The First Mistake
Back in October, my friend and fellow Hualien ETA James came up to me when I was disarmed and somehow managed to convince me to run a marathon with him. At this time I was already signed up to run the Toroko Gorge Half Marathon and I figured, why the heck not? I’ll already be training I’ll just add the extra miles after the half marathon. Additionally, this was the most famous marathon in Taiwan because it is the first and only IAAF Silver Label Road Race in Taiwan. The route also follows the sea in New Taipei City, a gorgeous part of Taiwan. However, finding time to train was quite difficult given the constraints of my schedule (school and commute Monday-Friday 7:30-5:30; Chinese classes Tuesday and Thursday 6-7:30) which meant that I trained far less than I had hoped to. Perhaps this was a blessing and a curse because although I felt less prepared than I had for the first marathon I ran, I had not over-trained and despite some minor plantar fasciitis I was in pretty good shape.
The Second Mistake
When I initially signed up for the marathon, I was unsure if I would stay in Taipei overnight or try to stay closer to the start of the race out in New Taipei City. A month or so later I realized that there were very few places to stay closer to the start of the race so I called the race coordinators to try to book a seat on the shuttle. Much to my dismay, they were no longer selling shuttle tickets. WHAAAAT the race was still four months away how could that be? I looked for public transportation to the race start from Taipei City but couldn’t find any. Frantic, I did the best thing I could think of and ranted to my roommate about the absurdity of refusing to sell more shuttle tickets. However, the more I thought about it, the more I began to convince myself that perhaps this was the easy way out of running the marathon… then I remembered Airbnb. In a stroke of luck I found one of the last available rooms about three miles from the start of the race and quickly booked it.
The Third Mistake
Relieved that I had a place to stay, I neglected to consider that walking three miles before running 26.2 miles was not the best option. I asked the host of the Airbnb if I’d be able to get a taxi that early in the morning and he told me probably not in this area of the city. Frustrated I decided that I would stubbornly walk there because nothing was going to stop me from running this race now that I had a place to stay.
The Fourth Mistake
About two weeks before the marathon, I messaged James and told him I had already bought my train tickets and I was so excited. “Great! Did you get them to Banqiao?” he asked. “Uhhhh no, Taipei Main.” Well, it turns out that the place we had to get our packets and bibs was actually not at Taipei Main Station but instead near Banqiao. Oops. So, at this point I had a place to stay but got the wrong tickets to get my race packet, had no plan to get to New Taipei City and had no plan to get to the start of the race. I was banking on some good luck coming my way.
Race Weekend Arrives
James and I met at the train station and headed to Taipei together on March 16th. I decided to stay on the train past Taipei Main Station and hope that no one noticed when I got of at Banqiao to get my packet. Somehow, the ticket machine was down so they were checking tickets by hand and they just glanced at mine so I walked right through! After picking up our packets, James and I headed back to the city. He was staying in a hotel in Taipei so he checked in and then we headed to a cafe. I got a chocolate fluff milkshake that was probably a ton of calories but I figured I’d run it all off the next day. Afterwords we carbo-loaded at an Italian restaurant. I messaged my host for the Airbnb, Alan, and told him I was already in Taipei and would be making my way over soon. He replied and told me which bus to catch and told me that he’d pick me up at the station in New Taipei City! The best part of all was that he told me he would drop me off at the race start the next morning! What a generous, kind, and amazing guy.
I said goodbye to James and bought my bus tickets. It was a pretty full bus and I looked around for other marathon runners but didn’t see many. When I arrived at the station, Alan was waiting for me in his car. Even though his house was only about a kilometer from the stop he had insisted on picking me up because he lived on a steep hill. Another guy from Italy was also staying at the Airbnb and running the marathon so he told me in the morning he would drop us both off. I called home to say hi to my family and they wished me luck! I went to bed early and thankfully slept quite well.
At 4:30 am the next morning, I ate a quick breakfast of bread and peanut butter and a couple handfuls of granola. I went downstairs and met the man from Italy and his Taiwanese wife. Alan insisted that after the race I should call him and he would pick me up so I could come back to the Airbnb to change and shower. Honestly this was my first time ever using Airbnb and I clearly have been spoiled with the most fantastic host. If anyone is looking for a place to stay in New Taipei City, hit me up and I will give you all the details for Alan’s home because wow I was so blown away by his willingness to go out of the way to help. He even said if I come back he’ll teach me to surf! Alan brought us all just a few blocks from the race start and dropped us there because it was faster to walk through the traffic than drive.
When I arrived at the venue, James had already been there for quite a while because his shuttle had left the city at 3 am. It turned out that I was extremely lucky to have missed the deadline to register for the shuttle after all because it saved me two hours of sleep! James and I checked our bags in and waited for the lineup. Looking around, I noticed very few women which surprised me. This proved to be a blessing when I went to the porta potty line because they were divided by gender and the line for the mens room was absurdly long (poor James). The weather was just a bit drizzly but overall good. Many people in Hualien had warned me that it almost always rains for this marathon so I should prepare for the worst. Luckily, the forecast didn’t look too bad, which also meant that I was able to see the scenery!
As we made our way to the starting line, I discovered that people were lining up in sections. A section was for elite runners, B section was for the top of the normal class followed by C and D. James was placed in D because it was his first marathon but somehow I had ended up in section B? This was alarming because my fastest marathon time before this hadn’t been all that fast, just under 4:11. I got in my section and looked around for other women. Nope, not one in sight. I was getting nervous but I put in my headphones and started listening to my Taipei MARATHON playlist that I had created especially for the race to pump myself up. As it got closer to the starting time, I looked around relieved to find a few other women around.
The gun went off at 6:30 sharp. I started running with the people in my grouping, quickly realizing that they were wayyyyy faster than I was. I nearly got trampled as people tried to get to their ideal starting place. One of the best parts about this marathon was that there were pacers! These runners were clothed in blue and wearing ballons attached to their hats. They had a bib on their back that said what time they intended to finished the race. They were placed at each hour and half hour. My goal time was anything under 4:10 so I decided to stick with the 4 hour pacer. The first few kilometers of the race where all inside a tunnel which was quite stuffy and hot. Thankfully when the tunnel ended the air felt cool and I got my first real look at the sea scenery! At this point the Italian guy caught up to me and I ran with him for about 5 miles. During this time several people asked him if I was his daughter to which we both awkwardly replied no. The first 8 miles I was running with a group following the 4 hour pacer but I lost track of them after I realized I was running a bit faster than I should. However, at mile 9 another 4 hour pacer appeared! He passed with his hoard of people and then another pacer came behind him! This was the last 4 hour pacer and he had by far the biggest pack of runners following him (all men I might add… all of the pacers were men as well).
I kept up with them through the halfway point when I realized that I had been running faster than I had trained so I slowed down. I had a few stomach cramps and was feeling not so hot after the halfway point but after slowing down I started to feel better. A head wind was starting to build which was quite strong and this also made me slow down a bit. Around mile 15 I started working my way through a goo which I ate through mile 20. One of the coolest (haha literally) parts of the race was that at every other water station there were sponges filled with cold water! You could use them to dump water on your head and cool down your face, and then you returned them in a bin a bit further down. Not sure if they were sanitized before they were refilled for the next runner but I try not to think too much about that.
Sometime around 10:00 I noticed that many people were starting to lag. For some odd reason I was feeling rejuvenated and was jamming to my music as a made my way to the finish. The weather had held up perfectly with no rain and clouds blocking the sun, and the scenery was stunning. Lucky for me this stretch happened to be the area with the most elevation gain before the finish so I hardly noticed the hills. However, this burst of energy didn’t last too long and the last few miles were the slowest, and pretty grueling.
At 10:37 I looked up and the finish line was in sight! Excitedly I ran across the line, coming to a time of 4:07.48. A new PR! Although I hadn’t managed to keep up with the pacer, I still felt that overall I had run well. The staff gave me a towel, a metal and a bottle of water. As I was making my way to the score sheet station, I ran into the wife of the Italian runner. She was so excited I had finished and insisted on snapping a photo of my that I could sent to my family. I told her that her husband wasn’t too far behind and she thanked me. When they handed me my form, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had placed first in my age division! Granted, there were only about 30 people in the age group 18-24 but it still felt like a big accomplishment. The staff told me to head over to the stage later to receive my award.
“Look Mom I’m on Stage!”
I quickly facetimed my mom and Will to tell them the exciting news. They were so happy and insisted that I call them back when it was time for the awards ceremony. After hanging up, I got my bag and sat down with a random group of runners. One of them asked to take a photo with me so I happily obliged. I kept a lookout for James, and then I saw him walk into the area! He looked a bit haggard (as I imagined I did) and he went to go change and grab his bag. This was his first marathon however! I waited by the stage for the awards. When it was time to go up, I facetimed my mom and Will they handed me my trophy and then interviewed me over the intercom! It was quite exciting. The best part of all however was when I realized that as part of my prize I received 5,000 NTD (160 USD).
After getting off stage I looked around to find James. He was coming out of the bag storage but not looking so good. A combination of not enough water or calories had made him pretty dizzy so the staff made him wait in the medical tent. While I was waiting for him, I got some people to take my photo in the booth with my trophy. The people at the medical tent were so excited that they asked to take a photo with me and my trophy. After James was released, we walked to the road together. He had a shuttle bus back to Taipei and I called the Amazing Alan who quickly came to pick me up. On the way back he told me this story about his “fat friend” who had signed up to run the marathon but called Alan after five miles and begged him to come him up. Alan refused and so his friend walked to the nearest bus station and caught a public bus home. Alan was practically in hysterics. After I told him that I had won a trophy he insisted that we take a picture together to send to his friend who hadn’t completed the marathon. After I showered, Alan dropped me off at the bus station. The bus was quite full when I arrived and of course, the only seat available was near the back of the bus! I slowly and painfully made my way back.
When my bus arrived, I met James in Taipei and we grabbed dinner together at a burger restaurant. Walking was extremely painful, but not because of soreness. The chafe was definitely the worst pain at this point. James and I traded stories, and I headed back to Taipei around 5 pm. I crashed on the train and woke up in Hualien. The walk back to my apartment was somewhat excruciating, especially because I had to lug a million pound trophy back with me. When I got home, I stretched and immediately collapsed into bed.
The next day at school my coworkers were abuzz with questions about the race. They were so excited and wanted to see all my pictures. I figured I’d get the same reaction from my students so at lunch time when one of my sixth graders asked what I did over the weekend, I proudly said. “I ran a marathon, and I WON.” She looked back at me, raised her eyebrows, took a bite of lunch and with her mouth full said, “Cool.” Clearly she was not as excited as I was so I quickly remembered to be a humble person and stopped bragging. However, I must say that I’m pretty happy with the race, happy that I did well and happy to be done! No more marathons here in Taiwan, we will see what next year brings in the US!