British or international?

I’m proud to be British. At the same time, I’m very proud to be an international, global citizen. Lately I have found some people, (or maybe it’s British society itself?) that have an issue with these two words. They believe you must be one or the other – a Brit or a foreigner…you can’t be both.

I work with international students, and host events for international students. This in no way means I exclude all home students and British students from events. Once at a party, the bouncer tried to turn away a group of British people who had come with their Spanish friends, saying that this was an event for ‘international people only’. I know as a nation we voted for Brexit, but in no way do I see the word ‘international’ as an antonym to ‘British, English, local’ etc. How could he possibly turn people away from not being international enough?

I once went to a ‘Global Lounge’ at a church and although they didn’t turn me away, they certainly made me feel very unwelcome for trying to attend a ‘global’ event as a British person. They told me normal services are on Sundays, and this event wasn’t really designed with British people in mind. It was all very ironic, given that my first real contact and participation in a church was when I was living abroad, and I had never really read any Bible verses in English at that point. Why did they want to discourage someone who had only read and heard the Bible in Spanish from a ‘global lounge’? It really surprised me and I never went back there, not even on a Sunday for ‘normal service’, I was so disheartened.

When people ask me where I’m from, I have a similar issue…my passport is British, but over the past 6 years, I have spent almost half of that time out of the country, speaking totally different languages and spending a lot of time actively trying to avoid contact with the Brits (sorry).

And when I do tell people I’m British they say in shock ‘really?? but where are you really from? you don’t look 100% British’ and all the rest of those questions that make words like ‘quarter, half, hybrid, fully’ come up. Sometimes it’s a cultural thing, in Chinese the dictionary definition of 混血 is given as hybrid, but come on, which mixed race person would ever call themself a hybrid?

Through socialising in the international crowd, I have discovered that asking ‘where are you from?’ is actually a really insensitive way to start a conversation with someone. It’s too generic and as someone who is asked this question a LOT, you never know if the person is asking

in which city were you born?
where did you spend your childhood?
which city have you spent most time living in?
what passport do you have?
which country do you feel most at home in?
where do your parents live?
where did your grandparents live?

I have met people who for each of the above questions could answer with a different city or country.

We live in an ever more intercultural and diverse world, so British people, I urge you… drop the British label, think bigger. Learn a language, watch a foreign film, do something to make yourself not only proud to be British, but proud to be a citizen of the world.

 

Racing for toiletries

Last month, there was a ‘long distance’ running race at our university. A friend of mine helped me to sign up and I asked her how long the race would be, what the route would be etc. Because my regular training route is a 10km lap around campus. But she didn’t know and couldn’t find out any concrete information about the details of the race.

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Me before the race

Race day came and it was only then that I found out that the men’s race would be a 4km lap around some of the university buildings, yet the women’s race was only 2km. I wasn’t very happy and asked why the girls should run half the distance of the men, they told me that it’s fairer like that because most girls don’t like running…well this girl does! I asked if I could join the longer race with the boys and was told ‘no’.

I was also told there would be prizes, which were separated into ten 1st class prizes, ten 2nd class prizes and ten 3rd class prizes for the top 30 finishers, and all participants would get something, even if they weren’t in the top 30. My goal was top 10. What would my prize be, cash? food? running kit? vouchers?

I did a bit of a warm up and got ready, there were about 120 girls racing. After the whistle went, I dodged in and out of people wearing all sorts of strange clothes – Toms shoes, some wearing rucksacks, most in jeans and hoodies – and quickly got to the front of the race where I planned to stay. There was one other girl in front of me (the one who won the 1500m in the athletics meet) who ended up winning the race.

I came second! I crossed the line and took my voucher for a 1st class prize to the desk, where I got given a big bag of stuff. I sat on a bench, eager to open my bag of goodies and see what I had won:

  • a 2l bottle of laundry detergent
  • 8 big multipacks of tissues
  • a bottle of shampoo
  • an animal keyring (a dalmation in my case)

It was by far the strangest prize I’ve ever won at a race but actually quite useful as I had recently ran out of washing powder and tissues always come in handy. Actually, when I won 3rd for the 1500m, I also got a tube of Korean toothpaste alongside my medal, so this school promotes staying clean and exercising.

What strange prizes have you won at races? What do you think about the men’s and women’s races being different lengths?

First Athletics Meet [1500m]

Ok, so technically this wasn’t my first athletics competition I’ve taken part in. In year 7, I was in the Coventry schools athletics tournament, I raced in the 110m hurdles and came last. I came last because we’d been using training hurdles at school, but when we got to the competition, they were raised a few cms higher. I cleared the first one, but fell over at the second, and the third and ended the race crying, with bloody knees. I still have a scar from that day. It was one of those days where wasn’t about taking part, it was more about finishing the race and not giving up at the first hurdle [pun intended].

Anyway, Zhejiang Normal uni, like most Chinese universities, holds an annual athletics meet or 运动会, it’s like a sports day that Chinese people do throughout their school life, so actually by the time they get to university, most students are a bit bored of it all and choose not to watch or take part – which isn’t the spirit!!

As I love sports and am preparing for the upcoming Jinhua marathon in April, I decided to enter the longest distance races available – 800m and 1500m. I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t a 5km* race, but I couldn’t complain/didn’t know who to complain to.

I was the only girl from my department to enter the 1500m, but there would be other girls competing from other departments (engineering, nursery, maths, literature etc). There were 42 female competitors in the end, and I was quite nervous about all of us running at the same time, but then my 负责人 Evelyn (another Chinese student from my department who was appointed to be almost like a PA – taking me to get my race number, telling me the rules, etc) told me how we’d be split into 3 heats. There wouldn’t be a final, so I’d have to run faster than the girls in the other heats to get up on the leaderboard.

I lined up on the starting line and looked at my competitors, some were in sports clothes, one was wearing denim shorts, not all of them had proper trainers. But I dressed the part, even if I lost my race, I wanted to look like a professional athlete from overseas, so wore my matching purple Puma top and shorts, along with my trademark blue headband, blue sunglasses and worn out trainers which probably need replacing.

Before the race
Before the race

The race started and although my coach told me to stay in the middle, with 5 girls ahead of me, I decided to stick with the first three girls. The four of us broke away at the beginning and we dropped down to three after the first 200m as the girl in grey got tired. I was running alongside the girl in black for a while, keeping a steady pace for a lap. Then her coach shouted at her and she overtook me for a little while, but I could tell that she wouldn’t be able to keep that pace for a long time, so I just stayed with her, stamping my feet so she knew I was coming for her. We’d lost the girl in yellow by this time. I wasn’t really thinking about the other heats, I just wanted to win this race as I had a whole stand full of fans shouting for me. My friends from Sudan, Cameroon, South Korea, China, Ghana and Ethiopia all turned out for me and whistled, shouted and went crazy each time I passed them.

Setting the pace
Before the race

I soon overtook her and she kept behind for a while, until when I got to the final 250m I accelerated, and made my move to see if she would respond. A few seconds later, I couldn’t hear her footsteps, only the whistles from the crowd and people shouting my name. I glanced back at the end of the final corner and saw she hadn’t upped the pace like me. That was it, I’d won! Glory was mine as I crossed the finish line.

The crowd went wild and I was suddenly surrounded by people, my 负责人 Evelyn, gave me some water, and the other people were school journalists, all wanting to interview me. I felt like a pro sportswoman as I told them how this was the first time I’d ran a 1500m race and my usual race is triathlon.

When the results came out later, I saw I’d ran in it 5.59:42mins, so my pace was just under 4mins/km, which was what I was aiming for. But what surprised me more was my standing! I came third overall, which meant I’d go on the podium to receive a medal and some flowers from one of the school’s deputies. It was the first time I’d been on a podium like this, with flower girls, my name being read out on a microphone and a group of paparazzi standing below.

Very happy to be on the podium
Before the race

*it turns out there was a 5km race, but it was only open to students in the sports department, meaning there were only 4 girls competing, I should have been able to race in that!

GeoPark Adventure Standard Triathlon – Race Report

This Sunday was the GeoPark Adventure triathlons, there was a sprint and a standard distance and I knew this would be my last race for the time being. Looking at the maps of the course, I also knew it would be the hardest event I’d done so far, as it consisted of a 1500m sea swim, 42km of rolling hills and a 12km undulating run across the coast near Paignton, in Devon.

After struggling to find a space to rack my bike (there were no number assigned places) I got ready, with my trisuit, swim caps, goggles and wetsuit. I went over to the race briefing with the 70 other participants and listened to details of the course. The marshall said it was one of the toughest triathlons in the UK, which made me feel quite nervous. But I was determined to enjoy this last race and not kill, or overexert myself in the process.

The moment I stepped down into the steps into the water and a big wave of cool sea water came over me, it was high tide and there was no time for hesitation. I got in and the two minutes acclimatisation time passed really quickly as before I knew it, the klaxon sounded and we were off. The first lap was quite difficult as I couldn’t get into a good rhythm with my stroke and trying to spot the green buoys when everyone is wearing green swim caps was tricky! On my second lap, I felt better and overtook a few people but swimming back towards the exit was the hardest part.

Swimming in the sea
Swimming in the sea

After the swim, it was T1 and I couldn’t undo my wetsuit, I was struggling and pulling and tugging but the zip wouldn’t come down. Luckily, a kind lady helped me unzip and soon we were both out on the bike course. In the triathlons I’ve done with lake swims, I’ve had a horrible lake water taste in my mouth, but the sea water wasn’t too bad.

Getting out of my wetsuit
Getting out of my wetsuit

The bike course was going to be challenging, but one thing I feel was a bit unfair was that getting out of the town to the country roads, there were several sets of traffic lights. When competitors stopped at the lights, we lost a couple of minutes and there was no time taken off for abiding the highway code and stopping at the lights. It was frustrating too, as I lost the groups of people who were in front of me.

Anyway, the course was hilly, there were descents that were so fast and curvy they scared me, as I had no idea what would be waiting at the end – a T-junction, an uphill climb, a parked car, reversing car, another cyclist – I even heard there were horses on some parts of the course. Not knowing the roads made it hard and also the sheer intensity of the hills. Some athletes got off their bikes and walked up the hills, they were so steep. I spent many minutes crunching away in my lowest gear trying to make it up the steep hills.

The narrow country roads were great for glimpsing spectacular views, but they required attention, careful riding and decision making. At one point, two big cars were trying to pass each other but there was no passing place, the cars were at a stand-off and me and another lady were waiting for the motorists to figure something out. It was frustrating, not being able to advance but I imagine things like this must have happened to everyone at some point of the race. In total, I was cycling for over 2 hours.

Back to transition (T2), I rolled my bike onto my rack, undid my helmet, picked up my cap and off I went. My T2s are always pretty speedy as I don’t need to change shoes, so my T2 was the fastest out of all the competitors, at 00.00.35. The run was absolutely spectacular. It was my favourite part of the race and probably the nicest scenery I’ve run along in the UK. I first ran down the promenade, with sunbathing families on the beach to my left and old couples in deckchairs outside their beach huts to my right. Then I went up and down coastal steps before going across some hidden stony beaches towards the woods and had a lovely trail run through the woodlands. It reminded me of running in the Canary Islands and I was just having a great time taking in the scenery that I didn’t want to run any faster. I was jogging at a slower pace but I was so happy, my face was beaming and I’d never felt better.

On the way back, we ran across a golf course, through some more woods, past some trainspotters, more kids on the beach and on the home stretch, I had enough energy left to run past 5 others for a sprint finish. The sunbathing crowds were great sports, clapping us all along and moving out of our way. They smiled and were really encouraging. I already said it was going to be the hardest event I’ve done so far and with a finishing time of 4 hours and 3 minutes, it deserves the tagline “Beautiful yet Brutal” that some people have used on their Facebook. I was the 9th female to cross the line and 7th in the senior category, which I’m pleased with.

Sprint finish
Sprint finish

Overall, I highly rate the GeoPark Adventure triathlon, the scenery was immense and the course was challenging. It was also quite a small scale event, so all the photos have been published on Facebook and you don’t have to pay ridiculous amounts for a copy. Instead of a medal or a tshirt, I got a mug for participating, which I had a nice cup of tea in when I got back. It would have been nice to have numbers on the bike racks, swim caps that are different colours to the buoys and some minutes deducted for waiting at junctions, but these are minor details.

They also do other events, such as runs, swims, sportives as well as the triathlons, so check them out if you’re in the South West and want to try out or volunteer at an endurance event. I hope to be back next year to improve on my times and take on the challenge again.

All photos are taken from the GeoPark Adventure Facebook page.

My First Aquathlon

Today I competed in my first aquathlon, in the tiny island of La Palma, in the Canary Islands. I hadn’t done much specific training for it, as it was a 2.5km run along a flat avenue, a 1km swim in the sea and another 2.5km run along the avenue. I had been out for a few quick runs a few weeks before the race to work on my pace and swam twice in the sea. This week I was a bit lazy when it came to training as my Mum and sister were here in La Palma with me on holiday, we went out for meals in the evening and I generally couldn’t be bothered to train too much, preferring to spend time with them.

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I collected my number and had a man write my number on my leg and arm (which by the way still hasn’t come off my leg completely) and went to warm up with a couple of my friends who were also taking part. We watched some of the little ones do their race, running along the beach and swimming a little in the sea – they were so cute!

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Hat, number, shirt

When it was our time to run, I went to put on my two swimming caps as the green one was sure to come off and with the volume of my hair, I needed a proper latex one underneath too. My plan was to run in my swimming caps to save time at the switchover between the run and the swim. But one of the organisers told me that I wasn’t allowed to run in a cap, I asked why and she didn’t give me a proper reason, she just kept repeating that I couldn’t run in them. So I ran in my fast skin from my competitive swimming days and my Aldake tshirt.

In the first running section I took it easy as I thought the whole race would take about an hour and I wanted to save my legs for the second run after the swim. Everybody else seemed to go speeding off to the end of the avenue but I kept a steady pace and my split was 12 minutes. It was funny as the organisers hadn’t cordoned off any of the avenue so there were some grandparents, dog walkers and even a group of tourists on bikes to run around.

I ran into the water for my swim and the first thing that hit me was a huge wave. The water wasn’t cold, but it was hard to see anything except from different shades of blue. We had to swim around three different buoys in the circuit and sometimes when I lifted up my head to see where the next one was I couldn’t see it. I followed the green caps of my racemates and managed to overtake many of the men. Ego boost! When I was getting out of the water to carry on running a big wave took me to the beach, but also managed to throw me on the floor. I landed on my shoulder (ouch!), but got up quickly and carried on to finish the final running section. My split for the swim was 17 minutes which I was not expecting at all!

I wanted to take it easy to avoid getting cramp and I was really happy with the environment between competitors, all of them saying ánimo (come on, keep going) to each other as they ran the four laps of the avenue. On my fourth lap, when I wanted to run faster, I got a stitch and found it hard to carry on, but I was so close to the finish line now I had no desire at all to give up. I arrived to the finishing section, took my English flag from my Mum and ran with it to the finish line where I was met by some of my friends from my training team, with hugs and handshakes.

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Waving my flag

When I realised that I had finished in first place in the women’s category I was really happy. The race had gone amazingly, I had a really good time and being able to go home with a trophy was just the icing on the cake.

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Winner