Changing China

Giant on the move

Hitting the Wall – literally

February 7, 2008

gtwall1b.jpgmadness.jpgEvery marathon runner dreads ‘hitting the wall’. It’s that point, usually somehere around the kilometre 30 mark, when you suddenly run out of energy.

In China, you can do it twice on the same run — the Great Wall Marathon.

Built centuries ago to keep out barbarian hordes, the Great Wall of China can’t hold back the craziest long-distance runners.

The official Web site trumpets the May marathon as “a tough, beautiful and definitely extraordinary experience”. The 3,700 steps of the Great Wall, it enthuses, “will put your physique to the test and the breathtaking surroundings of Tianjin Province will compete with your tired muscles for attention”.

In case you are not the full marathon type, here’s the good news: you can run 5 km, 10 km or the 21-km half, and then get your breath back watching the sado-masochists trudge up the wall for a second time on their way to 42 km. 

I was offered a place in the Great Wall Marathon last year, just two days before the event. “What am I doing?” I asked myself as I climbed into the minibus in Beijing at 3 a.m. “This is utter madness.” Then I got the good news: my place was in the 10 km race. When I saw the towering heights of the wall on our arrival, I began to wonder if I could manage even that.  


Gruelling is the best word for it. The steps just go on and on, seemingly endless flights of tiny ones and then stages of thigh-high ones, some of them with a sheer drop into the tree-covered slopes of the mountain. Old hands say you should expect to add around 50 percent to your normal time for the distance you are running, which is why I was quite proud of my 78.5 minutes for 10 km.

But the best thing about the run was the stunning scenery — and the clear air. It’s about four hours’ drive from pollution-plagued Beijing, host of this year’s Olympic Games, where the world’s best marathon runners will be slogging around the streets this August. Maybe the Games organisers should move the marathon out to the Wall … it might be a step in the right direction. 

Enjoy the video: 

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