The Loushan Warrior Race in Zunyi, Guizhou: My Most Successful DNF

No story of a foreigner’s grand win at a local Chinese race from me. At the Loushan Warrior Race, I “only” managed 32 of 55 km.

It was memorable, nonetheless.

Chances are close to 100% you’ve never heard of this race.

It only took place for the second time in 2019. It calls itself an international race, but registration and information are only available in Chinese.

If you don’t use (one of) the usual Chinese app(s) for race information and registration, you would probably find neither information, nor the registration.

Had I not been in Zunyi for the chilli expo there, I probably would not have known anything about this town, either. This way, though, I noticed when the race announcement appeared in the Chinese marathon app I use.

Joining the race seemed like an interesting way of getting to know the fascinating landscape around there a bit more, and spending some time at the beginning of China’s national day holiday somewhere other than “home” in Chongqing.

Running in the Guizhou Landscape

Something you may have seen of China are the karst landscapes of Zhangjiajie in Hunan or around Yangshuo near Guilin. The province of Guizhou very nearly lies between those two, and it is pretty much all karst domes.

“No three kilometers without a hill” goes a local saying.

The karst hills are not quite as extreme as in the better-known places just mentioned, but they are everywhere. They go from low, but still steep, domed hills up to outright mountain ranges.

No three kilometers without a hill, no three days without rain, no three pennies in a pocket.

With a lot of agriculture in the flat areas and often up onto terraces, with paths going around and over this mountainous terrain, a trail race here promised to be interesting.

Look back during the Loushan Warrior Race, Zunyi, Guizhou

The Loushan Warrior Race

Over the 55 km, the total ascent in this race amounts to 4950m. The lowest point is at 819 m, the highest point at 1756 m.

Only 200 participants are allowed for the total distance; 12 hours is the time limit.

The start is at a camping / outdoors spot at Hailongtun at around 1100 m of altitude; the end at Loushanguan at near 1800 m of altitude – and in between, the climbing is much and tough.

The race takes place during daylight hours only… but a headlamp is among the required gear. That was not the only thing I had to wonder about.

Why Loushan Warriors?

One thing I only found out by and by was the historical background of this area and this course.

Hailongtun History

There are stories of major battles that took place around here.

The fortress of Hailongtun, near the start, is a Chinese medieval castle of a “Tusi,” a hereditary tribal (ethnic minority) ruler. These were basically local kings who ruled their areas in accordance with local customs and traditions, but were appointed by the imperial central government.

In 2015, this castle was appointed the first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in Guizhou… and that’s not all.

Long March Running

The trail taken here was also a part of the Long March that played a decisive role in the rise of Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party.

At the Zunyi Conference, a major change in military strategy was decided when Mao Zedong was basically handed control; the Red Army switched from large-scale battle to guerrilla tactics – and with that, they started to win.

The first major win: The battle of Loushanguan, Loushan Pass, the finish line of this trail race.

The Red Army soldiers had covered the same terrain that one now covers as a runner.

Frankly, this aspect of “red tourism” does not seem to play too much of a role even for the Chinese participants. It was fascinating to suddenly encounter aspects of China’s 20th century history we hardly ever learn anything about, all just from looking into the course of a trail race, though.

The Running Experience

As you can tell from my introduction – i.e., the mention of my DNF – this race was rather hard. Those soldiers who moved along such trails must have been some tough-as-nails types…

The race starts nice enough – if you like that kind of start: From the Hailongtun camping area, it goes down on roads towards the Hailongtun fortress and the pass(es) around there.

Meaning, the first 10 km are mainly the long downhill at the start, and then rolling ups and downs on asphalt roads.

Then things get very different.

The turnoff from the road to Feilongguan (Flying Dragon Pass) goes onto steep stone steps and starts to climb. A lot. Partly on stone steps that are knee-high.

Around the fortress area and stone gates up there, the area is utterly fascinating – if you can remember to take a look around.

Through one of the archways, the path has suddenly turned into a trail. And that is how things continue, by and large.

Sometimes, there are sections on roads. Often, as the course basically goes through little farmsteads. Around those parts, the trail often meanders around fields, follows the walls forming terraced fields, climbs trails that local farmers use.

One major descent on a stony trail, farmwomen came up with bamboo baskets on their backs, on their way to collect bamboo shoots in the forest.

Another uphill after a farmhouse, a lost goat was confused by all the people moving past it.

Some trail sections, up and down mountains, it was only possible to run while crouching because it was just like a tunnel through the dense vegetation.

Long climbs are followed by even longer downhills.

Batcave! :-p

The craziest part – which explained why a headlamp is required – came after one such section of farmhouses, fields, and mountain trails.

Suddenly, we came to a rock wall, a low entrance in to the mountain… and what turned out to be a major cave traversing that whole mountain for a pretty long distance.

Cave roof somewhere far above, sharp boulders on the way, you run by the shine of your headlamp, blinking lights indicating the path.

At one point, you run through guano, hearing the chittering of bats above.

Towards the end of the cave the Loushan Warrior Race traverses

Long after, there’s light, and the exit to the other side of the mountain, lush vegetation immediately all around.

The GPS track, of course, just does a straight line right through that mountain range…

A part that was shown in the race briefing is immediately ahead… A part where there is a rope to hold on to, for the steep path down.

My Decline

Ultimately, all that up and down had me pay my dues.

At the Hongweiqiao control point at 26 km, I was extremely happy to find that I had read something wrong and still had 1.5 hours to get to the next control point at km 30.3 before the cut-off time… and then began the relentless climb between those two points.

Up between fields, up on roads, up on trails, up, up, up.

I soon needed so many breaks, took so long a time, it felt as if I was moving backwards.

I sincerely hoped to not make it within the cut-off time.

My watch(es) indicated that I had already gone for more than 30 km, and that next control point seemed elusive.

Then I was there. I was asked if I wanted to go on, and learned a new word: Tui. Chinese for reject, decline, give up, throw in the towel.

A Study in Contrasts…

Travel to Guilin and around Guizhou was still up ahead; getting to the finish line would still have taken as much ascent on the 20-25 km that remained of the race, a DNF was the only sensible choice.

The experience had already been a great one, with impressions to remember. And I may yet return in 2020.

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  1. Jim Skibo

    Fascinating adventure!

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