3 days in Kuala Lumpur

We spent our final night in Beijing at the Great Wall Marathon Gala, a delicious dinner and formal presentation for all participants. Truck loads of fine food, unlimited bubbly stuff and imported beers, just what one needs to recover from a marathon. NOT! It was a fantastic opportunity to spend some time with new found friends and laugh at the experience of running on the Wall. The funniest thing was watching the walking styles as there were some pretty sore people hobbling around. Mike, gutted that I bet him in the marathon, proved he still had it beating me up the stairs to the after function at a local bar. It was a fun night. It was sad to leave behind my new friends but I'm sure we'll keep in touch. Here's a pic of Tracey and I with the winner of the Men's marathon and new German friend Brigid promoting some German wine.

Our trip to Beijing was too short, too crammed packed with activity and just not enough down time. I would love to go back. And now that it's a few days since the marathon, "never say never," as I may consider doing the marathon again...

It was another early morning rise after the final evening partying in Beijing, heading to the airport at 7am for our flight to Kuala Lumpur. Sleep deprived I was glad that I had 4 seats to spread out. I chose to go budget style in accommodation with the Red Palm hostel down the road from the Radius International where Cam and Trace stayed. Tracey was only staying one night while Cam and I were exploring the city over 3 days. The dollars saved in accommodation meant I could face my fears and dive with the sharks. I know - crazy, but adventurous, exciting, and really I didn't know how I would fare. I have never dived before but the entire experience was unreal. My instructor Sharil was very clear and I felt I was in good hands. No kicking, no waving of arms and make eye contact with the sharks. Mmmmmn, I wonder if that was to scare the living day lights out of me! He controlled everything everything except my equilizing and mask clearing. He guided me around from above, except leaving me for 10 minutes alone with the sharks. I had to kneel on the bottom (deepest was 4 metres) and let the sharks, giant groupers, moray eels, rays and multitude of other fish swim past me. There was one black dotted white grouper like fish that was curious and stayed with me for quite some time. To eyeball the sharks, feel the toughness of their skin, feel the softness of the furry eels, have rays flap past me... Wow! I dived for around 45 minutes. It was a fantastic introduction and now I want to become certified and do more diving.

Here are some pics of the sand tiger sharks in the aquarium and a pic of the teeth I collected while diving. Click here for the KL Aquaria website.

Kuala Lumpur was a very interesting buzzing city to explore with so much shopping from expensive malls to the cheap rip off night markets; a diverse range of British, Chinese and Indian architecture and a real blend of cultures. Everything was super cheap including the raft of local foods, taxis, foot reflexology (aka "super painful foot massage"), and many of the tourist attractions were free including the walk along the Petronas twin tower bridge, the Batu caves and the heap of Mosques and Temples.

So, now I'm on my way home. It's been an amazing trip!

The Great Wall Marathon

Saturday May 19th 2007 was the day of the 8th annual Great Wall Marathon. The early 2:30am start and inadequate packed breakfast of bread, jam, egg and cake did not really excite me however I forced the food down and managed to close my eyes and get an extra hour’s sleep on the 3 hour journey to Huangyaguan. We arrived an hour before kick off to very cool temperatures, I’m guessing around 10 degrees. We were limited to one plastic bag of bare essentials for the day so I had little warm clothing with me. It was difficult to keep warm as we readied ourselves for the start. Queues for the traditionally rancid squat toilets were long but the fort square was alive with activity. Then the aerobics began, the music adding a bit more hype as we neared 7:30am and the thrashing arms and legs helped some to keep warm. As I reluctantly stripped off my ‘warmer’ clothing to just lycra shorts and singlet I was very happy that the sun appeared and with it some warmth. Ahhhh, now I’m ready to go.

So, why was I about to run a marathon, my first marathon, along the Great Wall of China? Originally it was for the adventure, a new challenge of completing one of the toughest marathons in the world, because it was different and, because I could. Then with my recent studies in Mandarin and Chinese Civilisation I am now more than ever intrigued by the Wall and curious as to its history, how it was built, what it means to the Chinese and to learn its myths and legends. On Thursday I experienced the Wall for the very first time. Its grand scale and magnitude oozed an indeterminable power. The Wall, thick and grey, has a very harsh beauty about its presence. Its majesty in the serene surroundings puts one in a trance, the desire to stand still, breathe deep and feel the moment. Was I going to feel this today in my 42km journey?

Some runners train for months for an event like this. I gave myself 10 weeks. My intention of this adventure was to enjoy, have fun and be relaxed with no expectations from myself or others. Despite that, I had a rough idea that I wanted to complete the marathon in four and a half hours. The woman’s record held by the legendary Wellington multi-sporter Jill Westena in 2001 was 4 hours 14 minutes. As I met more people on our tour in Beijing I realized the high caliber of runners participating in the marathon; fellow kiwi Sara Winter just 3 weeks ago posted a 2 hour 46 minute marathon time in Italy and many others are running their 6th or 7th marathon. But on the other hand, some were there to walk the marathon. (Note, the marathon must be completed within 8 hours.) Due to its toughness this is not an event to post any record breaking marathon times so emphasis is on participation and there are no merit prizes.

Sara and I managed to start near the front of group one. Group two started 5 minutes behind. I stayed with Sara for a mere 500m then it was wise for me to peg it back a little. After about 3km Aussie Sharon Ryder passed by, then the Spaniard. The first 5km were all uphill on a sealed road leading up to the entrance to the Wall, then it was 3.5km along the Wall. I remained in 4th place through the 1800 odd steps of the Wall. I walked the steep steps (i.e the 80 degree slopes!) and ran the flatter steps, some two at a time. Going up was actually easier than coming down. Full focus was required. We were assisted on some of the more dangerous descents by temporary ropes covered in material attached to the Wall. Part of the final descent was on a dirt goat track, on rocky and rough terrain and more steps, before climbing up to the Wall again. It was here I managed to pass some guys so my training on Mt Vic and in the Crazyman run had paid off. It was tough, but challenging and well, at this stage, quite enjoyable. It wasn’t as bad as I imagined, though this was only the first time over the Wall. The second time would be a different story. I completed the first 8.5km in an hour. I thought to myself if I could pull off the next 25km through the villages in just over 2 hours, then allow another hour and a bit for the 2nd time over the Wall then I’d make my time.

So the next section is where the true marathon runners showed their form. I hooked on to a few guys and adopted a good pace, apparently 5 minute kilometres. Everyone was pretty social having a little chat along the way. The roads were lined with locals coming out to ogle at the strange foreigners and still going about their everyday business. Children were merrily playing in the dirt and stopped to wave and practice their “hello.” One young girl handed me a yellow daisy which I accepted with “xie xie” and a smile. We were provided with bottled water along the course, and that along with the gels I carried on me, kept me fueled and hydrated in the now hot temperatures. I believe it got to the mid 30’s while I was running but by early afternoon it could’ve hit 40 degrees. Needless to say, cramping was the biggest problem for most people.

Disaster struck at the 21 km mark as I was half way through the 200m elevation. My right knee was becoming painful. I then remembered the crash in the 12 hour Cateye Moonride MTB race the previous Saturday in Rotorua when during the night, I tried to take a hot line to get past some slower riders but I unexpectedly hit a hole, hit the deck and fell on my right knee. At the time I thought the blood was more impressive than the bruising and inflammation but now it was coming back to haunt me. As I continued pounding the tarmac the pain got more excruciating which eventually forced me to a walk. Walking was pain free, a small blessing. But then I’d run again and the pain was too much. I dropped back to 9th. I was so gutted; all I wanted to do was run. For a short moment I wondered how much damage I was doing to my knee and that I wouldn’t finish the race as the thought of all those steps again was too painful. But I’d flown all this way to complete the marathon and if there are hundreds of people out there walking, well then so can I. There were many people suffering just as much as I and were also stopping for breaks or walking. Now I just wanted to finish and if I had to walk then so be it. I hit the 34km mark and headed back through the fort for the second time to start the grueling Wall all over again, except this time from the other direction and even steeper. Just 8km to go and five of those were downhill. This I would’ve usually been excited about. Climbing the uneven steep steps was painful and a lot slower than my previous ascent on the Wall and the descents were far worse as I was forced to go down sideways leading with my left leg. By this stage the Great Wall had lost all its charm and mystique! When I eventually made it to the tar seal for the final 5km I tried counting steps to run 100 then walk 100 but even that didn’t work to remove the pain. More and more people passed me including six females. By now it was very warm. I was hanging out for that finish line. I finally crossed it in 5 hours and 5 minutes in 15th place (out of 123), 2nd in my age group and 71st overall. I’d just completed my first marathon.

During the afternoon as we lay broken in the square I caught up with some of my tour group and everyone was just buzzing from their marathon experience, each with a story or two to tell. Two male friends were gutted that for my first marathon I bet them. I like that. Tracey completed the 10km in just over 2 hours, her first ever sporting event. And Cam timed it nicely to finish walking the 42km in just under eight hours, but unfortunately he was severely dehydrated and ended up on an IV for 3 hours. Kiwi Sara Winter won the women’s event in a record time of 3 hours 50 minutes and Spaniard Salvador Calvo won the men’s event in a record time of 3 hours 23 minutes. The results are on the official website.

Exploring Beijing

No opportunity to update you all yesterday as it was one full on day of sightseeing. I will return to elaborate when I get some more time but briefly it was really fascinating observing the beautiful craftsmanship of the buildings and temples. It was also pretty crazy how many tourists there were! We visited exquisite gardens, had a lesson and sampled the local cha (tea), ate Peking duck, and took in an Opera. The mind blowing experience of the day was seeing up close a father and his 2 young children (not much more than 10 years old) jump the ropes surrounding the National flag, drop to the ground, bow their heads to the concrete and start wailing. Within seconds the guards and police were pulling them from the ground and forcing them away. I couldn’t understand but I believe they were protesting at the Government for taking their mother.

The Great Wall Inspection

It was a late-ish night after the Beijing Opera and dinner then with only 5 hours sleep we were up at 4:30am ready for a 3 hour drive to the Huangyaguan Great Wall.

The objective of today’s inspection was to give us the opportunity to walk the 3.5km along the wall then giving any runner or walker the chance to change their event. This year, the 8th year of the event, there are 450 people partaking in the full marathon, 450 in the half marathon and 237 in the 5km and 10km walks. Participants are from 37 different countries with one person having done all seven Great Wall Marathons, and there is even a runner with a heart transplant doing the full marathon! Apparently today was the best weather they have had for an inspection without the usual sand storms and though it was sunny the wind kept the temperature cool.

The Huangyaguan Great Wall is to the north of Ji County in the Tianjin province, not one of the usual sight seeing sections of the Wall since it is more remote. This section of the Great Wall possesses many features including antiquity, grandness, steepness and gracefulness, and it is regarded as an 'Impregnable Pass' in Tianjin. It’s the longest restored section of the Great Wall with a length of 3052 meters.

Long before we arrived at the Great Wall, we could easily see where we were heading. Off the bus I stood still, frozen by the magnitude of the Wall. I felt so insignificant beneath the towering mountain, viewing from East to West the Wall meandering its way along the craggy mountain ridges until it drops out of sight over yet another mountain. It’s an amazing sight of which I don’t think I can find the words to do the Wall justice.

After taking about an hour to walk (yes walk) the three or so kilometers and taking a heap of photos, I stood in the fort waiting for lunch with shaking legs. Oh mi god! I was so relieved to hear that other people had reacted the same way. There isn’t going to be much running along the Wall – it’s so steep, with all sized steps, and it’s so narrow in some places with no side wall and a sheer drop to the side that we queued in line to carefully descend in single file. It’s going to be one tough marathon.

Bring it on. I can’t wait until Saturday.

Arriving in Beijing

After 23 hours of traveling via Kuala Lumpur, Tracey, Cameron and I were pleased to arrive at our hotel in Beijing. The Xiaoxiang hotel is in the Chongwen area and not far from the Temple of Heaven. We settled in, cleaned ourselves up then ventured out into the streets of Beijing. First thought was drawn to the haze and hue of grey making the city appear dull. Next thought was the calamity yet the calmness. Despite the rather chaotic and noisy traffic changing lanes within centimetres of one another and honking their horns to indicate their presence, there was a calmness about the city as the locals went about their usual day, many on bikes, some laden with produce, others waiting for buses (though most are already jammed packed with suits and well dressed people), then others are strolling along the dusty pavements and crossing the 6 lanes of traffic with ease and without impatience. I can't wait to explore...

We spent the afternoon wandering the six floors of the Silk Street Pearl Markets with everything you could ever want to buy in China - from paintings to footwear, precious jewelery to electronics. Of course many of the big names are not genuine. And these sellers, of which it is interesting to note are mainly female, are very pushy in making a sale. It is advised not to ask a price unless one is truly interested in haggling and buying the goods! My favourite purchase of the day was a painting of the Great Wall personalised with my Chinese name and Beijing in characters. Here's "David" as he begins the painting...

It's been a long day with only 4 hours sleep last night so I'm off to bed. We're touring tomorrow - Tiananmen Square, Mao's Mausoleum, Forbidden City, Coal Hill, Temple of Heaven, Hongqiao market and we even take in the Beijing Opera. Can't wait, it's going to be a full on day.

Where has 2007 gone?

What the hell is Robyn doing now???

I’ve been taking some time out to create new opportunities and find other adventures since retiring from international competition after the World Mountain Bike Championships in Rotorua six months ago.

It’s not an easy decision to retire from sport and definitely not one made overnight. It takes time to ensure it’s the right decision at the right time and to know it’s for the right reasons. For me, starting cycling at a late age, I have done so many things I never dreamed about and I have absolutely no regrets. I left it all out there, I put my best foot forward by doing everything that I could do, and I was the best that I could be. Now, I am excited about the next chapter of my life and with wide eyes, optimism and positivity I know I’ll find other open doors.

Being an elite athlete has emphasised what is important to me but to be sure I wanted to take some time out to be certain of my next steps. I know I am driven by challenge, and I know I want to make a difference in other people’s lives.

So what have I done over the past six months?

Straight after Worlds I did some public speaking at some school sports awards (Chilton St James, Wellington Girls, and Wairarapa College). I also spoke at the Levin Chinese Fundraiser for China’s flood relief and to our future Chinese leaders at the Chinese Youth Leadership Conference in Auckland. I get great delight from public speaking, inspiring and motivating others, and even more so when it’s not sport related as it’s all about making that connection with the audience and speaking from the heart, something that doesn’t come naturally to me.

I also did a small amount of Management Consulting for Colorado Traders (Scott, Time, Serfas), Ministry of Education, Department of Building and Housing, Australo, and VTNZ. Over the years of cycling I’ve been careful to keep up my continuing professional development (20 hours per year) as required by the Institute of Chartered Accountants to retain my professional qualification, so I spent some time at seminars and workshops on leadership and strategy.

At the last minute I decided to utilise my Gold Prime Ministers Scholarship (a scholarship to be used after retiring from sport for study up to 3 years) and enrolled at Victoria University to study Mandarin and Chinese Civilisation for personal interest. I returned to Uni as a “mature” student on February 26, spending 9 hours on campus per week (estimated 24 hours study per week), and I absolutely love it especially the contagious enthusiasm and passion of our lecturers.

Despite not racing internationally I don’t think I’d ever give up riding my bikes. I love it too much. So over the past few months I’ve still been involved in races and events.

I was a guinea pig for the Massey run Mountain Bike Performance Study testing whether sports drinks containing both maltodextrin and fructose are better than maltodextrin and glucose only for mountain bike performance on December 6 & 13.

I was approached to do a group coaching course for some girls wanting to race the Karapoti training in March. I had nine keen girls who were up for an intensive 10 week program (from January 3 to March 3) who were so much fun to work with. Since then I’ve taken on some individual coaching which I’m enjoying.

From 24-28th January I was the Team Manager of 5 guys in Team Petone Water for the Tour of Wellington. I was extremely proud of the guys – Josh England (Auckland) getting 3rd in Stage 3 and 18th in GC; Paul Odlin (Christchurch) being awarded the most aggressive rider, 6th in the ITT and 20th in GC; Don Oakly (Auckland) 47th; Andrew Williams (Christchurch) 55th and unfortunately Ross Stewart (Christchurch) had unbelievably bad luck and timing with a puncture on stage 5 and thus DNF’d. The team finished 9th overall.

Other events (which I will return to and elaborate on at a later stage):

PNP 2 day tour, February 3 & 4
National MTB race on Mt Victoria, Sunday February 25
Scott Karapoti Classic on Saturday March 3rd
Hawkins Hill Climb, Sunday April 15
Crazyman Duathlon, Saturday May 5
Bikewise Kids bike Jam, Sunday May 6
Cateye Moonride 12 hour teams MTB race, Saturday May 12

So in between cycling and running and the occasional bikram yoga class, I also played Thursday night Social Basketball in the Women’s C Grade for a bit of fun and since I wasn’t subbed often, a really solid workout. Somehow I’ve agreed to play for a Wellington Sports and Cultural Centre team in the upcoming Queens Birthday tournament.

Now, onto the big adventure...

Tomorrow I head off to Beijing for 6 days to partake in the “Great Wall Marathon.” Yep, you read right – it’s a running Marathon. Never did I think I’d ever want to run a marathon but when a friend mentioned it, I was like “hell yeah.” It’s not your usual 42km marathon. For a start it’s not on the tarmac, mainly gravel and dirt roads through villages and rice paddies. Then the elevation gain getting up and along the Great Wall is something special – over 1,000m. We run 3.5km along the Great Wall twice which includes over 3,700 steps. Add in the heat of up to 42 degrees Celsius and wow, it’s going to be one huge challenge! Check out the profile and a description of each section.

Here’s how it’s summed up. “The Great Wall Marathon is a tough, beautiful and definitely extraordinary experience. The 3700 steps of the Great Wall will put your physique to the test, and the breathtaking surroundings of Tianjin Province will compete with your tired muscles for attention. The Great Wall Marathon is the ideal way to combine an unusual running event with exploring one of the world’s most astonishing sights.”

Finally, check out this video and some You Tube videos in the media section of the official Great Wall Marathon site Now, I’m really worried!

To enter the Marathon one has to be part of a tour in Beijing so we’ve signed up for 6 days. Here’s the itinerary. So, stayed tuned for some updates and pics while I’m away.

I’ve got two more exciting ventures to talk about but that will wait until after China. Here’s a hint – Wellington Women’s Hockey team and the Wellington Hutt Valley YWCA.

Until soon,