The day of reckoning has arrived.....early. We got our wake-up call at 2:10, not that we needed it because, of course, no one slept that night. You know how when you’re afraid you won’t hear the alarm you wake up every 30 minutes thinking you’ll miss it? Yeah, it was one of those nights for everyone in our group. So we got on the bus to leave at 3am – no seriously, that was not a typo – AM, as in morning. I have pictorial proof.
During the 3-hour bus ride to Tianjin (Huang Yuan village), we alternately slept, ate, and checked our bags at least 200 times to make sure we hadn’t forgotten things like race numbers, timing chips, water, drugs (I’ve been living on Prednisone since I got here because of the pollution), camera, more water, etc. We had one restroom stop along the way (and by restroom, I mean hole in the ground – more on that later because my new-found obsession with Chinese toilets deserves its own page) and then met up with the other buses at the entry checkpoint. Yes, those darn communists do like to check up on things.
We finally got to the start point at 6am and were greeted by tons of locals performing for us and getting ready to cheer us on.
Of course Jilly G and I found a stage and began posing for pictures. As you’ll notice, I decided to break the runners’ code of not wearing that day’s race shirt during the actual race. Secret’s out – I ain’t cool.
We did an uphill 5K on a windy village road before even getting to the Wall. Occasionally while I was dawdling along taking pictures, I noticed there was traffic behind me instead of people because I was LAST, so then I had to run to get a little bit ahead so I could take more pictures and end up being last again. Totally worth it, though, because the villagers were lining the streets cheering us on, handing out flowers, high-5-ing us, and wanting our pictures. Apparently they don’t see foolish tourists running 26 miles (uphill in the snow both ways) every day, so this is like a yearly holiday parade for them. (And you know how I love being in parades!)
Since I’d already been on part of the Wall on Thursday, I thought I knew what I was in for. Except I forgot that I’d actually be even more tired after doing a 5K already. Now, for those of you who run marathons regularly, I will allow you to laugh at me. For those of you who normally just do 5Ks regularly and are thinking, “What’s the big deal – it’s only 3 more miles” you must take it back right now. Take it back - I mean it! You must never utter the words “only” and “Great Wall” in the same paragraph ever again. Steep, steep inclines, mostly all uneven steps, some giant steps where you had to grab the step above to pull yourself up, and even areas of no steps, just uneven rocks in a skinny trail next to a free-fall off the cliff. All the bleacher running I did at home to “prepare” makes me laugh in retrospect. Imagine doing a deep-knee bend in reverse (going up, that is) and then imagine doing it about 100 times. For hours on end. Yup, that’s how I should’ve prepared.
After coming down off the Wall we ran through Yin Yang square and then through the villages again. At this point I was mixed in with marathoners doing their second lap, so I pretended to be a cool runner. Didn’t actually work. However, I was just as cool as everyone else when I ran through the finish line and heard my name announced and then they put that shiny medal around my neck.
It was so incredible and I immediately wished I’d done the ½ marathon because I did not want it to end. Of course, I’d still be out there today if that were the case. I finished just 15 minutes ahead of a little old 85-yr-old lady in my group and next to last in my age group. Impressive, huh? At least I didn’t fall off the wall, which was actually my biggest concern. Some guy did fall during the first mile on the wall and broke two fingers. He went to the next first aid station and they taped him up and he finished the marathon. Now you know if that had been me, I would’ve whined so much and so often that the other runners would’ve demanded I be taken out on the camel stretcher (yup, that’s the “ambulance” if you get sick or injured) just to get some peace and quiet.
Afterward, I hung out waiting for Jilly G so we could get our official “after” shot, and plus there was a beer tent. She said it was the hardest marathon she’s ever done. Hmmm, ya think? I mean, it’s the stairwell that just won’t end and the full marathoners had to do it twice. I passed the winner (pic below) as he was going up for his second lap and I was coming down from my first (and thankfully only). What’s that definition of insanity again?
The words here barely describe what an incredible rush the whole experience was and I highly recommend everyone suffer through it, I mean experience it, at least once in a lifetime. (Click here to see ALL pictures.)