Thursday, 14 May 2009

The First Cheng Gong Half Marathon May 9 2009-05-09

Last Sat. was the first time for this race to be held, so we had no shortage of people eager to sign up for what promised to be a good event in an excellent location. You don’t need an excuse to make a trip over to the East Coast of Taiwan, the nicest part of the island, but with a race event on you can justify making an extra effort to travel over and make a weekend of it.
Leaving Kaohsiung at 9am on Sat morning we could afford to have a leisurely drive over down the west coast and across the island on the No. 9. Apart from the location another great thing about this race was that the start time was 4pm, this not only allows you to travel over on Sat. morning but also guarantees better race conditions with the temperature cooling as the day goes on.
After checking in at the guest house in Taitung, we decided to make a side trip to Siaoyeliou, this is a smaller and less spectacular site than its’ northern cousin, but with its unusual rock formations and free entry it makes for a pleasant way to spend an hour.
The race start was at the East Coast National Scenic Area Administration building on the No. 11, not difficult to find since all the race bollards and police were out for traffic control. We turned up at 3pm, collected our race package and started getting ourselves warmed up. There were three races in all, 21km, 12km and a 5km fun run, 4pm and we’re off, downhill. That will be trouble on the way back. The first 5km were straight down the No. 11, normally not much fun on a main road, but the traffic was light and you can take in the magnificent coastal scenery. After crossing the Donghe Bridge we were now on the road I was looking forward to, the Dongfu Highway (No. 23) which connects the No. 11 coast road to the No. 9 rift valley road and this is a sight for sore eyes. With the river below running parallel this is like running a miniature Taroko Gorge marathon. We had approx’ 10km along this road before we reached the turn-around point through a small aboriginal village with a bunch of locals sitting around cheering us on. Another good point about this race is that it’s a loop rather than a straight up and back, it’s never fun to run back the same way you came when you are painfully aware of what lies ahead with kilometer after kilometer of pounding the pavement. A diversion through a tunnel and a small country road took us back to the No. 11 and now we just had to wait for that much anticipated 20km marker which tells you that you are on the home stretch. Feeling tired but invigorated with a cool evening breeze blowing in from the coast we just had to make it UP the last couple of hundred meters, not so pleasant, but it doesn’t matter you’re home with another medal to add to the collection. Although there were plenty of water stations along the route with sports drinks, bananas and bread provided you are always hungry at the end of the race and the dinner box provided got scoffed.

After getting changed we were on the road for our next stop, the Taitung Hong Ye Hot Springs. This outdoor hot spring used to be managed by local aborigines, but has now been taken over by the Naruwan Hotel in Taitung. It’s located in the nearby mountains west of Taitung City. There are several springs and a cold pool to splash around in. There used to be cabins which you could book for the night, but it’s just camping. If you plan to stay for the night make sure you take plenty of food with you and a cooler of cold ones. Since it’s located a few hundred meters above sea level you get a nice breeze blowing in keeping it cool even on a summer’s day. If you’ve got aching muscles after a race there is no better cure than jumping into a hot tub. Refreshed we headed back into the city stopping for an excellent sea food dinner on the way and then off to bed.

Sunday morning we were up at 7am and on the road by 8. After grabbing a quick breakfast we were ready to tackle the next item on our itinerary, Du Lan Mt. a sacred site for the Ami and Puyuma tribes. You can drive up the first 500 meters and you’ll see a wooden viewing tower at the parking lot. On a clear day you’ll get good views of both Green and Orchid Islands. It’s a four-hour round trip hike up the mountain to the summit at 1,180m. About three quarters of the way along the 4km trail you’ll see the Puyuma Altar, a giant stone put here by the aborigines to thank the mountain god for giving them food and blessings. You can take a break here before tackling the summit. This is a beautiful mountain trail enclosed in forest sheltering you from the sun. Although the summit itself is unimpressive with little by way of views there are a couple of places near the top offering windows on to the eastern coastline a thousand meters below.
After running a half marathon on Saturday and a 4-hour hike on Sunday we were beat, hot and sticky. Relief came just a few kilometers down the road at the Shanyuan Beach, one of the best that Tai tung has to offer. In the center of the beach there is a monolithic hotel which although only a few years old lies empty. Apparently an illegal structure which never gained the right to open because of the impact it would have on the local environment. This is a great beach for swimming and just fooling around in the water, a few miles long and only a handful of people to contend with. There is also a new dive site at this beach, but up to now I don’t think it has attracted the attention it deserves and could well become an alternative site to Kenting, which is really becoming overrun to the point of no longer being a desirable place to spend a weekend. In the center of the beach there is a rock outcrop of approx’ one kilometer in length with lots of coral and other sea life. I’m sure if some divers were to check it out they would find it an excellent location for shore dives and snorkeling with lots of caves and crevices to be explored.

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