Rush to the top

By Yang Feiyue(China Daily)
Updated: 2017-05-24 07:18:49

[Photo provided to China Daily]

As a veteran marathoner and cross-country runner who has covered a lot of terrain, Yun Yanqiao was still taken aback by Yading.

Yading is in Daocheng county, Sichuan province's Garze Tibetan autonomous prefecture and known for its mountains and natural scenery.

The 30-year-old Yun was there to participate in a cross-country event in May. He opted for a 46-kilometer race and a 10,000-meter hike on the side.

"I've been to races where only one section is on a relatively higher level before, but in this half of the race is at more than 4,000 meters above sea level on average," says Yun.

The two highest mountain passes are both around 4,700 meters, and physically challenging for Yun.

"The altitude, plus the big ascent-I felt exhausted and was about to collapse," he says. "Only those with experience will understand what I felt."

In April, Yun had won the first mass marathon gold medal in the 58-year history of China's National Games in Tianjin. He was also a two-time winner at the Vibram Hong Kong 100 Km Ultra Trail Race.

[Photo provided to China Daily]

This year marks the second session of the Yading event organized by the Chinese company Migu Run and Switzerland-based International Skyrunning Federation, an organization that promotes cross-country running events around the world.

The federation places a premium on putting runners in touch with nature. Yading was regarded as an ideal venue for the event, given its superb mountain tracks.

"Yading is uniquely beautiful and relatively undeveloped. It's very innocent in that sense," says Etienne Rodriguez, the race director.

"The principal reason (we chose Yading) is its inescapable natural beauty and peaks".

The place has the world's highest civilian airport, 4,411 meters above sea level, and three holy peaks, Chenresig (Xiannairi), Jambeyang (Yangmaiyong) and Chanadorje (Xianuo Duoji), each about 6,000 meters high.

The peaks are all blanketed by dazzling snow all year round and worshipped by the locals.

"Having said that, it also has the infrastructure in place," Rodriguez says.

For this event, nearly 800 runners from 25 countries and regions had flown in to savor what this out-of-the-way venue had to offer: a 46-km race, a 29-km race, a 7-km vertical climbing and a 10-km hiking experience. Runners faced challenging courses that range from 2,900 meters to 5,000 meters above sea level.

[Photo provided to China Daily]

Last year's event only had the 29-km race but still managed to attract more than 70 professional runners from 22 countries and regions, including Iran, Italy, Mexico, Nepal and the United States.

The goal is to enable foreign runners to experience China's grand landscape, according to the organizer.

"We ensure that the route is both safe and challenging and as picturesque as we can make it," Rodriguez says.

The 29-km track ran through sprawling mountains and forests, giving those walking or running the chance not only to lap up the views but also test their physical strength. The winner in the men's category was Bhim Gurung from Nepal, who finished 3 hours, 6 minutes and 51 seconds. Megan Kimmel from the US won the women's race at 3 hours, 33 minutes and 55 seconds.

The 10-km track may look simple on the map but conceals many wonders. It winds its way through a valley up to a stunning alpine lake at a height of 4,177 meters. The three holy peaks overlook this trek, providing breathtaking views with every step.

The climb is "pretty much as high as you'd want to make a vertical kilometer", Rodriguez says.

The Vertical-Kilometer course is 7 km from start to finish, climbing in altitude in excess of 1,000 meters, and participants can experience forests above the tree line at around 4,600 meters when it flattens out briefly.

A marathoner treks along the mountain roads in Skyrun, a recent cross-country running event held in Yading, Daocheng county, Sichuan province. About 800 runners from 25 countries and regions participated in the race. [Photo by JORDI SARAGOSSA/provided to China Daily]

After passing houses made of rocks, competitors would come across a glacial lake at 4,800 meters. With only 200 meters left to climb, this is the hardest part, with steep gradients.

"It's all worthwhile when the competitors reach the finish (line)," he says.

Dorje, a runner from Yading, won the vertical climb at 1 hour, 1 minute and 48 seconds.

The 46-km event takes runners from the town of Shangri-La (2,900 meters) to a glacier-fed river flowing out of Yading, then to a traditional kora (pilgrimage) route around the sacred Chenresig holy peak to two mountain passes (nearly 4,700 meters each) before finishing near a temple at 3,992 meters.

"It's a true mountain adventure, only for the brave," Rodriguez says.

Qi Min from Zhejiang province's capital Hangzhou was a dark horse that came out on top in the longest race with 5 hours, 19 minutes and 28 seconds.

The Yading Skyrun is important not only because it's the first World Series Skyrunning event in China but also because it kicks off the "skyrunning" season, according to Rodriguez.

It is considered in a league of some of the world's best trail events, such as Transvulcania Ultramarathon (la Palma, Canary Islands), Ultraks Matterhorn (Switzerland) and Zegama (Spain).

For future participants, Rodriguez recommends that they arrive at Yading several weeks early to acclimatize themselves to the local setting.

"All of the courses offered require a fair amount of ascending, so it's advised that runners work on their uphill running."

Although Yun didn't win the event, partly because he didn't fully recover from the April contest and adapt well to the altitude, he says he would try again if time permits.

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