Sunday, February 21, 2010

Next Sunday's Kaohsiung International Marathon

A bicycle I acquired just prior to the Chinese New Year of the Tiger. My intention in buying it was to have a second "old" bike that I could use to get around town, and have an extra bike available should friends or family visit from afar.

This Sunday, February 28, is a special day in Taiwan to remember an unfortunate incident that occurred in Taiwan 63 years ago, and which led to thousands of Taiwanese being killed by Mainland Chinese who had only recently taken control of Taiwan following the withdrawal of the Japanese at the end of the Second World War. It is also the first time that the Kaohsiung International Marathon is being held. While I am not a marathon runner and I currently do not have a lot of interest in running, given the event is being held on my back doorstep, as someone who has at least completed an Ironman, I would have to come up with some very good excuses not to enter the event.
A photograph of an official memorial for the victims of the "white terror" in Taiwan that I took a few months ago in Taipei. The "white terror" refers to the suppression of political dissidents and public discussion of the 228 incident (referred to above) under the period of Martial Law in Taiwan from 1949 to 1987. I lived in Taiwan for 5 of those years. Not that I was threatened in any way, but either people knew very little of what had happened historically, or else they (or the vast majority at least) kept their mouths firmly shut.

While I was in Hawaii until almost 3 years ago, I regularly took part in triathlon events, tending to prefer the shorter events (under 90 minutes if all three disciplines were involved). Like most in the local triathlon community, I tried my luck at the longer, more prestigious events, and qualified for the Hawaii Ironman three times, although I completed it only once, on my first attempt in 2004. The second time I twitched my knee towards the end of the bike and could not run, even though I spent nearly 6 hours on the run course before giving up, and the third time, for visa reasons, I could not stay long enough to have another attempt at the full distance.
With three sports to train for, I tended to mostly swim and bike as I enjoyed them more, and I constantly found I just did not have the time to do much serious running.

The weather in Kaohsiung is generally quite hot much of the year. Although the winter is a little cooler than in Kona, Hawaii, the winter is also short, making it possible to swim the whole year round outdoors. In addition, except for the summer school vacation, there appear to be few people swimming in excellent pools like the one above, which makes swimming all the more enjoyable.

Kaohsiung is not an ideal place for running. The city is fairly heavily polluted (although it is slowly improving, as there are fewer factories, and the government is encouraging people to cycle or buy electric mopeds). However, while many bike paths have been established in various parts of the city, it seems that few people (apart from junior high school children or the elderly) use bicycles, unless they are going on a Sunday afternoon family outing. A gasoline-powered scooter is much more convenient for most people, and people always seem to be in a hurry. So the bigger roads are full of scooters, motorcycles, cars and trucks.

From this photo of the city of Kaohsiung (the tall building on the left is 50 stories), it can be seen that this is hardly the place to run a marathon. Fortunately, the marathon will be held Sunday morning, so perhaps most participants will be almost done by the time the city of 1 million wakes up and all the gasoline/diesel-driven engines roar into action.

There will no doubt be some "nice" spots along the course. In fact, for people moving at a snail's pace like myself, it will be a time to appreciate at least the steps that are being taken in the right direction to make this a better city for its many inhabitants.

A contrast in biking styles. On the one hand, a gleaming Harley Davidson Fatboy 1,584cc, designed for the ultimate ride, parked next to my rusty 18-speed MTB on the other. There is no doubt which one is better, but at the same time the Harley would cost more than one thousand times what my bike cost.

The city of Kaohsiung is not a great place for training on a bicycle. One does see quite a few people in full cycling gear on their road bikes, but hopefully they are biking out of town to places where they do not have to compete with traffic. However, I occasionally hear about accidents, and so I am not too keen on going riding, unless I am planning a really long ride. About 50 kms south of Kaohsiung, there are some great roads for riding and it gets better and better the further south one goes.

The bicycle is, however, a great means of transport for getting around the city, for instance when going to the bank, or to the swimming pool, or for shopping in the market. In the above photo, my bicycle is laden with several kilos of potatoes, carrots, onions, apples and bananas. I have bought more this week, as I will try to carbo-load as much as I can in the last few days before the marathon.

This will be a marathon I have not trained for. I just found it very hard to generate the interest to go out and train, feeling that swimming and biking (to the pool and back) are much more suited to my schedule and longer-term goals. I also have to watch for injury when running, having had to drop out of the Ironman once due to knee pain (even though I found the problem had gone the next day). I don't seem to get any injuries swimming (maybe because I swim like a crab), and biking only gives me problems if the bike is too small (as the one I used for the Ironman races was), which puts a strain on my knee when riding long distances. I will wear soft knee braces for the marathon, and I will go slow and do whatever I can to delay the onset of bonking (still not sure whether the race organizers will supply anything other than water). I will carry my own supply of food and Gatorade if needed. I will probably look like some old grandpa, but I am not particularly worried. I have heard Mike O'Reilly call my name before, followed by "You are an Ironman!" Once an Ironman, always one, I guess.

Recently, I have been wondering what it is like to run/walk a marathon in a big city, full of buildings, vehicles and the hustle and bustle of city life. Recently, when I visited the recycling yard where I rescued the bicycle I am now using to get around, I found the owner's cat sound asleep amongst the huge pile of electrical cables that have been sorted to await further collection. The cat at least can make the best of far from idyllic surroundings, and it will be my turn to do the same this weekend. (This cat looks very much like our own. Since this cat lives a little over a mile from us, it might be our cat's older cousin).


ShirleyPerly said...

Bruce, I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on the area you live in, reading more about your time in Kona, and seeing the photos, particularly the one of the two bikes side by side (funny!). I hope your marathon goes well. I've always found that marathon running is a great way to sightsee, esp. in big cities which I tend to avoid otherwise.

BreeWee said...

I LOVE all the fotos... BRUCE hope your marathon is amazing, just enjoy it and have some fun :)