China, Cheng du and World Police and Fire Games

Well after being away from the Uk for the last 18 months and living in Toronto for the last year I said my farewells to family and friends that I had met there and returned to the Uk, I was surprised that it still felt like coming home ( I suppose that comes from working there for over 40 years and having such good friends and of course my children being here )

It was a brief visit though with just about enough time to stay hello to friends that I stayed with in Buckingham, meet with members of my running club at Park run and meet up with Becca and Jake to catch up with what been happening since I last saw them.

5 days after landing back in the Uk ( didn’t seem like enough time to get my sleep pattern back to normal ) I was returning the hire car back to Heathrow and meeting the Uk prison service team to fly out to China, as I usually like to get to the airport early I didn’t expect to see too many people their yet but I wasn’t the first and began to recognise some people I knew and some familiar faces from the Los Angeles games two years previous.

People began to show up quickly and you could feel the excitement amongst them almost becoming a party atmosphere without the alcohol although there may of been a pint drunk here and there to celebrate the start of the trip.

It was nice to see familiar faces that I hadn’t seen since Los Angeles, all the runners that I met for the first time in Los Angeles and hung around with seemed to be there and hadn’t changed at all, everyone seemed to be looking forward to competing in China, myself included.

I thought that traveling to China on a group visa may be problematic but when I looked at getting my own beforehand from Toronto in seemed even more difficult so went with the group option which in the end went relatively smoothly with everyone clearing the first hurdle and departing Heathrow heading to Abu Dhabi

On the plane the party atmosphere continued with around 50 of us spread throughout the plane, the excitement of the games seemed to build again when we were joined on the flight by the Italian rugby team also traveling out for the games, the seven hours to Abu Dhabi was ok as flights go, not too cramped and enough entertainment although the excitement I felt when I was younger when I flew anywhere has certainly worn off now. Landing at Abu Dhabi we only had just over an hour to board our flight to Cheng du and the change there went smoothly with no one getting lost in transit.

The flight from Abu Dhabi to Cheng du just felt like more of the same ( 14 hours is a long time to be sitting still )

Arriving in Cheng Du I must admit to feeling a little anxious with this being my first trip to China and when one of the first things everyone had to do was provide fingerprints it didn’t help ( even though I have nothing to hide, what if I did have the same fingerprints as some criminal and ended up in a Chinese jail trying to explain that they had the wrong man ! )

I needn’t of worried though as although security was tight and everything seemed to be checked and double checked we all got though without incident and the the airport staff we had contact with were actually very friendly and helpful.

We were met off the plane by members of the Prison service sports association who had organised the trip for us ( Thank you Tracie and Nigel ). The coaches arrived and we were off to the Games registration centre in Cheng Du to get that part of the process completed ( although it was already late and people were obviously tired it was good to get that part out of the way and not have to go back in the morning when it would be busy ) The volunteers had stayed on late to enable us to register ( there were 6000 volunteers involved in the games and they were wonderful ).

After registration it was back to the hotel and allocation of the rooms, we were sharing rooms and I was first up into the room,on inspection the first thing most people would notice is there is a large window that looks from the bedroom into the bathroom which seemed strange but when I looked there was a blind, so I pulled that down and thought no more of it and began unpacking but deciding to allow my roommate the choice of beds when he arrived.

Andy arrived after about 15 minutes, he was competing in the bench press competition so vastly different events to myself, like myself the first thing he noticed was the window to the bathroom and although he tried to hide it I could sense he was a little concerned especially when he relished that when the light was on in the bathroom you could see straight though the blind ! , so in the end I think we both spent most of our time in the bathroom without the light on ( seriously why would you put a window looking from the bedroom into the bathroom? ( Wish I had taken a picture to show you ) in the end Andy and myself got on great and with no sign of incriminating or possibly blackmailing photos appearing on social media which was blocked whilst in China, so no Facebook or instagram for 12 days

I didn’t really know what to expect from my first trip to China, I had done a little research into the Shechaun and Cheng Du area and was looking forward to it especially the food as I do like spicy food and I’m willing to try anything put in front of me ( as of yet I’ve never found a food I didn’t like ) Cheng Du was a great place and I tried to see as much as possible between events, one must do I had heard about was the Panda Park which about 8 of us got taxis too and was well worth the visit but definitely get there early as by 930 you could hardly move and it was down to a shuffle to get anywhere, luckily we had been early and had a good hour before it got busy ( I’ve got some good photos I will try to put up later ), other places we got to that would be worth a visit are the People’s Park ( easy to get to on the metro ) and Cheng Du zoo. Further out are the Terracotta Army which would be nice but about 5 hours each way by bullet train and Leshan Giant Buddha which is a couple of hours away, quite a few people made these trips and loved them but the events I entered being spread out made it difficult. As for the Chinese people themselves they were amazing, I expected there to be a problem with the language barrier and there was but they were so friendly and helpful and also very curious of all us westerners that had descended on their city ( I think there were around 5000 competitors from 80 countries )

As for the games themselves you could tell that Cheng Du and China were proud to be the first Asian nation to be hosting the World Fire and Police Games, it showed from the moment we arrived with banners and billboards along every street advertising the fact it was on ( and there’s a lot of streets in Cheng Du ) also continually on the tv and local news.

The opening ceremony was amazing with seemingly no expense spared, four of us got a taxi from the hotel as we didn’t want to be too early ( trying to learn from the experience of Los Angeles where we waited a good few hours in the heat to get going ) as it turned out we timed it just about right only having to wait about 30 minutes before we paraded into the stadium towards the end of the group as it was done in alphabetical order, the stadium seemed packed as opposed to the coliseum in Los Angeles and full of noise, after being presented to the crowd and taking our seat the organisers got on the the formalities and welcomed us all to Cheng Du and the games making everyone feel as if they did an important job and their efforts were appreciated ( which I suppose is true ) the ceremony ending with a spectacular firework display ( as you would expect from China ) which must of lasted at least half an hour. With the ceremony over we made our way out with the crowds and proceeded to try and get a taxi back to the hotel, this is where I always thought we would struggle with the language and it was difficult but there was always someone around that was willing to try their hardest to help us get to where we needed to be and I cannot thank the Chinese people enough for their patience and effort, needless to say we all made it back to the hotel safely either by taxi or metro which is actually very easy to use and was free for all competitors and family whilst in Cheng Du.

As for events of the games, they were again very well organised by the Chinese with few problems.

My first event though came sooner than I would of liked being the first event after the opening ceremony and being the Half Marathon which was about 60 miles from the hotel, so arriving back at the hotel and having to set the alarm for 0300 I knew it wasn’t going to be easy in the heat and humidity of China in August, they did put the start back to 0730 from originally 0630 though but that just meant it would be hotter towards the end of the race. At the start it was obvious just how much the Chinese people were pleased to see us as it was non stop being asked for selfie’s ( I must be in thousands of selfie’s in China ) in the end my only game plan in this race was to survive to the end without killing myself thinking if I could run around 1.45 which I thought with the training I had done should be comfortable and it may be good enough to get onto the podium in my 60+ age group ( as I had in Los Angeles ) but I didn’t account for the effect of the heat and humidity hills or the strength of the Chinese contingent in my age group, in the end I finished in 1.52 which was about all I could do in the conditions but was pleased to survive it and not be totally wiped out at the end like some were and struggling for future races. The Chinese in my age group cleaned up taking 1st 2nd and 3td the 60+ winner running it in 1.22, I finished 6th overall ( I knew then that medals were going to be hard to come by in China )

The next race was the cross country on Sunday, so a short break to recover from the Half Marathon and another hot humid day. I had switched from the 5000 to 10000 cross country just before leaving Toronto and was beginning to think that may of been a mistake, as it turned out the wiser competitors went for the 5000 but it didn’t look that way as I watched 90% of the 5000m finishers collapse over the line in the heat ( 1700 start and 40 c ) westerners especially struggling in the oppressive heat, it was so bad that they had to delay the start of the 10000 by an hour so that the ambulances that were used to take the 5000 m casualties to hospital could get back in case the same carnage happened in the 10000 ( I wasn’t looking forward to this ) but I had a plan, survive! and live to fight another day, and that is what happened in the end, the course was flat but long grass and uneven surfaces made it slow and I got round in 57 minutes ( about 15 minutes slower than I had been doing 10000 m in the summer ) but I was just pleased to finish. Again the Chinese were flying and finished 1 2 3 in my age group way ahead of anyone else. I was beginning to think that any medals would evade me in these games.

To be continued later today

Ok I’m back from a walk around Buckingham and a picnic

After the cross country I had the luxury of 4 days off before the start of the track events, I had entered the 5000m which was being held on the Friday and the 10000m on the Saturday in the mean time I was able to explore Cheng Du and got quite used to traveling around on their metro/subway and also took the opportunity to recover from the previous 2 races which had taken a toll on me.

Looking at the entries in my upcoming races I noted that there were 5 entries in my age group in the 5000m and 6 entries in the 10000 so figured the best chance of getting on the podium at these games would be in the 5000, only problem being was that the winner of both the Half Marathon and the cross country was in both of them, so I figured that gold was definitely his, all he had to do was stand up, he was that quick.

On the day of the 5000m everyone with morning events left the hotel together at 0600 to get the metro to the registration centre then boarded buses to the stadium making sure that we got there early as there were threats that anybody missing the first 40 minute roll call would be disqualified. We collected our numbers then waited till an hour before our race which was scheduled for 1100 to report to the waiting area. There were about 16 of us in the 5000 in about 4 different age groups and again the heat was going to be a factor, so I knew there was no chance of a quick time which would of been around 21 minutes for me, looking around at the opposition in the waiting room I still thought this was my best chance of getting on the podium. On the track the heat was ridiculous ( and I like the heat and would normally see it as an advantage for me ) so again I thought no heroics just get to the finish without collapsing and only put in an extra effort if bronze was within reach on the last lap. So when then gun went off I settled into what felt like a sustainable pace and counted the laps down, as expected the Flying Chinese gentleman was gone but I had no intention of even trying to chase after him and he lapped me about lap 7 ( he was incredible Respect to him ! ) but I found myself in second place and although I expected to see someone go past me it never happened, but I did try to pick up the pace in the last lap in case someone had been tracking me and was going to try and pip me on the line. So at the end of that race I was extremely pleased to be collecting a silver medal behind Superman and not going to leave the games empty handed.

On the Saturday it was repeat of Saturday to get to the track but our race was the second of the day at 10 so I was hoping it was going to be a bit cooler as we gathered in the waiting area I noted we had another Chinese chap turn up in my age group but didn’t notice him at previous events and it was hard to judge just how quick he might be but thought that perhaps I may be able to go with him if need be, there was also an Indian that I had seen at the cross country and German chap that I hadn’t noticed before, so thought maybe I may have another chance to get on the podium. About 15 mins before we were due to race it was announced that the race would be delayed as they wanted the 50+ age group to go off with us which did not please the German competitor in our age group, so in the end in was about 11 when we were paraded around to the start and I could immediately feel my skin burning in the heat ( felt much hotter than the 5000 ) so I made a last minute decision to wear a hat to stave off some of the heat ( I’ve never felt the need for a hat whilst running before ) so again for these 25 laps it was going to be a matter of pacing myself to make sure that I finished without incident and thought I would just break the race down into 5 lap segments instead of counting every lap. When the gun went off I again settled into what felt like a comfortable pace considering the heat watching the two Chinese in my age group disappear into the distance without even a thought of trying to go with them. On the first lap I eased myself past the German chap still just going easily and found myself in 3td place, the rest of the race passed without incident and no sign of other 60+ competitors to challenge me for 3td, on the final lap out my sight the German chap staggered in a water station and collapsed, got up and continued for twenty yards before collapsing again and got to his feet again and made it to the final bend before going down again and was pulled out of the race with 100 metres left, he was taken to hospital but I did see him at the closing ceremony looking fine. So it felt good to get back on the podium for a bronze this time with Superman again taking gold and him and his compatriot lapping me numerous times. A helpful volunteer offered to get some photos of me on the podium and took some great pictures which I will try to post including the 2 Chinese and myself holding the Chinese flag.

In the end I was very pleased with the results considering the conditions was very impressed with China and it’s people. Hopefully one day I may return to China to see some more of what I thought was an amazing country, perhaps the Great Wall next time.

Thanks for reading, Until next time possibly India in October. Take care

Chris Herbert

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