Tai Mountain OUtDoor Quest
After several days of discussions, Q&As, and english to russian translation my passport was at the Chinese embassy for expedited visa processing.
It was all good until I had rolled my ankle during an easy run on the trails. Ironically it happened on the very same day (and after) I had purchased the plane tickets to China.
No reason to worry, thought to myself, and dove into some serious R.I.C.E program for the next week.
The flight to China was easy as, however, standing at the Chinese customs hoping to get cleared was rather intimidating.
Luckily all went well and I even had my own shuttle waiting for me. The 1.5hr transfer allowed me to get used to the idea that I was in China.
On the day of my arrival I got to meet all of my team mates as well for the race, including the team's captain, Alex, a Kiwi adventure racer Bobby Dean, and our gal, the Aussie, Kathryn. The four of us made up Vladivostok Adventure Team and lined up against some of the best adventure racing teams in the world.
The next two days were about getting to know each other, and getting in some light training. I had to figure out a replacement bike shoe cleats as I didn't pack them. That meant that we had to ride our bikes to downtown Taishan, while swerving between cars, bikes, and scooters. Gotta say it was one of the coolest experience I'd had during my three weeks of stay there. People in cars honk only to let you know they're behind you and to notify you about their presence. It is in stark contrast to the US, for example, where it's a get-out-of-my-way-you-stupid-cyclist type of message.
Adventure racing consist of (at least at these two races I did in China) running/trail running, mountain biking, fly foxing (descending on a zipline), abseiling (rappell), and kayaking. The combination of these on any given day makes up one day of racing. While the overall fastest time wins the event. Awards are given after each day and also after the 3rd day of racing. Total prize purse for this race was $100,000, all graciously "donated" by the Chinese government.
The day before the race all teams checked in, received their bib shirts, bike numbers, other swags, and had the race briefing.
I had absolutely NO idea what was I getting myself into.
The very first leg of the day was running. But not just your average stroll on the streets, or on well maintained trails. No. This was some serious trail running. We had to climb to the top of the Tai Mountain from elevation 600ft (180m) to the elevation of 5000ft (1500m). Some of the stairs we had to climb were so steep that I was afraid of falling backwards. The route wasn't cleared and local residents and visitors were everywhere along the course as they, too, were climbing to the top of this sacred mountain. The point of adventure racing is that team members must not leave each other, and must complete each leg of the race together while assisting each other. This often means that we must wait for each other, or instead pull each other. Take that literally. We pull each other with a modified dogleash on the bike, and with straps and another laead on the run.
Halfway up the hill we had to carry a big ass log on our shoulders. Bobby took the lead in it, ran up the stairs for a good 100-150 meters. He, then handed it over to me only to realize that just beyond the next corner I had to already drop it off. This made it an awkwardly short hike with the log. Oh well, I tried. Once atop the mountain we started our descend. Running down the stairs was a rather chilling experience as I was waaay too afraid of rolling my ankles again. I did my best to keep the pace with my team mates. If stairs weren't enough of a challenge, the last half of the descend took us deep into the forest, and into a steep valley that has never ever seen human before. We had to climb, descend, hop, jump, slide, roll, bounce down on these giant boulders, some of them a size of a SUV. Never even hiked let alone "ran" on a place like that before.
Once the kamikaze run was over we had to abseil off of a dam. Well, that was a first for me, again. Solved the problem without a hitch. This was followed by another short run before mounting the kayaks. I was in the same kayak with Bobby and managed to keep a decent pace. The only hiccup was that I was definitely only slowing down the kayak while Bobby used every bit of his last energy to steer us the right direction and also push the kayak towards the finish line. That 10k kayak leg was more exhausting for me than any 2+ hour Xterra triathlon I had done before. My legs were not only cramped up but also super tired from the constant flexing in the kayak. Kinda wish I had done ANY kayaking in my life before but hey, everyone had a first kayak experience before.
We finished in 11th position after day 1.
The second day of the three-day race consisted of run-mtb-kayak-run-gps orientation run-abseil.
The first run was not your average run but one where we had to push a team member (usually the gal of the team) in a wheel barrow, for nearly 2kms. This was fun and extremely exhausting in the same time. Balancing that wheelbarrow at near full speed is by no means an easy task.
Leg #2, the mountain biking led us through a super flat 60km dirt road/asphalt section amidst farms and other agricultural areas. Local people were all along the course that made it super fun as they all yelled let's go that sounds more like "chai-yo" when said in Chinese. The ride was fast and furious. I led most of the way, while Bobby was in my slip stream towing Kathryn and Alex hanging on.
We also caught up to a slower train of athletes (team) who attempted to stick with us. I tried to launch an attack with my team mates in my tow but the other team just managed to stay with us. When we thought there was no chance their female racer made a mistake on a straight road section and caused a pretty bad pileup. After a short assessment of the situation Vladivostok Adventure Team was racing on. The kayak was another bout of torture for me. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn't pull fast enough. My arms were dead even before the turn-around. Of course, once I received some education from my team mates I quickly learned that proper technique is key for fast kayaking.
Running after kayaking was another session in the torture chamber for me. I was cramping in my hamstrings but I had no choice but to push on as the team didn't slow down. Leg #5 for the day was a fun orienteering. Alex took the lead on this one and we more or less found the checkpoints. Lastly we had to zip down on a cable to the finish line.
By the time we crossed the finish line the first bus with the faster teams had already left. Some of those teams have been doing this sport for so long they manage to beat teams like ours by over an hour even though our team still had some fast endurance athletes.
Without a doubt this type of racing requires a totally different type of training.
The last day of the race was the longest day of all for us with over 6 hours of racing. The length of racing required us to think about our nutrition as well. Gels, snicker bars, electrolyte drinks, and even red bull, all made it into our transition bins. The body is able to digest some food during these arduous racing as the heart rate remains lower than in Xterra racing.
The last day consisted of kayak-mtb-run-abseil/run-run legs.
I was with Bobby again in the kayak and did my best to materialize the proper technique that I was shown before. We mtb-ed up a mountain, passing by some weaker teams. Then we ran up and down a mountain, Kathryn and Alex abseiled down and above several hundred feet of drops, and we finally ran back down the mountain over some really technical terrain. The finish line was in some village. Of course, 6 hours left us pretty spent. We finished day three in 12th position and with that result we secured an 11th position in the overall standing. This result earned each of us $500 plus some airfare reimbursement. It certainly wasn't a bad start to the trip.
Alex then invited me to stay and compete at the Wengan Mountain Outdoor Quest. Another 3-day race in rural China.