Having completed a 10K race earlier this year, I decided that it was about time to step it up a little bit, by trying a half marathon (21 kilometers). It has pretty much been established among my friends, that I like spending money … just to torture myself.

I am by no means a hardcore runner. Before signing up for the half marathon, I had never run a distance of more than 10K.

So, how does a half marathon feel like for a first-timer? In my humble opinion, it feels never-endingly long. But the funny thing is that, now I am addicted to it (yeah it is true…even after all the blisters and soreness).

Hey look what I found! Injinji toe socks, I heart you.

Hey look what I found! Injinji toe socks!!!

With a brave heart – or more precisely, without thinking too much, I signed up for the Yangzhou Half Marathon. I spent three months to train, trying my best to be discipline during the cold Shanghai winter. I still remember my very first long run (or so called LSD = long slow distance), it was a 16K night run at 7°C. It was actually not that bad, but the next day was a different story. I felt a massive soreness on both calves and I got a blood blister on one of my big toes.

The blister was painful alright and I dared not to run for the next few days. But after consulting with several other runners, they all nodded in agreement: it is normal to be sore and to have blisters. The only advice I got was that I had to pop the blister (with a tiny sterilized needle), put a band-aid on … and run again.

(Just  side note, if you keep getting blisters you may want to check your shoe-fit again).

Yangzhou city from Shanghai (source: google map)

Yangzhou city from Shanghai (source: google map)

About the Yangzhou half marathon itself, I would recommend it to anyone (especially to those who reside in China). I think the organizer did a great job taking care of the participants. The registration fees for the half marathon are RMB 320/person (for foreigner) and RMB 50/person (for local Chinese). A big difference I know, but the registration fee for foreigner includes 1 night accommodation and three full buffet meals. A very, very good bargain indeed.

The city of Yangzhou is located in Jiangsu province, about 300km northwest of Shanghai. Long distance buses will take about 4-5 hours (cost approximately RMB 100/way), but if you take the bullet train to Zhenjiang then transfer to public bus, you can cut down your travel time to about 2.5 hours in total (cost about RMB 200/way). If you happen to visit this city, do not forget to try its famous dishes: Yangzhou fried rice, lion’s head (ridiculously cool name), and tofu noodles.

The very generous organizer gave me three free passes for this banquet-style buffet

The very generous organizer gave me three free passes for this banquet-style buffet

On the day of the race, I felt pumped. There were sooo many people on the street, as if the whole city halted just to take part in this event. The organizer announced that 35,000 people had registered for the run, WOW! Although in reality only about half did actually run it, but still…it was crazy and crowded! It was difficult even just to warm up because the roads were packed with people.

Who needs Nike or Adidas ... I'm wearing my Thundercats!

Who needs Nike or Adidas … I’m wearing my Thundercats!

My aim for this race was simple, to survive it. This running thing was just a part of my endurance training for climbing Mount Elbrus this coming July. Although the two are very different, but I guess they both require the same: a good shape.

The first 5K of the run was a bit overwhelming for me. I was stuck in the middle of the pack and the only thing I could do was to follow the crowd until it got less crowded. I did not want to zigzag too much; it would only make me tired. After all, what is the hurry, still another 16K is ahead of me.

Seriously, how can you warm up here? You could barely move!        (right photo from xinmin.cn)

Seriously, how can you warm up here? You can barely move!        (right photo from xinmin.cn)

Reaching the 10K, I felt fine. I checked my watch; it read 53 minutes. Good steady pace, almost halfway now.

A middle-aged woman in front of me caught my attention. She was holding a paper fan … fanning herself while running!!

For real?! And she ran faster than me during the first 10K??

I am speechless.

Passing the 15K mark, discomfort started to kick in. My legs were tired and my feet were a bit numb. In front of me I saw a runner munching an energy bar. Hmm…that would have been pretty good to have actually. Too bad I did not bring any with me. The only thing I had in my pocket was an “Air Stripped Mustard” my Shanghainese running buddy gave me before the race.

Yeah, it tastes way waay different from an energy bar/gel. This one is a bit spicy sour and crunchy, definitely not an energy booster.

Instead of energy gel, I have "Air Stripped Mustard"

Instead of energy gel, I have “Air Stripped Mustard”

Not long after I finally saw the 18K signboard, that was my happiest moment of the day I guess. Knowing that I only had 3K left, I knew I could finish it. Pulling out all of my strength for the final stretch, I reached the finish line in 1 hour 46 minutes and 47 seconds. Not bad for a first-timer, I guess. I must thank my friend Sara who sent me some good running tips prior to this race.

All in all, I had a really great time running and preparing for this Yangzhou Half Marathon. For those of you who have just gotten into running recently, do not be afraid to sign up for a race. It is fun and it is motivating. And who knows, you just might get addicted to it, like me.

Finishing the race, you're a winner already

Finishing the race, you’re a winner already