Walking on the Chinese Wall

Trip Start Aug 10, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  , Beijing,
Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man."

Mao Zedong

Well, with this in mind (and I've kept this one a bit of a secret) I thought I'd go one better, just in case. On the 17th of May, I took the opportunity of taking part in one of the world's most extraordinary marathons, the Great Wall of China Marathon. It takes the runners twice over a stretch of the Great Wall of China near Huangyaguan Village, about three hours north of Beijing. Conceived as the brainchild of one Sören Rasmussen in a kitchen somewhere in Denmark, this marathon was organised for the 9th time in ten years (one year had to be skipped due to SARS).

Observant readers of my blog over the past several months might have noticed a recurring theme of jogging through various exotic locations (Bagan, Angkor Wat, etc.) creeping in, but I now need to confess that this is what is was all leading up till in the end. And after 5 hours and 13 minutes of huffing, puffing and unsuccessfully trying to blow the wall down, I finally emerged on to the Yin & Yang square in the middle of a fortress in Huangyaguan, which marked the finish to the marathon.

Admittedly, my marathon times over the years are not heading in the right direction, but to put things in perspective, I've included a few pictures taken two days before the marathon on "inspection day" when we tracked the part of the marathon which would lead us across the wall. Starting of with a steady climb over 5 km's and a tough stretch of 3.2 km's along the wall, I'd already clocked up a time of 1:12 hours, but true horror strikes when you've reached the 35 km mark, only to be confronted with a near vertical climb, stairs (without handrails) leading straight up to a heady 475 metres. Naively, before the race, I'd thought this part was going to be a doddle, just "wandering" across the wall and finishing with a 5 km downhill jog to the finish line. Must have stopped half a dozen times just to get my breath back and ended up doing several parts using both arms and legs to get up. Expecting to finish in about 6 hours though, I was more than happy with my time. Check out photos here!

So, I sit typing this story, pretty chuffed with myself, but with excruciatingly sore kneecaps and upper legs screaming a full range of expletives at me for what I've made them go through. The masseuse has just pummeled and pounded my body, and I must have nearly fainted when she dug her thumbs into my upper legs. I know from experience that this will pass, and I will be back to normal again by, about 2010...

The whole thing was incredibly well organised and I bumped into all sorts of weird and wonderful characters along the way, from when I was collected from Beijing Airport and taken to 5-star Beijing International Hotel (that's 5 star Chinese style, but still 5 stars more than the usual accomodation I've been staying in for the past ten months): Evelyn & Steve, Brits now living in Houston, Joe the American having the time of his life, the whole crowd (Molly, Holly, Edie, Andres, Jason, Nicole, Joe, etc.) of "Group 8", including the eventual winner of the female's marathon event. During the gala dinner to celebrate completion, there were also special words for the eldest woman (now 85 years old) to be inducted into the famed 7-continent marathon group (think it speaks for itself what this means).

The final morning, I realised what kind of "mad" company I'd been keeping over the past five days, as people openly sat contemplating what was going to be their next marathon, ranging from the Antarctic Marathon, the Big Five Marathon (running through Kruger Park in South Africa), and some race taking you 135 km through Death Valley (going to have to check the existence of this one, sounds like pure suicide to me). ....

Also, I'll have to admit at this time, I've been abstaining from my beers for the past month or so, but with the race over, I can revert to my old habits, and sip myself one of the many Chinese concoctions: today's favourite is Tsingtao Beer.

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