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The Fuxian Highland Ultramarathon

10/10/2017

When Jo Zakrzewski was invited to travel out to Yunnan province in China to run in the inaugural Fuxian Highland Ultramarathon, it sounded like an exciting opportunity to visit a new place, but the journey there was an adventure in itself, taking over 24 hours (and even longer for her wayward luggage).

There were both 50k and 100k races starting together, but the toughest element was not the distance but the altitude (the races were entirely run between 1800m and 2000m of altitude), the heat (high 20s), the strong sun and the humidity. After a couple of days of short breathless jogs and some "interesting" Chinese buffet options, it was time to race.

Fuxian lake is the second deepest freshwater lake in China and covers 131 square miles. The 100k race did a lap of the lake (which sounds like it could be relatively flat, but there was actually about 4000 feet of elevation gain over the course) with the 50k finishing at the far side. The roads were made of concrete, which caused some people to struggle with the repetitive impact of so many foot strikes.

It was definitely a race of 2 halves, as Jo really enjoyed the first 50k, having started at 8:30am with considerable cloud cover, but after she passed through the halfway point
and there were no longer any 50k runners to work with, she found the second half more of a survival struggle.

The sun had come out in full force and there was no cloud cover. The route would have been considered beautiful with the sun glinting off the lake, and the road edges being lined with purple sage and bougainvillea, but it was all she could do to keep running and she was very tempted to quit on several occasions.

Jo made as much use of the aid stations (every 5k) as she could, stopping to pour water over herself and drink as much as possible, and with the encouragement of her fellow athletes who'd run the 50k and come out later to support, she eventually crossed the finish line just as her legs buckled and gave way under her. She declared it the hardest road race she'd ever done, but was very pleased to have just finished it and justify her invite to take part, never mind earning second place in a time of 8 hours and 50 minutes (behind the winner Valeria Sesto of Argentina in 8:43).

All in all the trip was a great experience.....though she didn't quite manage the full local culture of chicken feet and duck lung at the hotel buffet.....but the race itself was a very tough day out in the sun.

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