Great Wall Marathon 2012: Introduction and Planning

Introduction and Planning
Training Schedule
Flight, Airport Transfer, Cocktail Reception
Longest Day: Wall Walkthrough, Acrobatic Show
Tianamen Square, Forbidden Palace, and Yuanlong Silk Store
Race Day and Marathon Review
Birds Nest Stadium, Summer Palace, Beijing Zoo, Gala Dinner Race Celebration, Atmosphere Bar
Pickpockets at the Beijing Zoo
Beijing Hutong Rickshaw Tour, Temple of Heaven, Peking Duck Dinner, and Hooters
Flight home and trip summary

Introduction:

So I just got back from the wedding in Greece and I was having dinner with one of the guests who also lives in Boston. I was talking to him about marathons and he mentioned that there was a marathon in Antarctica. This sparked my interest in running a marathon on every continent. During dinner, I looked it up and found the Marathon Tours website. I believe it was a few weeks later that I decided to do a marathon on the Great Wall of China.

Flight:

At the time, I was not good at using AA miles so I didn’t even think of using my 300k+ AA miles to fly to Beijing. I didn’t even know AA flew there or if any oneworld alliance airline flies there. I had been searching for flights from Boston to Beijing over the next few months. Then one week, I found that it was under $900 with Air Canada. The cheapest flight was through Air Canada so I booked with them. Marathon Tours recommended a flight so I booked for that itinerary and sent it to Marathon Tours so they knew when I would get there. I signed up for an Aeroplan account but only accrued 50% of the mileage in miles. I hadn’t though of accruing with United, another rookie mistake. It ended up expiring, but it was only about 6k points anyway.

I knew I needed a visa to get into China. Earlier in the year, I went to China for work so I used to the same visa for this trip. Technically, it was also a business trip as I was meeting a coworker for dinner in the middle of the trip.

Marathon Tours

There was a set payment schedule. There was an initial deposit to reserve a spot and then the final payment in the October timeframe. I had requested to be paired up with a roommate so we could share a twin room. However, when I made my final payment, Scott Guillemette at Marathon Tours was not able to find one so I had to pay for the single room. I was hopeful that he would be able to find a roommate so I would save about 400 dollars. Luckily in late February, right at the signup deadline, he was able to find me a roommate and I got a check for the difference in room rates.

Race Research

The marathon would be in May near Beijing. I wasn’t sure what the temperature was then but I knew it could be warm with some humidity. I also knew the air quality could be bad so I made sure to take note of that the few days before the race when we were in Beijing. When I was in Shanghai a few months earlier, I learned about aqicn.org that tracks air quality indexes across China. I believe it started in Shanghai and Beijing in 2011 and added many more cities since then. I kept watching these values for Beijing to see how bad it may be.

I didn’t notice the elevation gain on the wall until about a week before the marathon. I saw that the climb was about 300m, or about 1000 feet, approximately the height of a tall skyscraper like the Prudential building in Boston or Chrysler Building in New York. I couldn’t really train much so I just had to carefully plan my race day to make the most of my training. I saw that there was an 8 hour limit. It was reassuring I was given more time, but a bit disturbing that people may need 8 hours to finish this race. It sounds tough. However, I felt confidence I could finish as I was already training for a half and full marathon on the same weekend. I thought that this would be a similar challenge. I would find out that it was more difficult.

Trip Itinerary:

The itinerary was already set up by Marathon Tours and they had three minibuses to take us around. We picked a bus on the first day and most of us stayed in one bus out of habit and also makes it easier for the tour guides as they do a rough count and by the end of the trip, the count was really easy as they knew everyone.

I saw the schedule and the only opening in the schedule was the night after the marathon. It was planned as a rest night so I took the opportunity to meet with a coworker in the Beijing office for dinner. I’ve never had a chance to meet him when I was in Shanghai for work so this was a great opportunity to meet him and talk about work. I was surprised that he didn’t know much about marathons and the fact that he wasn’t surprised I just ran 42km earlier that morning.

2012 Marathon Tours Schedule (schedule is different for 2013 tour):

We flew out on Tuesday to arrive in China on Wednesday.
Day 1: Flight, Airport Transfer, Cocktail Reception
Day 2: Longest Day: Wall Walkthrough, Acrobatic Show
Day 3: Tianamen Square, Forbidden Palace, Yuanlong Silk Store, Pasta Dinner
Day 4: Race Day. Dinner is on your own.
Day 5: Birds Nest Olympic Stadium, Summer Palace, Beijing Zoo, Gala Dinner Race Celebration
Day 6: Beijing Hutong Rickshaw Tour, Temple of Heaven, Peking Duck Dinner
Day 7: Flight home

In the next post, I’ll highlight the struggles on preparing for this marathon while being on travel for work.

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