Tuesday, May 24, 2011

33BA - Day 13 - Heading home at last

Alarm was set for 3:15. I hadn’t slept well (for the first time all vacation) and we grabbed our bags and headed to the lobby. Our taxi was waiting for us, and it was only 3:35 but we headed to the airport anyway.

We had been told that it would be 100-120 Yuan for the drive, yet it ended up costing 200. Doesn’t seem to be anything consistent with the taxi fares in Beijing. We arrive at the airport at 4:15 and head to the ticket counter to check in and check our bags. The line is pretty long and it takes at least 20-30 minutes for us to get to the counter. We had each planned on checking one of our suitcases, then we would carry on a backpack and the last suitcase. We got into a disagreement with the agent who was insistent that our backpacks were too big for carryon. What??? We have always carried those on and it has never been a problem.

I don’t know if they were supposed to or not, but we were able to check the third suitcase at no expense. WHATEVER. We then have to head through customs and security which also takes forever. Good thing we had gone to the airport extra early. By the time we are near the gate, it is already after 5:30. We had hoped to buy some souvenirs at the airport. With the tours that we had done and the race, we hadn’t been able to do any shopping. Unfortunately the only things open were the duty free stores. I don’t think A needs a carton of cigarettes or a bottle of vodka, so we head to the gate empty handed.

We still have some money left, but with the fee to exchange, we will lose about half of what we have left. We find one teeny cafĂ© and buy a can of soda each. Go to the gate and eat our breakfast of a bagel and peanut butter. We spend the rest of our money at the vending machine on bottled water, only to have that confiscated at the gate. Apparently the TSA doesn’t allow any fluids on board, even though we had already gone through security.

We are still towards the back of the plane and in the middle section. L has no one next to her, I’m on the aisle. I also have a very obese man sitting behind me that keeps pulling on my seat. It’s going to be a long flight.

We are served “dinner” about an hour in (chicken and rice) and I watch movie after movie. This is the LONGEST FLIGHT EVER. I can’t sleep on the plane and I’m just done with this trip. We land in Chicago at 6:45. It takes about 20 minutes to get off the plane. We have to collect our bags to bring them through customs again. It takes a while, so a good thing that we have a while for our flight. We have to go through security again and the line is ridiculously long. After we get through, the first thing we do after using the bathroom is head to STARBUCKS!! Best coffee ever.

"Dinner" at like 8 in the morning
Breakfast around 5 in them morning, but remember I've been up forEVER
We have hours and hours until our flight. There is nothing to do. Sit on the floor and charge my phone. Finally am able to check my Facebook and internet. We still have forever to go. Decide to walk around a bit. We find a store that sells Oriental looking goods, and we buy “fake” souvenirs for the kids. I know, for shame. This takes us until about 9:30, which still gives us a little over an hour until we board our next flight. We are hungry and want lunch, so we head over to Chili’s again. Lunch isn’t served until 10:00, so we have to sit there and wait a bit to order. Totally worth it. Best burger and fries ever. Lunch takes us until 10:40 then we head to our gate and board our plane.

Teeny tiny plane and we are seated in the row in front of the Exit row so our seats don’t recline. The guy in front of me reclines his so I am extra cramped. I am SO tired but I can’t sleep. I try, but it just doesn’t happen. Finally arrive in Denver just before 1:00. We walk and pick up our bags, and then get picked up by none other than my ex. He is pretty friendly though, so that was nice, and he had A with him, which was great.

So ends the 33BA. After a few hours at home of uploading pictures and unpacking, we head and get some pizza for a late birthday celebration dinner. Happy Birthday to me!

33BA - Day 12 - The Forbidden City, Tian An Men Square

Our last day in China. We have to still wake up pretty early because we have another tour planned. We get up around 6:30, get dressed and head to the breakfast buffet. I’m going to miss the wide variety of breakfast foods. It’s going to be a tough change going back to oatmeal every morning. We walk over to the other hotel that people from our group are staying at to meet our tour guide for the day, Miranda.

Get on the bus and drive to our first spot of the day, the Forbidden City. We walk around for a few minutes, watching the seniors get their exercise in for the day. They do exercises and play badminton. They knit and play dominoes and socialize. We walk around and get a few pictures in.

That's me in the light blue dress

Then we head to our next stop of the day, the Silk Exhibition Hall and learned how silk is made. We watched how the silk is changed from a single thread and stretched to make layers of quilts. The exhibition hall is also a retail store, and they had bedding and clothing and accessories for sale. It was all out of my price range, but high quality goods. Most people in our group did purchase things though.

The stages of a silk worm

After that, we had some time to kill before lunch so we went to another “market.” This one was more of a retail type market and all indoors. The bottom level was all pricey jewelry. The upper levels were clothing and electronics and less expensive jewelry. The people in this market are the most aggressive salespeople I have ever encountered! They follow you, they interrupt you and join in your conversations. They scream at you. They get in your face, they grab you. It was VERY confining and uncomfortable. There might have been some stuff I would have been interested in looking at but the environment was way too stressful. I couldn’t even stop and look at anything without feeling harassed. L and I decided to hide outside until the bus picks us up.

Next stop, lunch. We went to a decently upscale restaurant for our authentic Peking Duck lunch. Food was still served family style, and brought out in courses. I made sure to try just about everything. The food is so good! I even did try the duck, and it was really good. While we were eating there was also a wedding reception happening so we got to watch some of the rituals. One of which was apparently making the groom smoke out of a cigarette bong. Gross.

Duck with scallions and celery
Cigarette bong
After lunch we had the largest walking portion of the tour. We got dropped off at the gates of the Forbidden City, then walked through Tian An Men Square. We were informed that the square is the largest public gathering place in the world – large enough for a million people to gather at one time. Insane. After walking across the store, we head into the Forbidden City. So much walking and so many stairs. I’m pretty sore from the marathon and my legs are screaming at me. The buildings are beautiful and we are told they are repainted every four years to keep them looking so nice. We also visit the Imperial Gardens and the Temple of Heaven.

It was clean and had toilet paper. Bonus.
Hole in the floor toilet sign. Hilarious and true.

The bus picks us up at 5:00 and we are taken back to the hotel so that we change our clothes and go to the Gala dinner. After L and I get ready, we go to the lobby to try and figure out our airport transportation. We are the only ones that have super early flights and we haven’t had much luck scheduling a taxi. We finally get someone that speaks decent English and he is able to help us. We find out we will need to exchange more money so that we have enough Yuan for the driver, luckily they change money at the hotel.

The bus picks us up at 6:30 and drives us to the Beijing Hotel for our celebration dinner. The hotel is a five star hotel and absolutely amazing. The food is served buffet style and I finally get a huge selection of desserts. Lucky for me, most of the dessert is sorta blah and bland so I don’t eat as much. We stay for a while to chat and listen to the awards, then before we know it, it’s already after 9:00, so we grab a bus and head back to the hotel. We make sure we are fully packed, but it is after 10:00 before we get to sleep.

Dragon show
Food food food
Delicious looking (but bland) desserts
Lauren, Rick, Me, L

33BA - Day 11 - Great Wall of China Marathon (Race Recap)

Saturday, May 21
Marathon #3
Jixian, China
Weather - HOT, sunny, windy at times

"Tried It All? Run the Wall."

Lisa, our guide, is a bit overzealous. The buses were to leave at 5:20 ON THE DOT and so she arranged for a group wide wake up call. She told us they would be at 3:40, which we found to be a bit ridiculous. I mean, some people might take that long to get ready, but we certainly don’t. The first call came at 3:20. Are you kidding??? The second (yes, there was a second call) came at 3:28. So we were up super ridiculously early. That did give me a lot of time to mess with pinning my number on my shirt (again, not something I normally have to mess with) and then even though we had breakfast in our room (bagel and peanut butter), we had time to kill so we went to breakfast.

I had half a roll (the whole grain rolls were fabulous) and a few cups of coffee. We noticed that a couple that we had eaten with yesterday had a Marathon Maniac and Half Fanatic shirts on, so of course we had to go talk to them. We found out that the guy does the marathons and the girlfriend is the support system, sometimes running the half if there is one, sometimes just being a cheerleader. Of course we discussed our past and upcoming races, and then before we knew it, we had to grab our luggage to put under the bus and then head out. In the lobby there is a bit of a situation happening. Apparently a woman had used a washcloth to wash off her makeup and housekeeping deemed it too dirty to clean and was charging her to replace and she was blatantly refusing. Our guide apparently had to pay to replace it. Some people. Anyway, literally at 5:20 on the dot, the bus pulls away.

Our bus is first, and we get a police escort, which is pretty neat. The drive to the race was pretty long, and I was starting to get a bit nervous. It seemed pretty overcast and I was hoping for the day to stay that way. Didn’t want to end up roasting in the heat all day.

We arrive at Yin Yang square around 6:00. That gives us 1:40 until the race will start. We get off the bus and it is COLD. Like I’m wishing I had worn a pair of pants over my skirt cold. It's just surreal walking up to the Square. Outside the Square are some dancers:

We stop to use the bathroom first, and I still can’t get over having to use a hole in the ground. We are just trying to stay warm, and we are chatting with random people trying to pass the time. Finally about 7:15 we decide that it is time to drop our bags. Apply sunscreen, remove the sweatshirt, and we are about ready to go. We were in the second corral which was to start 10 minutes after the first. Another quick trip to the bathroom and then we line up.

Me and L at the start line

Start Line
Last look at the wall before the race starts
The 5K had started at the entrance to the wall at 7:15 and we actually had to delay the start of the race to wait for the finisher to enter the square (this year it was a woman!) All of a sudden, right after she crosses we are on our way. I honestly had really no idea, other than the wall, what to expect in terms of the course. I had glanced briefly at an elevation profile, but I didn’t know what to be on the lookout for.

The first mile was on a paved street, and we would be running up the road to the wall, through a small village, but mostly just a rural and narrow street. The first km went by pretty fast, we actually even missed the first aid station. Shortly after that is when the hill started. Not “hills” just one hill. And a long one. We hadn’t expected that. It was tiring and people were already walking. L and I actually ran up the entire hill section leading to the wall, with the exception of the aid station around the third km. The aid stations were giving out full bottles of water, and I chose to keep mine rather than just toss after I had a few drinks. I would be glad to have decided this later.

Finally arrive at the entrance to the wall after an insanely long hill, about 5 km in. The section of the wall is only about 2 miles long, but we were planning on allowing about an hour for it. We actually stopped to take a few pictures, and then we hit the section of the wall where it narrows and the wall becomes very rocky. We are at a dead stop for about 10 minutes waiting for it to thin out because it can really only be done single file. This gives us a chance to chat with some people while we are waiting. It’s truly amazing the people that you meet at races! We talked for a few minutes with a girl who was running her VERY FIRST half marathon. Kudos to her, I don’t think that I would have picked something this challenging for my first.

The “goat trail” is a section of treacherous rock and trail that is very steep and honestly only the super crazy people even attempt to “run” it. We exit the trail and still have to run around a fort to re-enter the Yin Yang square where we will then head into the villages to run the major portion of the marathon.

By now we are about 90 minutes into the race. We get to the 8 km marker and I try to click my watch and it isn’t working. I spend a few minutes and can’t figure out what is wrong. I think my watch is just broken. We are on a level road and it is actually tree-lined and there is a bit of shade. This is probably the “best” part of the course in terms of actually being able to run. However, the course is NOT closed to traffic, so we really have to watch out for cars and mopeds and bikes, even pedestrians. L’s iPod had been left on by accident so she didn’t have any music at all, and I was only listening through one headphone, so we were doing ok.

After about 3 km on this road, we enter the “farm” area of the course. Finally, I realize that my watch is NOT broken, I must have hit the stop button at some point (duh). So now I’m not sure how long it has been off or how much time we have missed, but we can’t really gauge how long we have been out. This farm section is run on a dirt trail, also not closed. Here we are watching our feet to make sure we don’t twist our ankles on the loose gravel, and watching out for kids and bikes. There is an aid station and all of a sudden the half marathon folks split off from the full. From here on out it is a totally different ball game. We are on a paved wide sidewalk through some farms and a lot of people in front of us are walking even though it isn’t that steep.

Ahead we encounter a dirt road that we will run up and then meet up with a paved road. Again there are more hills. People are walking more than they are running. It is SUPER hot. There is no shade in this section of the course. There are horse farms on the side of the road and the smell is pretty bad. I have to use the bathroom but I didn’t memorize the course and have no clue if there is one nearby or not. Tempted to go on the side of the road but there are people everywhere.

We enter another village and once we are through we take a right at the fork in the road and head up… you guessed it, another super long hill. A series of hairpin turns through a mountainous and tree filled area. A hill that seriously never ends. It keeps going… and going… the best part about it is that we end up with an amazing view of a ritzy resort area. We finally make it to the top of this hill and then we start the run through yet another village. The kids here are more aggressive and literally run straight toward you saying “hello” and “hi” and wanting to give you a slap on the hand.

Turn the corner and I see a toilet. I’ll use that word loosely. A better word to describe it is a stall. Like in a barn. There are still the holes in the ground, but these don’t flush so essentially a port o potty without the seat. And there are “dividers” but they are about waist level. The entire floor is covered with unmentionables and there are so many flies. The stench is nearly unbearable. But I have to go…

L is waiting outside and we have a nice downhill that lasts for a few km. Then we arrive back on the main road where we had forked earlier and we are headed back through a different section of farm land. This section is completely on trail. And not the nice hard packed trail we had been running on earlier. This is sloped and all dirt and loose rocks and gravel. I am sure I am going to twist my ankle or face plant. I almost fall but manage to save myself. After a few km, we exit and are in another village. This one is more deserted and we have also separated a bit from the pack.  After exiting the village we are turn up to another (expensive looking) area and yes, there are MORE hills. We walk a bit here, and it is just so hot. We both comment that we are roasting in the heat.

We exit this area and then we are back in the village where we had run by when the half and full marathon split. We are back on the dirt trail heading to the main road. We are pretty tired and we walk a small section of this road. Then we try to run most of the area on the shaded and paved road. We pass the group of women that WALKED the half marathon, and we think that we are around 5 hours in, but since my watch incident we don’t know for sure. We head back into the square and then it is back to the wall, doing what we did earlier only in reverse.

I won’t lie. I’m blah at this point. I just want to be done. We might only have about 5 miles to go, but we have been told to plan about 2 hours for that last 5 miles. We run the flat section of the wall and get our wristband to prove we have done the first part of the race already. Then it is time for the goat trail. I really don’t remember the first time we did the wall being all downhill. It wasn’t really, but I swear the second time was all uphill.

Everyone is tired by now. People are moving super slow. People are just stopping in the middle of the trail because they just can’t go on. People are sitting down and resting. I am just trying to keep moving because I am afraid that if I stop moving I won’t be able to get started again. The goat trail is brutal. The trail part isn’t that bad, but the steps and really rocky area are hard. Very hard. Hardest section of a course I have ever done. To give you an idea, our pace for a mile was about a 48 minute mile. And we were moving the entire time.

We get to the top of the goat trail and I feel like the hardest part is over. Wrong. We have a few tiny down hills and then it is just more and more stairs going up. They never seem to end. I am just going and going and going and tired and hot. L is straggling behind me a bit but at the end of every set of stairs I make sure to wait for her. We’ve stuck together this long, I don’t want to abandon her!

Finally the end of the wall is in sight. I can see it! Of course it takes probably another 15 minutes to get there, but I am finally feeling like I might actually be able to finish this race. I had my doubts. I think a girl at dinner described it best… I didn’t really hit a wall, but as she called it, I entered my “squirrel zone.” Where you don’t really know which way you are going and what you are doing. Another way to describe it is vertigo or being so dizzy and not able to tell what is a step and what isn’t and if you are going up or down. The stairs just start to get blurry. It’s scary!!

We finally get off the wall, and I think, just 5k to go, it will be a breeze. I had been thinking on the way up that this section of the course would be a nice downhill on the way back. Um. No. It was freaking hard. My legs are TOAST by now. I can barely move. Jogging at a 12 min mile pace feels hard. We keep moving and our pace gradually speeds up. We start passing people. Most people are jogging even slower than us, and a large number of people are actually walking. I just want to be done, so I force myself to keep moving.

The hill is just as never-ending on the way down, but we keep going, taking a small walk break with about 2.5 km to go. Guessing, I think that we maybe can finish this race in under 6:45. Not that we ever had any goals in the first place, but that seems like a very long time.

We exit the hilly area, and then we are back on the main road, and I know we are almost there, but I honestly have NOTHING left. I am so tired, if L wasn’t with me I might have walked a small section here. But we are still passing people, and that feels good. Finally we get to make the turn back into Yin Yang square, and there are still lots of people spectating and they announced our names and people cheered for us, and next thing I know, we have arms raised and cross the lines. Get our medals, and more pictures. We are done. Finally. We think our official time is just over 6:31, better than we even thought.

Official time of 6:31:37
I really wish I wouldn't have screwed up my watch so that I had accurate split times and an elevation profile, but... sigh. This is the partial elevation profile. Missing about 25 minutes of course between the 5 & 10 markers.

First order of business is to get our drop bags so that we can get our meal ticket (these people are super serious about tickets, we had to have them to get to the start area even). They are out of turkey subs, so I get a ham one. I ate it right away, and then I was psyched to see they were selling cans of “Coca Cola Light.” We headed to the bathroom one more time, then headed out to find where we could get our free 20 minute massage.

They were set up by the parking lot. It was the most painful massage I have ever had. And it was complicated by the fact that none of them spoke any English so telling them it hurt didn’t make any difference. Massage might have been more painful than the marathon…

Head over to the parking lot and find the bus that will take us to the right hotel. As we are walking, a few guys were commenting on our skirts. Called us the “Skirts of Fury” which I thought was funny. I am tired but I still want to watch the drive to Beijing since we won’t be in this area again. I end up dozing off a bit but am woken up when we stop halfway back to use the toilets and stop at the convenience store. I buy a Coke Zero but decide I can wait until the hotel to use a REAL toilet.

Arrive after 6:00 thanks to heavy rush hour traffic in Beijing, yes, even though it is Saturday. Check in, then we have to go back to the lobby to get our luggage. Quick shower and then we decide that we will just have dinner in the hotel rather than trying to find somewhere “safe” nearby. Dinner is not included and is pretty pricey, 68 yuan.  I pay for mine, L says she will get cash from the ATM. I am sitting down eating the awesome buffet when she comes up and says her card isn’t working. I don’t have enough to pay for her too. At least we had brought some of our own food so she wouldn’t starve.

I had a chance to talk with a girl that had run the full (we passed her on the wall on the way out). She is an army nurse living in Tokyo. We talked about today’s race and some of the other races that we have done. Dinner was good, but I was exhausted and headed back up to the room to go to bed.

Caught up on the blog, and went to bed around 9:15… later than I hoped!!

Week in Review (June 11 - June 17)

Tuesday  (13,780 steps) - Work in the office. Took Olive for a walk after work. Nothing else? Went to 4 Noses. Wednesday  (15,137 steps) - W...