Race Review: Taiwan Rice Heaven Tianzhong Marathon 2017 台湾米仓田中马拉松 (Pre Race Day)

About Taiwan Rice Heaven Tianzhong Marathon

I have run 2 full marathons in Taiwan, namely Taipei and Kaohsiung. When I decided to run my third full marathon in Taiwan this year, I seeked opinions from a few Malaysian and Taiwanese friends to see which full marathon I should run this round in Taiwan.

Unanimously, all recommended me to run at Taiwan Rice Heave Tianzhong Marathon 台湾米仓田中马拉松 to experience the warmest hospitality unseen in other marathons. It was recommended also for its beautiful scenic route passing through rice fields, recreational walkways, forest walking trails, streams of river, and vegetable farms.

Finish line of Taiwan Rice Heaven Tianzhong Marathon 2017
Here is what the organiser has to say,
Tianzhong is constantly trying to improve Taiwan's agriculture image. We welcome all runners to support Taiwan's farmers and experience our hometown filled with the fragrance of rice, Tianzhong Township, Taiwan's rice barn. Come and breath in the fresh fragrances of our fields and flowers all along the recreational walkways and appreciate the golden rice fields all along our scenic walking trails. Allow our sweet water to moisten every step of your way. Speed is not encouraged in this race in consideration of the route. We would like to extend a warm invitation to each and every runner to come and experience the natural beauty of our forest trails, the humility of our people and the splendour of our outstretched green and golden rice fields.

2017 marks the 6th year that Taiwan Rice Heaven Tianzhong Marathon 台湾米仓田中马拉松 is held. From a few hundred volunteers six years ago to today's six thousand plus volunteers including town folks and locals; from four thousand over runners six years ago to today's fifteen thousand runners, Taiwan Rice Heaven Tianzghon Marathon has come a long way!

Some of the accolades for Taiwan Rice Heaven Tianzhong Marathon:
  • Voted one of the top ten best marathons in Taiwan
  • Voted as the most hospitable marathon in Taiwan (最热情,最有人情味的马拉松)
  • Dubbed "Taiwan's Tokyo Marathon" for its warm hospitality 

Race Registration

No wonder it has gained such popularity that for the last two years, Taiwanese runners need to go through balloting in order to participate in the marathon. It's a blessing that for overseas runners, balloting is still not required. But I foresee that soon even overseas runners need to go through the balloting process based on its popularity amongst running community.

I managed to register online successfully in early June 2017, the moment it was opened for registration. The race event was actually to be held on November 11, 2017 but due to overwhelming response, there were more than fifty thousand (50,000) registrations for the fifteen thousand (15,000) slots.

Where to register? www.tianzhongmarathon.com

How to go to Tianzhong

Ticket counter at the Taichung Train Station

Tianzhong is a small town in central Taiwan with a small population of 50,000 people. The closest city will be Taichung (台中).

To reach there, I personally find that taking either the normal train service or Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR) are the most convenient. Alternatively, you can take bus from any other major cities as well.

I chose to take a direct bus service from Taipei Airport to Taichung and stayed a night in Taichung (台中). The following morning, I then took the normal train service from Taichung Train Station to Tianzhong Town, a mere 40-50 minutes train ride away.

Where to stay at Tianzhong

Tianzhong Town with beautiful rice fields
Tianzghong has been promoting its township to be an ideal place for sports and recreation in the nature surroundings. And I believe that the largest event for the whole town whole year is this Tianzhong Marathon.

  • Hotel accommodations

With a mere population of 50,000 in Tianzhong, there are limited hotel accommodations that you can choose from.

If I'm not mistaken, there are probably less than ten hotels in the whole town. When I mean by hotels are the three-star, two-star hotels. You will not find a five-star hotel at this township.
We were lucky to have booked earlier as we managed to find a quite descent hotel room close to the train station. The hotel is a mere 1 km walk to the race venue. 

Due to limited hotel accommodations in Tianzhong, Tianzhong locals have demonstrated their warmth and hospitality to runners by opening up the following facilities to stay overnight:

  • Basketball court / assembly hall next to the race venue for NT250 per night

Runers can sleep at the assembly hall for NT250 per night with own sleeping bag, etc.

  • School dormitories about 500 meters away from the race venue for NT100 per night

Even with the public facilities opening up to runners to sleep with minimal charge, there is still not enough place with the influx of 14,500 runners to the small 50,000 population town.

  • Camping tent

I also spotted some runners setting up their own camping tent close to the race venue for overnight stay.

Runners staying in the tent next to race venue

Two more camping tents I spotted next to a bus shuttle service from another city.

  • Sleeping in the car

Some Taiwanese who drive to Tianzhong from Taipei or other cities decide to sleep in their cars. It's not uncommon to see many cars in the spacious parking lot or road sides close to race venue. In fact,  my Taiwanese runner friend also chose to sleep in his car after driving from Taipei.

Many outstation runners decided to sleep in the car on pre-race night.

  • Shuttle bus service from major cities (i.e. Taipei, Taichung)

Starting this year, the organiser also provided shuttle bus service from major cities nearby. Per my understanding, the shuttle bus would leave Taipei at 2.00 am for the 6:20 am flag off.  The whole bus journey would take about 2.5 hours.

Race Entry Pack Collection (REPC)

Tianzhong Township Office 
It was to my surprise that I saw no queue for the race entry pack collection (REPC) at all at Tianzhong Township Office. In fact, I only saw a handful of runners there only.

Later I found out that all Taiwanese participants opted for mail delivery for their race entry pack.
It's only the overseas runners that would drop by Tianzhong Township Office to collect their race entry pack.

When I told the personnel in the Township Office that I'm from Malaysia. You wouldn't believe how warm they are!!!

They kept smiling at us, introducing us to all the nice food, beautiful tourist attractions to visit, etc.

They even said a big warm welcome to us, "Welcome to Tianzhong!

Friendly personnel at Tianzhong Township Office. I love their friendly smile!

The nice lady was helping us to look for our race entry pack
After we collected our race entry packs, they pointed us to boxes of local biscuits. There are a total of six different types of locally made biscuits. They asked us to take as many as we wish! Wow! I was so so impressed!!

I wish I could carry back the whole 6 boxes of them. haha! But I ended up taking 2 sets of each type of biscuits. Yummy!!  

Wow! So much local biscuits to try out! All free! :)
Oh! We were introduced to the town mayor too! I even shook hands with him! He was so so friendly and hospitable, giving us the warmest welcome!

I felt so warm with their hospitality!! Really made me feel so much at home with them!

I couldn't wait to open up the race entry pack to see what's inside:

  • A very nicely designed running tee by FILA
  • A small towel with Tianzhong Marathon 2017 printed on it
  • A professionally printed Tianzghong tourist guide booklet
  • A timing chip to be placed at the shoe lace
  • Route map
  • Event program and schedule
  • BIB in my Chinese Name 许运峥。 (I intentionally wanted my name to be printed in Chinese for sweet memory)
Yohoo! BIB in my Chinese name! I love it!

Harvest festival and parade

In conjunction with Taiwan Rice Heaven Tianzhong Marathon 2017, the town also held a harvest festival and parade starting at 3.00 pm on November 11, 2017, the pre-race day.

It really looked like the whole town came to celebrate the harvest, making the whole race avenue look like a great festival!

There were different organisations and groups dressed up in interesting different cultural costumes to perform and parade. There was even dragon dance performance!

Despite the overcast, cloudy weather, which turned into drizzling rain later,  it didn't stop the locals and runners to join in the fun-filled activities! 

Nothing could dampen the spirit of  Tianzhong people and runners! 

Tianzhong locals prepared for the harvest festival performances and parades

Wow! Nice outfit!
Great performances!
Liaon dance performance!
Festive atmosphere with supportive of locals!

Race Expo

Race venue
After running in 26 full marathons previously and seeing various sizes of race expos, I must say that I was very impressed by Tianzhong Marathon 2017's race expo. It was quite a large scale with many exhibition booths offering practical goods and products with excellent pricing.

Many exhibition booths that sell very practical running tech and gear at very good price!
More of the exhibition booths!

Just to name a few:

  • FILA

The major sponsor was FILA. And you could see FILA really put in lots of effort in promoting their brand by putting up many FILA mascots, having treadmills for runners to test out their new shoes, and offering heavy discounts to selected shoe models and running gear and shirts.

FILA booth

I tried out the FILA Kenya Racer 3 running shoe!! I felt like a Kenyan runner for a moment! :)

Yohoo! Do you see me?

Yay! A finish photo on pre-race day!

  • Taiwan-made Y Sandals for barefoot runner (Y 拖鞋)

It's the first time I saw these shoes up close. Wow! I was so surprised at how popular these Y-slippers / sandals are in Taiwan. In fact, I saw quite a number of runners running in these sandals on race day itself. Impressive!

  • Tsai-A-Ee Sporting Goods 蔡阿姨体育用品

Even though I brought along my newly bought New Balance 1500v3 running shoe to run at the race the next day, I was still not very comfortable with my decision to run the race with it. Reason? I had  not-so-good experience in running on wet surface a week ago when trying it out at KLCC Park. Knowing it was going to rain as well the next day on race day, I decided to check out the ASICS, Mizuno running shoes at Tsai-A-Ee Sporting Goods.

I began to chit chat with the owner Tsai-A-Ee (Autie Chai). To my pleasant surprise, I found out that she is a seasoned full marathon runner who ran more than 40 full marathons and also did 100 km ultra marathon before. Her age is 60 years old. She also won many trophies. She even showed her podium finish photos to me. When asked about her personal best time for a full marathon, she said humbly, "My personal best record is 3 hours 25 minutes!"

I almost fell off my chairs!!

She offered me lots of advice on shoe selections as well as some running tips. 

With such an awesome service from her, I decided to buy a pair of ASICS Thartherzeal 5 and a waist belt from her for a very good price! 

She even threw in a pair of socks, 2 pairs of elastic shoe laces for me.

So so sweet of her!!

I was really inspired by 60 year-old Aunty Tsai 蔡阿姨·

Trying out ASICS running shoes with great advice from Aunty Tsai! Ended up buying ASICS Thartherzeal 5 at a very good price! :)

Thank you Aunty Tsai for sharing your great running tips with me as well as selecting the right running shoe size for me!

  • Taiwan Running Biji (台湾笔记

Taiwan Running Biji's booth! 
Yes, the famous Taiwan Running Biji had a booth too selling very nice sports bag, nicely designed tee shirts and socks, etc. I was so happy to be able to see them face to face and chat with them! I told them that they were very famous in Malaysia we we track the running news in Taiwan through their website.

I ended up buying the sports bag and the running tee "Run for Dream". The Personal Best socks were given for free with the purchase. 😀

A sports bag, a Run for Dream tee shirt and a pair of socks from Taiwan Running Biji

Carbo loading

We met up with my friend's Taiwanese friend who drove all the way from Taipei to TianZhong. He planned to sleep in his car for the night, just like last year when he and his wife also slept in the car for the night. There is a huge and complete toilet facility and shower area around the race venue. Therefore, it would be no problem for those runners who decided to sleep in the car or camp nearby.

We decided to eat something soupy with the rain and cold weather. We walked to a close by steamboat restaurant for a nice warm steamboat dinner. Conversation was mostly around running topic! haha!

Steamboat dinner for carbo loading

For those who love street food for carbo loading, you can also check out the street food centre next to the race venue. I took a picture of the street food centre below for your reference

Another option for dinner - local street food at the food court next to race venue

Runners' Night 选手之夜 (Evening Party for Runners)

After dinner, we went to the race venue where a special performance was held for the runners.

Throughout the night I could also feel the tremor from the earthquake three (3) times. What an experience! Wow!

I could really see how much effort TianZhong town and the organiser put into making this 6th Taiwan Rice Heaven Tianzhong Marathon a great success!

In addition to the awesome harvest festival and parade, as well as great expo, they even organised a runners' night - an evening party for runners!!

Can you believe it?

An evening party for runners? Wow!

  • FIFA Cheer Leading Squad

They had lined up great performances from FIFA cheer leading squad as opening act. Their performances brought great cheers from the crowds holding on to their umbrellas. Some even danced to it! And I shook my body too following the beat of the music! haha!

And yes - look at the background! Awesome visual effect reflecting the spirit of Tianzhong!

FIFA cheer leading performers!! Awesome!

Really love the background visual as well on the stage!

  • Local famous band 打狗乱歌团 & award winner 严詠能

打狗乱歌团 - a really awesome band!

They then invited a local famous band 打狗乱歌团 (check out their Facebook page ) and award winner 金曲歌手严詠能 to perform. 

This band is very special. They even wrote a theme song for Taiwan Rice Heaven Tianzhong Marathon every year since last year. They also wrote a song paying tribute to the volunteers and Tianzhong people for making the marathon one of the top ten marathons in Taiwan and the most hospitable marathon in Taiwan.

They made the crowd go crazy! The songs are very catchy and easy to sing along with! With the lyrics and the visuals of TianZhong and the people and the marathon in the background, it brought everyone to their feet!

I was clapping hands, letting the drone camera take pictures of us from the sky, singing along to the songs with the locals!! 

It was especially touching when they sang the song paying tribute to the volunteers while the music video on background showing all the volunteers' video clips!! Really moved by it!

打狗乱歌团 performing on stage

打狗乱歌团 performing on stage

  • Theme song for TianZhong Marathon 2017

I'm so so impressed by the theme song. In Chinese, the theme song title is "田中央 來坐". In English, it means "Come and Sit with us at the Rice Heaven" 

Please click on the YouTube video link above to listen to the whole theme song!

For those who read Chinese, the essence of the song is below:

今年的歌名叫做《田中央 來坐》。

  • Free Taiwan beers  

Hey - there was free Taiwan beers too served by beautiful Taiwan girls in FIFA sexy cheerleading uniforms! :) Despite the cold weather, I saw people queueing up to drink the beer and be close with the friendly smiling ladies! :) So cool!

Free Taiwan beers! Yohoo!

A good night sleep for the race the next day

We decided to call it a night at around 9.30 pm. 

Before I slept, I was still contemplating what running shoe to wear the next day - New Balance 1500v3 that I brought from KL or the newly bought ASICS Thartherzeal 5 with zero mileage on it? Finally, I decided to wear ASICS Thartherzeal 5 instead as I had a slippery experience with New Balance 1500v3 in KLCC Park in the rain. And I knew it was going to rain too on race day.

Well, I did the last minute check on my shoe, gear, power gel etc. All set. 

Time to sleep for the exciting race day!

Please also read part 2 of my race review on Taiwan Rice Heaven Tianzhong Marathon 2017 for my exciting enjoyable race experience under the rain by clicking here

Thank you very much for reading my experience sharing. You can also follow updates at Instagram and Facebook . 

Words   : Vincent Khor
Date      : 17 November 2017


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