The Great Wall Of China Marathon - Derya
Great Wall of China Marathon
By Derya Martin
Shortly after learning of my move to South Korea in the spring of 2018, I was enjoying a leisurely run around Burke Lake with Ralph when I first started talking about opportunities to complete a run in China while living in Asia. That day, I came home and started researching various China races and came across the Great Wall of China Marathon. It was at that time I made my mind up and committed to running this race!
We moved to Korea in the summer of 2018 and I quickly came across 4 other ladies also interested in running the race (3 for the half marathon, 1 with me on the full marathon). In the fall of that same year, we all met up in a quaint Korean coffee shop to discuss the details and collectively sign up for the race. With close to $2K committed, there was no looking back!
Training for this unique race is not like training for a regular marathon. We quickly took to the hills and stairs to mirror the expected conditions on the Wall. The race coordinators advised all racers to add up to 2.5 hours to their normal marathon time due to these conditions. Unfortunately, my training quickly came to a halt as I had to address unrelated nagging jaw pain. Just 3 days before Christmas 2018, I had major jaw surgery that required my mouth to be wired shut for 8 weeks (don’t worry, I could still talk!). I lost 16lbs during this time and it cost me 11 weeks of training. This left me about 8 weeks to train, and the post-surgery ramp up in training coupled with lost muscle mass left me with severe knee pain that many of you know I’m still suffering from today.
The big trip finally arrived in May 2019. After many pre-trip coordination meetings, including the extensive Visa process, I was finally on a China Air flight from Seoul to Beijing. As you can imagine, I was so nervous and couldn’t believe I was doing this. After arriving at my hotel (separate from the rest of my group), I was able to eat some pasta and fight myself to sleep. Wake up time for the 2 hour drive to the race start at the Great Wall was bright (actually still dark!) and early 2:30AM. We arrived at the base of the Wall about 1 hour before the race start time, and I was absolutely in awe of the magnificent views of this structure.
The race started on time and I must say that the first 5 miles were the toughest thing I’ve ever done and we weren’t even on the Wall yet. It was an endless uphill route along trails to get to the part of the race on the actual Wall. I was lucky to be averaging a 14 minute/mile pace over this stretch. Finally arriving at the portion of the race on the Wall, the opportunity and sense of the experience took over and I quickly got into a groove. This portion of the race includes 5,164 steps, all uneven, along with many up and downhill stretches lasting about 6 miles. We then left the wall and the course took us through multiple local Chinese villages. This portion was amazing with the local villagers lining the route and cheering us along. I even stopped for pictures with some of the local children and gave them candy I was carrying. To experience a bit of unique culture while racing was something I will never forget.
It was now time to get back on the Wall, but you had to reach this point in the course (approximately mile 16) by 6 hours in order to be allowed to continue. I was so thankful to make this gate (with a 4:15 time), and could relax for the final portion. Back on the Wall, it was more uneven steps and steep inclines and declines. Mile 23 was definitely my most memorable. With a heat index of 93 degrees and no shade, it was a straight climb on the Wall that took me 43 minutes to complete. We finally reached the same steep incline that started the race, so thankfully, it was smooth but painful sailing down to the finish line. With a time of 6 hours and 17 minutes and average 14:15 pace, I could officially say that I completed one of “the world’s most challenging marathons.”
After the race, we boarded the bus for the long trip back to Beijing. Fortunately, I was able to spend the next day exploring this amazing city, although walking around was just a little bit painful! Overall, this was an experience that I will never forget and, should I ever find myself back in Asia, I will most definitely sign up for this race again.