Hi everyone, I’m Jen and I’m a frequent attendee of Athena’s Tuesday night and Thursday morning fitness classes at the Oak Square YMCA. I am lucky enough to work for a company, Marathon Tours & Travel, which organizes some amazing trips to marathons all over the world. I am even luckier when I am asked to travel with our group to one of our amazing destinations. In March I was asked to assist with the group for the Great Wall of China Marathon trip in May. Of course I said yes! How could I not want to travel to Beijing AND run a half marathon on the Great Wall!?
The experience was absolutely awesome! After a couple of days of touring in Beijing, race day was upon us and our group of 160 was ready for the 3:30am departure to Yin & Yang Square in Huangyaguan, Tianjin Province. The atmosphere was electric as we waiting for the first wave of runners to start!
The beginning of the race was a 5K uphill section to the entrance of the Great Wall. We were lucky that the weather was overcast on race day, keeping it slightly cooler than usual. There were already some great views of the villages below and many of the locals came out to cheer us on!
Finally I was at the entrance of the Great Wall and more than excited to begin my climb up and down 2,500+ steps (about 2.5 miles on the Wall itself)! The steps were all different – some steep, some low, some wide, some narrow. There was no consistency, making the climbs up and down all the more difficult.
Each step I took on the Wall I had to keep reminding myself where I was and what I was doing! It is incredible to think how long ago the Wall was built and that I was running a half marathon on it. Runners from countries all over the world (USA, Canada, Brazil, Australia, South Africa, France, etc) have come to check this off their bucket list. Many were grunting and giving it their all to just get through these first few miles of the race. It was grueling and my legs were already shaking before the 5 mile mark…..but I kept having views like these to keep me pushing forward:
After completing the Wall section, I ran through the start/finish area at Yin & Yang Square and head out to one of the local villages, Duanzhuang Village. There were many children cheering the runners on here too:
The locals here do not have much, but they all show so much spirit and hospitality welcoming thousands of runners through the twists and turns of their home village. While running on the Wall was an extraordinary experience, running through the villages was my favorite part of the race. The children learned a few phrases of English to cheer on the runners – “Go!”, “You Can Do it!” and “Hello!” were heard along the course.
After many high fives and pushing my tired legs through 13.1 miles, I made it across the finish line in 3 hours and 49 minutes! My normal finish times are between 2:20 and 2:30, so the organizers are spot on when they tell you to expect your finish time to be about 1.5 times longer than normal. It also didn’t help that I took 100+ photos along the way! It is the Great Wall of China after all!
I spent the rest of the day cheering on my other clients as they crossed the finish line. The marathon runners had to go back up on the same section on the Wall again for the final 5 miles of the race. I give them all the credit in the world to go back on the Wall again- they literally are crawling up the stairs to complete it again.
I have completed 10 half marathons and 2 marathons (one of which you can read about on Fitness & Feta here!), and this was by far the most difficult one to date. Of course I would run it again if I am lucky enough to travel with our group one more time in 2014! Trying and succeeding at new challenges is something I am always seeking to do. Once you put your mind to it there is nothing you can’t do! Next up for me – 3 more half marathons this summer leading up to the ING Hartford Marathon on October 12!
Here are a few more race day pictures:
What are you doing to challenge yourself this year?
Thank you, Jen, for sharing this amazing experience on Fitness & Feta! You never cease to amaze me with your commitment to running and all the races you do!
Let’s chat – For all my runner readers out there, what’s the most memorable race you’ve run?