Saturday was the reason for this trip - The Great Wall Marathon. We had to be on the buses by 3:30 AM for the 2-hour ride out to the race site. We were given box breakfasts to eat on the bus.
We had to be on the buses by 3:30 AM.
bus ride to the race site
It was chilly when we arrived at Yin and Yang Square around 5:30 AM. That would all change dramatically by the time the sun rose over the surrounding mountains.
We had a long time to wait around. The races started in five waves to space out the 2,000+ people participating in the events. As we waited, there was an opening ceremony, a warm-up, and a tribal dance by a group of runners who came from New Zealand. Traci would be doing the half-marathon (13.1 miles). She has done countless half-marathons over the years but none like this. I am normally a spectator at these running events but this time Traci signed me up to run the 8.5K "Fun Run" (5.3 miles). This would be my very first official race. Therefore, I had to train for a few months leading up to this trip so that I would not end up being carried off the course on a stretcher. I trained by incorporating two running days per week into my morning exercise routine. I eventually got to the point I could run four miles. I also trained for the 2,500 steps of the Great Wall by walking the stairs at work from the first floor to the sixth floor and back again five times in a row. No, it was nowhere near 2,500 steps. I did not have time for all that during the workday. As for training for the heat, there was not much I could do. The temperature during my final morning run at home before we left for China was only 38°F.
The events finally kicked off at 7:30 AM with the full-marathoners in Wave 1. Traci was in Wave 2 and I was in Wave 5. The waves started every 10 minutes. There was a sharply dressed Chinese band present to play as each wave started. They sounded good but did not seem to have much of a repertoire. Every time a wave started they would play "Jingle Bells". It was May! Anyway, it brought smiles to everyone's face.
ready to run
The temperature and humidity had climbed significantly by the time my wave started at 8:10 AM. The temperature would eventually reach 97°F. Most of the first three miles was up the steep mountain road. The villagers were out taking pictures and cheering us on. Some were all dressed up. I only ran on flat or downhill stretches of the road. I walked the rest to save my energy for the wall. There was no way that I could see to run the uneven steps of the Great Wall; therefore, I huffed and puffed one step at a time up and down the 2,500 steps of that section of the course along with everyone else.
Despite all the grief I gave Traci for signing me up for the race, I actually enjoyed the camaraderie on the course. There were 59 countries represented at the Great Wall Marathon this year. I had interesting conversations with people from all over the world. I even spoke a little French.
It was a tough course - especially on the Great Wall in all the heat in humidity. I had wobbly legs when I finished the wall section and tried to run the last half-mile to the finish line. At least I only had a half-mile left. Traci and other half-marathoners still had about 8 miles to go through the villages. Those who were doing the full-marathon still had about 21 miles to go which included a second time on the wall! We were told to expect a finish time 50% greater than our normal finish time for our distance. The full-marathoners were under pressure because they had to be entering the wall for the second time in under 6-hours or else they would be pulled from the course. Everyone needed to be finished the entire race by the 8-hour cut-off. Not everyone was able to accomplish this that day. There is a reason the Great Wall Marathon is called the toughest marathon course in the world.
Traci taking a selfie break during the half-marathon
I was happy to cross the finish line and to collect my very first race medal! There were shower facilities adjacent to the square where I could clean myself up and change into the clean clothes I brought with me. I went back to the square afterwards and chatted with some of our group members while waiting for Traci to finish her event. I went to meet her as she crossed the finish line. With that, she completed a half-marathon on her third continent - four more to go.
We did it!
Traci got cleaned up and changed after completing the half-marathon. A complimentary 20-minute massage at the race site was included in our package. My problem was that I did not see anyone change the plastic on the massage tables. Ewww! There were other opportunities for massages other than at the race site. Our tour guide could arrange for a masseuse to come to your hotel room and give you a 90-minute massage for just $30. We did not take advantage of the offer but others in our group did. Some liked it. Others said it was too rough.
Shuttle buses to the various hotels were leaving Yin and Yang Square as they filled up. Traci and I did not do much when we returned to the hotel. We got something light to eat at the complimentary buffet in the Club Lounge. Some other group members invited us to go to dinner with them at 7:30 PM but we did not see them in the lobby when we went down to meet them. We were not too disappointed by this. We were so tired that we were in bed by 8 PM that night. Continue...