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Beijing (Continued)

The next day was course inspection day. Traci and I hit the breakfast buffet at 5:45 AM since everyone needed to be on the buses by 6:30 AM. By the way, the breakfast buffet at the Renaissance Capital was superb. There were cook-to-order stations, Western breakfast items, Chinese breakfast items, a bakery station,… the whole nine.

We were driven to a rural area in Tianjin Province where the marathon events on the Great Wall of China would take place two days later. It was about a 2-hour drive from Beijing. Upon our arrival, I got my first look at the Great Wall. We were at a section of the wall called the Huangyaguan Pass that was first built during the Northern Qi Dynasty (550 - 557) and upgraded with watchtowers during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). The Great Wall's purpose was to protect China from invading nomadic tribes. I was surprised at how high in the mountains it was. Our group, along with runners from all around the world, was gathered in Yin and Yang Square for the race briefing.

Great Wall of China high in the mountains

There were three events associated with the Great Wall Marathon: full marathon (26.2 miles), half-marathon (13.1 miles), and the 8.5 K (5.3 miles) “Fun Run”. Because of the extreme heat forecast for race day (as much as 101°F), the organizers announced that they were modifying the rules. In short, no one was allowed to upgrade their race distance; however, downgrades would be allowed. For example, if you had registered to run the half-marathon, you were not allowed to upgrade your distance to a full marathon. Conversely, you would be allowed to downgrade from the full to a half. You could even decide to make the change while running the race.

After the briefing, we were loaded into the buses and driven up the 3-mile winding mountain road to the entrance of the Great Wall. We would need to run this steep road on race day. Roughly two miles of the course would take place on the Great Wall. There were around 2,500 steps that we had to navigate - some were knee-high while others were toe-high. Some portions had no steps at all. Instead, there was a rocky path. The temperature was sweltering that day. I could understand why everyone was required to walk this section of the course on inspection day. It was very strenuous. It was good to know what we had gotten ourselves into. Also, it was an opportunity to take photos before race day. Those who signed up for the full marathon would have to tackle this section of the wall twice on race day.

The Great Wall of China



traffic jam on inspection day




Standing on a structure with this much history was my second pinch yourself moment of the trip. The view from there was breathtaking. Traci and I took a bunch of pictures and explored towers that were not even part of the race course. In fact, we spent much more time on the wall than we should have. We were told we needed to be back on the bus between 2 and 2:30 PM. I started to notice that there was almost no one else on the wall with us. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 1:30. Traci and I put the camera (phone) away and picked up the pace. I started to feel somewhat relieved about 15 minutes later when I could hear the buses in the distance. I figured we must be close. This relief was short-lived when I saw that the path went up and curved away from the direction of the sound of the bus engines. We still had a lot of wall (and steps) ahead of us. It was 2:20 by the time Traci and I finally made it to our bus. Whew!

We had about an hour back at the hotel to get cleaned up and changed before we needed to be back on the buses to go to dinner. We were taken to a cool-looking Chinese restaurant (Jin Ding Xuan). It had lion statues out front and Chinese lanterns throughout. This was the first of many family-style meals we would have during our time in China. For the family-style meals, there were normally 8 to 12 of us seated around a table that had a large disc that can be rotated to get to the various dishes brought by the waiters and waitresses. We often did not know what food we were being served. It did not help to ask the servers because they normally did not speak English. Sometimes I liked what I tried. Sometimes I didn't. Since I am a bit of a germ-a-phobe, I did not care for family-style dining. There was too much double-dipping going on; that is, some people would use the same chopsticks or fork they were eating with to get food from the dishes in the center of the table instead of using the spoon provided. Traci and I normally tried to be the first to get our food or we would pay attention to which side of the dish no one had double-dipped on. The dessert for most of our meals in China was watermelon. Traci and I do not like watermelon so we passed on dessert.

family-style dining with rotating disc

Jet lag really had me in its grip by the time we were returned to the hotel. While Traci and I were chatting with some of our travel companions, I experienced a rare moment in which I almost fell asleep on my feet. I was THAT sleepy! I finally dragged myself to bed by 10 PM. Continue...


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