The Great Wall Marathon Blog
I did the NY marathon in November 2013, it was the best experience of my life. So I thought to myself “what next – how can I up the ante”.
Then, still having the running bug, I researched other marathons out there and stumbled upon a Great Wall Marathon Blog. That must be a challenge. In researching the race prior to the event, some of the blogs indicated it wasn’t that hard, having completed it 2 days ago – I thought I’d share my story.
It all starts with a 2:30 am wake up call – and you must be on the bus by 3 am as the start line is a good 2.5 hours away from Beijing.
We make it to the start line also known as Yin and Yang square (good/bad – nice/evil). We are the first bus there, which helps with the obligatory toilet stop prior to the event.
As we make our way through the square we are greeted by a merry marching band busting out “Jingle Bells” – I couldn’t think of a more appropriate pre-race song in the middle of May – could you?
Now we enter the town square and and are duly warmed up by two young lasses performing some quasi aerobic routine (think Asian Solid Gold dancers meets Richard Simmons) – I didn’t really get into – I found it too funny seeing 2500 people trying to do the aerobics at one time.
But I was getting ready…
The clock strikes 7 am and we have the Grand Gala Opening Ceremony. From my experience in China it would appear having a group of more then 5 people would qualify a Grand Event or Gala Occasion. But I digress and am fully aware this blog will have me banned from China forever!
The local dignitaries are wheeled out, and introduced to much applause. From what I could gather, several were the big bosses of the local manufacturing plants- I think one owned a big shoe factory?
But I particularly like when they introduced the female, shown below, her title was “Minister for Propaganda” – I’m pretty sure they meant “Marketing Manager” or “Public Relations Officer” – but hey it’s China – who knows right?!
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – And we’re off.
I’m in wave 1 – so we set off at 7:30am – I’m near the front of the pack – I reckon I’ll never get this close to leading an international marathon again – and it felt good!
Until the hill started – I didn’t read enough blogs obviously – but if you are reading this and thinking of doing the run – the hills are the killers not so much the stairs (don’t get me wrong they suck too) – but the hills WOW.
So you start with a 1km flat run – that leads into a 5km run up the mountain – that just seemed to go on and on and on. And probably the steepest hill I’ve ever run.
I, of course, got too excited and ran way to fast to start and by the time I got to the top of the hill I was stuffed and I haven’t even set one foot on the wall yet.
Once on the wall the view is awesome – and you just go from rolling stair to rolling stair case – some higher than others and then the mother of them all as seen above. I think you do about 10 rolling staircases – not all as high as the one above – but they are all pretty tough (don’t think your flight of stairs at home).
Once this section of the wall is completed you return to Yin and Yang square via the “Goat Track” – this is possible the worst/hardest part of the run.
It’s STEEP – the uneven, potholes, cracks – some sections have rails some don’t and pretty much single file. I think it goes for about a kilometre – but on the way back up (at the 34 km mark) it’ll take the average runner about a half an hour to go 1 km (I kid you not).
Anyway, once down the goat track for the first time you start your run out into the villages. It’s not always the prettiest view …
But you do manage to do a lot of high-fiving with the locals…which is pretty cool.
This section is probably the longest and flattest section – but for me (as I was so stuffed) it seemed uphill but maybe it wasn’t – I was quite delirious!
You also need to contend with cars trucks etc in lots of sections here – as the roads aren’t blocked off for the marathon runners only.
Once you finish the long flattish section – you come to another mother of a hill climb (who knew?) – of the 50 people I saw on this section, about 2 tried to run. But it was such a steep hill – it was quicker to walk and take long strides. I think it went for about 4 km.
Then some downhill finally, back to through the villages and onto Yin & Yang Square one more time before attempting the ultimate cruelty. Making you go up the goat track and wall after you have already completed 34 kms!
IT WAS HARD – most people I saw took about 6 steps and then had to stop due to pain and I was certainly no exception. The good news was there was plenty of water.
I saw several people lying on stretchers and one guy curled up in the foetal position in a pool of his own vomit…
“Medic – Pass this on” it was Chinese whispers on a grand scale to try and get the guy help.
And I passed the message on, but sorry whoever you were – I had to keep going. I’m no good with first aid anyway.
Many many times I thought “does this friggin’ ever end”. I vomited around the halfway mark (mainly due the constant bugs that kept flying in my mouth – I’m not an insect fan, I was delirious around the 30k mark and started seeing some stars.
At the 37k mark I slightly twisted my knee coming down the last section of the wall (typical) – so I pretty much hobbled the last 5k’s downhill – which blew my time out just over my 6 hour goal (who cares right?).
A lot of thoughts go in your head when you have 6 hours to yourself running – my mind strayed to the big question – what would I do at the finish line?
Initially I was going to do the Leyton Hewitt – “COME ON”, but everyone does that… next Usain Bolt came into my head…
So for many parts of the course you see me practising my best Usain Thunderbolt impersonation, which I suddenly stopped once I realised HOW STUPID I must be looking to the runner behind me who constantly sees one right arm go into the air and me leaning to the left! They must’ve thought I was doing my best John Travolta Saturday Night Fever impersonation.
And then it came to me – well if they can see the Great Wall from the Moon – it’s only logical that I cross the finish line doing the Moonwalk – which I did!
You see in my delirious state – I thought I may be able to communicate with them up there.
But WOW – I did it – and I got a genuine Made in China medal to prove it.
When I did the New York Marathon in November 2013, I said “that was the best experience of my life” – and still is.
I used to smoke a pack and a half of cigarettes every day – and giving them up has always been my “hardest thing I have ever done in my life”.
Well the Great Wall of China Marathon is my new “hardest thing I have ever done”.
Would I do it again? No way Jose.
Am I glad I’ve ticked that box? Wouldn’t change it for the world.
Only about 7,500 people in the history of mankind (by my calcs – and excludes any Chinese that may have a ran a marathon building the friggin thing!) – have ever run a marathon on the Great Wall – and I’m one of them – and that feels pretty cool.