it’s being developed with hotels and holiday houses, for Shanghainese to temporarily escape their firm resolution to choke themselves to death by a thousand filthy breaths, the irony.
Soon the highway traffic started to dissolve and so did the ability of my driver’s GPS to find the way to my RV accommodation, my exotic room on wheels at the Tian E Yuan hotel. Soon through the mist appeared a hotel, it actually looked better than I expected, so I walked in with my bike and all and I soon notice and intimidating police presence. I had nothing to be worried about, I thought, so with the confidence of the righteous I approached an officer and asked him for directions, the officer looks at my reservation and instantly gets agitated, he yelled something at my driver and waved at another officer… here we go I thought! The officer spoke to his phone in mandarin and it’s phone spoke back to me: “this is not the right hotel, don’t worry, we’ll escort you". The relief. I was not going to spend the night in prison, they even insisted to carry my bags and they escorted my lost driver to the right hotel. Things are not always the way they look at first glance.
With restored confidence I walked up the ladder of my RV, decorated with little Chinese flags on straw poles and explored it; assembled my bike, counted the things I left and forgot and made my way to my bedroom and it’s paper thin walls, I could hear frogs and crickets, loved it.
Pre-race day started with a refreshing ride, ideal to build some appetite for the hurdle that was to come: the infamous Tian E yuan breakfast, it’s plain congee washed down with Huang-pu river inspired coffee, but hey, when you are in good company everything tastes good and surrounded by fellow Tritons, the company couldn’t be better; Then came fried rice and chicken lunch and before you know it, it’s time for fried rice and Chicken dinner, Ching Pu chickens actually and truth be told it wasn’t bad at all.
It’s finally race day, we all get up early and we can hear the all too familiar Ironman tunes, a short walk in meditative silence and the sun rises to shine on fields and canals and finally the lake, set to be the theatre of another day of racing.
We help each other to wear our wetsuits, showing coach Fen our prowess in getting the damn thing on and the swim come quick; customary rolling start, water temperature just right, visibility close to zero, but it’s a straight back and forth; no excuses for a bad time. My time, as it turned out, was quite slow, but so were others, I can’t really explain it, maybe it’s the discomfort of seeing this solid brown, to any account, I was looking forward to a solid ride.
Fast and smooth course, highway straight, cleaner and tidier than my RV; race organizers in the mainland really put a lot of effort in preparing the course. The 3 loops went quick, the first was a solitary ride, my legs were moving nicely, my flagpole straw was working; all good, loving it ! (one of the things I forgot was my nutrition bottle straw; if it ever happen to you, look for Chinese flags, they are all over and the pole works as a straw. This may, though, send you to jail0. On loop two, the course got a bit crowded, fast trains caught up with me and I learnt to enjoy the legal advantages of following at a distance. Then lop 3, the crowd thickened, the drafting from tactical to indiscriminate; and with that came a penalty. I kept my mouth atypically shut and meekly stopped at the penalty box to serve my first ever penalty; an honorable career shattered! But rules are rules in sports and more importantly I had work to do on the run.
The run course was quite beautiful, three laps, shaded by trees and snaking through gentle grassy hills, not a dull moment, a tree here a view of the lake there, a gust of refreshing breeze, Fen and the tritons support team pushing us all the way, well distanced stations with fancy nutrition, amazing volunteers, hundreds of them, pushing us with shouts of JA YAO! Probably one of the most enjoyable and fast courses I’ve been racing on, higly recommended for keen runners. Lap 3 was painful, but I was catching up with the train that hit me on the bike, one by one I was putting them behind, it felt good and It made me quickly forget the shame of the penalty. Then, soon enough came the finish line; relief and joy.
The post-race refreshments are nothing worth mentioning, but the emotions at the finish line never cease to surprise me. I often get close to tears and this time was no exception, It’s amazing how this grueling feat, with no real purpose, is capable to move me to tears and give me life lessons.
(FYI - Fed, Jonathan & Anne L all claimed their 70.3 Taupo slots at this race)