Great Wall Marathon


I was somewhat surprised when I arrived in Beijing to see so much open space and park areas, which reminded me of back home.  I was picturing China to be a densely populated region with very little plant life in sight within the city. 

Although China seemed much more westernized than the other countries I had been visiting recently, the language barrier was by far, the worst of anywhere I had been.  The hotels my tour booked with while in China were several notches more luxurious than the rooms I was starting to get used to in Asia.  More than once during the last few weeks I would wake up to discover dozens of red spots on my arms, neck and legs which I could only guess where from some sort of insect bite throughout the night. 

On Thursday, we were bused from Beijing to the race site, about two hours away, in Huangyagung.  We were briefed on what to expect on race day and then we were able to walk the 3.5km section of the Great Wall, which we would be running on a couple days later. 

At that point it became very clear to me that it would not be an easy task just to finish.  After our Subway sandwich lunches, we were bused to Jixian, a town about 45 minutes away where we would be staying for the next couple of days. 

On the Friday, I did a day tour of the Qing Tombs, and a couple of temples as well as a local market.  After a month in Asia, I had seen dozens of markets and was almost more interested in just watching the others from our group react to all these "crazy" places. 

Once more thing that was a bit strange in China was that the medical staff at the hotel would have to take your temperature before allowing you to enter the dinning hall before meals.  The pasta dinner was a good feed but nothing terribly special.

Race day started required a 3:45am wake up, to give us time to eat breakfast, pack, check out and drive to the race site.  We started the marathon at 7:30am after some formal presentations by the Chinese and the race organizers. 

It was amazing to see so many runners from different places all taking on the same gigantic challenge.  The weather was perfect, cool and cloudy.  The first go at the wall was good.  I paced myself easy at the beginning and only began to pick it up after I was off the wall for the first time, around the 8.5k mark.  It took me about an hour to get there. 

The middle of the race went all through the local village and surrounding area.  It was so cool to see all the local children out cheering and giving high fives as we ran past.  About halfway, there was a surprise 2.5km climb up a mountain road.   It slowed me down but I was still feeling okay.  I felt fairly strong past the 34.5km mark where I was about to get back up on the wall for the second time. 

I only took about 20 steps on the wall before I was reduced to crawling pace.  Every step was its own challenge and I was beginning to doubt getting to the top of the wall, let alone finishing the race. 

With unrelenting forward progress in mind, I fought through the pain, and managed to somehow make my way along the wall and back to the mountain road.  It was only 5km of mainly downhill to the finish from there. 

I finished strong, alongside a Chinese runner that I had been running the last few kilometers with, in a time of four hours and twenty-four minutes, which was good enough for the 19th place overall.  The winner ran around 3:40'.  I cheered on some of the friends I had met while they came through the finish line and then it was a long three-hour bus ride back to Beijing. 

I had a good Chinese massage later that night followed by a huge Chinese dinner with a lovely Swiss couple that I met.  The following day was spent on a guided city tour with about 25 other runners.  We saw Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, which required a lot of walking and kept us from tightening up too much. 

The stair climb up Charcoal Hill was not the easiest, but it had a great view at the top.  We had a delicious Peking duck lunch and then saw the Temple of Heaven. 

That evening, we all went to the Post-race Gala Dinner, which was over the top.  There was a huge buffet and open bar along with all the awards and presentations made by the race organizers.  I finished the night off by a trip to the night market with a few others only to arrive as they were closing down.  Overall, the organizing team did a spectacular job organizing the Great Wall Marathon.

The next day I joined a couple of the girls for a trip to the Summer Palace and the Hutongs before heading to the airport.  My flight was about 12 hours long, direct to Toronto.  I was able to do some yoga every few hours since I was seated in a roomy emergency exit row. 

I am very happy to be home and to see everyone once again but it is a challenge to get all my stuff organized.  I am looking forward to starting my practice teaching classes at Moksha in a couple weeks and am thrilled to be able to train freely once again. 

I’ve got lots of races planned for the rest of the year so I’ll have plenty more reports to come.   

© Brian Groot 2016