Tuesday, October 29, 2013

PWT China - Trains, Planes, and Automo-busses

After a highly underwhelming Nordic ski career, I felt convinced that I was never going to go anywhere interesting for sport. After what is now my 4th trip to China (well, third and a half, one trip was only 10 hours long), I feel like I can almost say in a casual tone, "yeah, its cool, just heading over to China again, no biggie".

Although my approach to China has morphed from wide-eyed terror of an extremely foreign country to casual familiarity, it never diminishes my excitement and honour of the invitation to go on these trips. Carted around in a style as close to a 'professional athlete' as I'm probably going to get, being on a level playing field when it comes to familiarity to the race terrain, and hanging out with  orienteering's elite, guys who normally are in a different stratosphere of performance (and usually stay in the nicer hotels). 

This trip featured 4 races, a sprinty-middle prologue, followed by a sprint, middle and another sprint. The first three races were again in Changchun in the north of China in conjunction with the Vasa Orienteering Festival, held by the Nordicways Company. Nordicways hosts a variety of different sports events in China, from the Vasa China, to multi-day running events, and cycling tours. This year their road cycling tour actually had a stop in North Korea! That alone *almost* convinces me to go road cycling more often!

Stage 1 was mildly familiar to me, having sprinted in the second part of the park before. If nothing else, it prepared me for my 'bridges of exasperation' - some islands in the middle of the lake which I got completely turned around in last year. I remained extremely vigilant during that section and escaped unscathed. Ultimately (and this is a recurring theme), I do not have the wheels of the other hot shots, and regularly lost a number of seconds on each control. I can't chalk up any major losses to anything in particular, it is simply a case of a 35 min 10k guy taking on a bunch of sub-30 10k guys. I can run my balls off as much as I want and they'll just glide away on what I can only assume are wings of angels. Stage 1 is posted is on my DOMA: http://orienteering.ca/doma/show_map.php?user=will&map=455

Stage 2 was much of the same. And by that I mean, 'damn, these guys are fast'. The city of Changchun has what they call the "World Sculpture Park", a park with 450 different sculptures, none of which I could find were by Canadians, and many of which featured topless women. Are clothes too difficult to sculpt? The first half had some briefly tricky bits where one could steer wrong if not paying attention, but after that it was again the place of the dainty track stars to leave a trail of fire in their footsteps. Here's stage 2: http://orienteering.ca/doma/show_map.php?user=will&map=456

Despite really enjoying sprinting in China, I think the vast majority of orienteers are also really interested, myself included, in what mysteries we will find in the forests of an extremely foreign country. I've blogged before about the ridiculous and amazing rice fields of Southern China (here), or the unique areas of Hong Kong and Guangzhou (here) so one can never be sure of strange and wonderful things one might find.

As it turns out, one also finds white forest. Like... immaculately straight white forest. Spooky.

Straight as an arrow.
But seriously, the vast majority of Asian people I meet are very humble and say that they're terrain is not as good as that in Europe, but this could have been straight out of any number of European countries. Stage 3 was a middle distance, on a small map just outside of Changchun. Despite being a small area, it was a very pleasant combination of white forest, some slower green, some open, and small ridges that required keeping track of which one you were on and where you were along it. There were no big climbs, but a thousand small ones that would eat away at your energy, and small enough that required you to keep running right over the top. It was fast enough terrain that you really needed to keep your foot on the gas the entire time, since mistakes were going to be few and far between.

L'il bit of forest, l'il bit of open.

After a "quick" trip back to Beijing, we closed out the week with one more race, in the park of the Ruins of Yuanmingyuan. Part of this park was the first ever Chinese map I ran on in 2010, and is a pretty special area. Traditional park, to be sure, but a mix of islands and bridges where, in a straight line, your control is only 150m away, but the way to it requires doubling-back in any number of directions and trying to choose the best way around. In this type of area, bridges are not your friend. Lovely, yes, but also slow. Its an important realization that the planner gave ample opportunity to recognize, since it was mid-way through the course.

6 bridges vs. 5, which route was faster?
I actually think that in all of the route choice legs (2-3, 3-4, 6-7) I picked the possibly less optimal route, but nevertheless I felt I had a great result. No major mistakes, I was finally getting over my cold, and was probably the closest I've ever come to some of those elite guys. This was arguably the strongest trip yet, with at least 10 guys who are a who's who of elite orienteering, and I finally got to a point where they hadn't gotten back from their cool-down yet when I was finishing. It felt good. Doma #4: http://orienteering.ca/doma/show_map.php?user=will&map=458

Throughout the whole week, I never had any major disasters, and happily hovered right in the middle of the pack, ranging between 11th and 18th out of a group of 25. Its a great situation because there are the ultra-elite guys to chase after, and lots of really good runners that can battle it out as well. I had ample opportunity to talk to the hotshots about their training, and have compiled some ideas to try implementing over the winter. China is always a refreshing change from what seems like a typical European trip, and now I'm so excited for 2014 to start. 

VO2 Max test on Wednesday. Let's get it started.

An obligatory group photo (photo from Tuomas Kari)

So, you're there a week, what else does a guy do in China when not orienteering? Well, number 1 - sit on buses. Or in airports. Or on trains. This is, unfortunately, an inevitable aspect of China. When a Canadian tells the average Chinese person that there's traffic in Canada, they just laugh and say "No no no, you have NO IDEA what traffic is". There are more than 5 million cars on the road in Beijing, but only 4 million parking spots. Add to the fact that they generally drive like maniacs, it makes for quite the adventure. A slow, slow moving adventure. 

In between epic bouts of sitting, there's a requisite run on the great wall (of which I now own the new course record on Strava, YES!) - 

That's actually rain, a refreshingly different type of fog (Photo from Jānis Kūms) 
Seeing and then being promptly disappointed by the lack of "frolic-ing" by the pandas at the zoo - 

Look cuter, dammit.
And of course, taking pictures at China's earnest but poorly informed attempts at English signs.

Ooh, so close.

Once again, a big thanks goes out to Nordic Ways, the company that brought us to China and put on these great events. If you have ever given any thought to orienteering, nordic skiing, running, or cycling in China, give them a look for some amazing events across China. In particular, thanks to Jaroslav Kacmarcik and his great race planning, Torbjörn Pettersson for his handling of all the crazy things that seemed to go wrong that were fully out of everyone's control, and to Gåvert Wååg, head of Nordic Ways, and the rest of his team for making it all happen and giving us this opportunity.


  1. I always enjoy seeing your crazy maps and adventures - thanks Will.

  2. Thanks for much for writing about your trip Will! You are such a talented writer.

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