A tale of two triathlons Part 1: Discovering NanjingMan

Culture, Travel | by Aimee Groom
Posted: June 9th, 2011 | Updated: July 25th, 2012 | Comments
nanjing sofitel zhongshan triathlon For the athletically inclined, sports are a fantastic way to experience a country, and China is no exception. From running a marathon on the Great Wall of China, biking the grasslands of Inner Mongolia or kitesurfing secret beaches off the coast of Fujian, a little "get up and go" can take you a long way. It can also open your eyes to another side of places that are closer to home than you think and I'll let you in on a little secret... sweat, blood, tears and sore muscles are not obligatory, all you need is a partner, friend, husband or wife who's willing to do the hard work for you while you go along for moral support. Now don't get me wrong, being an outward-bound cheerleader comes with its own set of challenges, but we'll get to those later. I'm no slouch when it comes to exercise; I'll hike, bike and run with the best of them (though I'll probably be found far behind!), but sometimes I prefer to kick back and enjoy the show, which was just the case over the last month as my fiance's flirtation with triathlons turned into a full-fledged love affair that has seen two rendezvous in just four weeks and plans for many more to come... fortunately, I'm not the jealous type!

You never forget your first...

NanjingMan—The Nanjing Unofficial Triathlon

A mini-triathlon to ease into an eventing world that combines long distance swimming, biking and running, the Shanghai's Hongqiao Railway Station and, one hour and 40 minutes later, we'd arrived in Nanjing. Taking place in the city's Purple Mountain Scenic Area (Zĭjīn Shān, Sun Yat-Sen's Mausoleum (Zhōngshānlíng, 中山陵) — the event's HQ was the Sofitel Zhongshan Golf Resort where the organizers had arranged a preferential rate of just RMB 800 per night—a bargain for one night of French luxury magnifique set against a backdrop of rolling, tree-covered hillsides and the emerald green of the surrounding golf course and the blazing blue sky above. This tranquil side of Nanjing is the perfect antidote to the big city despite only being a fifteen minute cab ride from the big city and once we reached the hotel we heard little else but the trilling of cicadas, the occasional thwack of golf clubs and the gentle chatter of conversation. Nanjing Sofitel Zhongshan Stepping  into the cool, dark lobby of the sprawling Mediterranean-style villa with cream-washed walls and terracotta tiles accented by yellow and purple flowers was like stepping into another world where cool, tranquil sophistication was the name of the game. An electric purple Porsche and a couple of golf buggies complete with caddies clad in Argyle socks and tartan knickerbockers (with matching caps) were the sole occupants of the expansive driveway before our tatty taxi pulled up and unloaded us and our gear. Inside, plush rugs, contemporary art and velvet-clad armchairs in deep shades of cherry and cream made up the coffee lounge and to the right the long, polished dark wood of the reception beckoned. As it should be in a five-star hotel, check-in was smooth and we were delighted when, on being handed our key card we heard those magical words: "I've upgraded you to an Executive Suite," — a gorgeous room which came complete with a huge outdoor terrace and view of the golf course and hills beyond. nanjing unofficial triathlon NanjingMan is a non-profit labor of love by organizers keen to get more people enjoying sport but despite their forward planning they point out that things can go wrong and probably will. That night there was a briefing dinner to go over the route — an 800 meter swim in a nearby lake, 24 km (14.9 mi) biking on the surrounding roads followed by an 8 km (4.9 mi) run around the golf course. Being an unofficial triathlon the roads would not be closed and particular attention was due on the biking section. With around 60 competitors taking part either as individuals or relay teams there was a spirit of camaraderie in the room as Chinese, French, German, British, New Zealanders and more laughed and joked and swapped tales from past events, while loading up on a carb-heavy pasta dinner in preparation for the next morning. It all kicked off at 7am in a lake some 9 km (5.6 mi) away and accessible only by bike. I must at this point admit that this writer was far too comfortable in her king size bed to drag her lazy bones all the way over there (though rest assured on hearing about the group of Chinese tourists who dropped in for an early morning dip complete with flag-toting guide she immediately regretted her lack of action). Still there were two hours of race time left to go, and by 7.50am I was out front in time to watch the bikers whizz by. From there it was on to the transition area where, even at that tender time of the morning, the mercury was already pushing 30° C (86° F) as the steady stream of bikers dismounted their steeds, wiped the sweat from their brows and carried on by foot for three rounds of the golf course, all to a chorus of cheers from friends, family and strangers alike. By 11am it was all over and everyone gathered back at the hotel for brunch. Backs were slapped and stories exchanged, onlookers and athletes together. The positive feeling lingered even after everyone dispersed, going their different ways,  some returning to their homes in Nanjing, others to Shanghai or other nearby towns and those, like us, who got a late check out and indulged in little but a lazy day, maybe a dip in the pool and an afternoon tea on the terrace. Bliss. Continue reading: A tale of two triathlons (Part 2): Wet 'n' wild in Mogan Shan. [showtime]

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