It’s Saturday, 5:45am and the alarm goes off. Anxious to beat the heat, which in October is admittedly cooling and eager to make our final difficult training run before our first marathon of the season, we launch ourselves out of bed and begin to prepare.
We started at the SongShan Airport and run down MinZu Rd We didn’t have any time goals in mind just looking for some hills, we hit the road running and ventured up towards Yang Ming Shan behind the airport and over the DaZhi bridge. There are no planes, not many cars and the park is empty.
The weather looked like it could go either way, with a mixture of dark thick clouds, there was a bit of sunlight in the distance.
After the DaZhi bridge, we continue along the road, going straight through the first intersection and continue along lane 501, BeiNan Rd, at the end of which is where we find the start of the trail. We first venture towards the Yuan Shan hiking trails as this seems the most scenic way to enter Neihu. If you continue along the Yuan Shan trails you will eventually end up at Jiantan MRT station, passing beautiful views of the city. Although lovely, it is a bit too short for today’s venture.
We do a quick jaunt up through the forested trails, beside farms and graves before we start to head North East to the Yang Ming Shan National Park. Not far into the trails and things already seem to be feeling alive, we pass lots of hikers along the route and hear some echoes of others meeting up.
This section of the trail as it passes by the farms has the occasional angry dog so be prepared. Other than that, its very peaceful as it is the only section of dirt trail we will be running today.
We get to the top of this small ridge with an exceptional look out over Taipei and Taipei 101, and somewhere shortly after this we decide its time to take a right towards Neihu. I’m not sure if there is a clear distinction except that if you come to a fork in the road, turn right. Running down the path, not far there is a small metal map, just before that head left on to a steep and “barely there” trail. Initially you might wonder if this is correct, but soon the path will get really steep with a series of ropes to help you down.
After this you will meet some memorials with steps down to what appears to be apartment buildings. You have arrived at SooChow university, if I haven’t lost you yet, this is where the uphill road running begins, and directions become a bit simpler.
You’ll wind your way through the campus and past the security on your way out to Zhi Shan road. This section is a bit more polluted than the rest of the run, but if early enough you have the pleasure of avoiding this. There is a large walking section on the right side of the road, which follows a stream up the mountain.
Here there were many groups of cyclists and the occasional jogger, heading in the same direction, most at a leisurely weekend pace. There is a random strip of shrimp fishing venues but other than that the area is mostly rural housing.
As things continue north they become increasing rural, with a few farms on either side, but mostly just stream and forest and eventually we reach the official beginning of the Yang Ming Shan park. After the park entrance, there are educational centers relating to things in the park and dozens of hiking trails in many directions.
Zhi Shan is a major road which later turns into a thoroughfare that leads to the north coast of Taiwan if you stay left. We head right towards Wan Li (according to the signs). The road narrows and there aren’t any sidewalks for pedestrians but there also aren’t many vehicles. Instead we run past many others, doing just as we are doing, going for an early morning jog. Only at this point we are still heading up the mountain as they are coming down. They gleefully encourage us “Jiayou*!” as I am sure they know that the hardest part of their run is over and instead they are enjoying the ease of heading downhill.
Eventually the road splits again and we turn right towards Neihu. Here I am certain, around any bend we could be heading downhill, but the uphill workout continues.
Finally we reach the top, there is a small lookout facing north and a number of motorcyclists enjoying the view. There also seem to be a collection of cafes opening, that will dot this portion of the road, catering, I’m sure, to the many cyclists that go this way.
After this, the run becomes a little less eventful, except for the nice views of the XiZhi area as we wound our way down through the switchbacks and back to Neihu. It seems the reverse, things become more rural and eventually turn into housing and community centers. It is absolutely the same, except of course, we are now the ones enthusiastically encouraging our compatriots with “Jiayou!” as they struggle with the 623m (or higher) elevation before them.
We ended our run at the DaHu Park MRT station (brown MRT line)
*Jiayou = Go go go! (Chinese)