Great Wall Marathon 2012: Race Day and Marathon Review

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

The day started early for us. We had to leave at 4am and there was a small bagged breakfast for us. I ate my normal granola bars and filled up on water before leaving.

In the morning when we entered through the parking lot, there was a band playing to welcome us. We arrived around 6:30am.

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Just right in front of the finish line was the start line, which was to the right of the left above picture. The right picture shows the hill that we’ll come down on before running the rest of the 20 miles, and go back up after mile 20.

The first corral for the full/half started around 7:30 with the other two in 15 minute increments.

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Below picture was in the last corral for the half/full marathoners. The right picture was on our way up the hill to the other side of the wall. It was the first 5k for both full and half marathons. The top of the green is the top of the hill before the wall. The wall is to the left of the right picture.

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Two pictures of the route and view on the way up the hill.

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Left picture on the wall.

One note about the wall was that it wasn’t so tough the first time. The worst part was the bottleneck on the goat path. It took about 45 minutes to clear a small section of that course. There were further delays with people who were trying to take pictures. Step aside and take them, not at the narrowest point of the course. It was a very common complaint about the race as some did not finish as they came in a few minutes after 8 hours. You are not considered to complete it if you’re chip time is over 8 hours. I knew of at least a few people who came in right after 8 hours.

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Right picture below is shortly after leaving the staging area after ~6 miles, looking back on the other runners.

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Left picture was approximately 8 or 9 miles on the main road leading out of town. It was around this time I stopped running and went to my plan B of fast walking the rest of the course. It already been about 2 hours and I only cleared about 8 miles so I was a bit behind. I figured that I was on pace for about a 7 hour finish, figuring in further fatigue balanced by the fact that most of the runners had to wait about 45 minutes to clear a certain section of the wall.

Right picture was besides an undeveloped piece of land used for trash. It is a dried up river bed. There is probably a river that runs through it during the rain season. On the bus ride to the wall, there was a large marsh that was dry. I was not sure if it was seasonal or if they had dammed up the river to control flooding.

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Left picture is of the run through one of the small villages. Picture on the right is a large field. There was a go-kart course here!

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I didn’t take many pictures after that. I was walking for most of the time and trying to stay hydrated. It was very sunny that day with temps in the mid 70Fs. The year before was about 10F cooler. The humidity wasn’t too bad but it was definitely warm. There were some parts of the course that was shaded but much of it was under the sun.

There was a large hill in the middle of the course. There was a camera with a timing station right by the half way point for marathoners. This was one of the ways to ensure everyone does the full marathon. This was also one of the farthest points from the start line.

My strategy was to walk in the shade to cool off and run through the sunny parts to limit my exposure in the sun. I was also trying to stay hydrated and also eating my Clif Shot Bloks to keep my energy up. I also made it an effort to run all downhills. There were two long downhills that I took advantage of.

The biggest challenge in the middle of the race was to make the 6 hour cutoff. You had 6 hours to get back onto the wall, which was approximately mile 21. The cutoff was right in the staging area, just to the right of the finish line. I kept looking at my watch and doing the math at every mile marker and I was confident I would make it on time, albeit with less margin for error after every mile marker. Luckily, my math was better than my running and conditioning as I made it to the bottom of the wall at 5:40, with 20 whole minutes to spare. I heard of others who were not so lucky.

When you made it back up the wall, there was another camera, timing station, and also someone handing out wrist bands. The wrist bands prove to the race marshals that you completed the wall section the second time. As the finish line and the 6 hour cutoff was in the same area, the wrist bands are needed to ensure the runner goes to the correct place (pink band).

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I made sure to sandbag the first 6 hours as I knew going back up the wall was going to be hard. On the second time up, it was difficult but manageable. I passed many people who were ahead of me as they were exhausted climbing the wall the second time. There were a few people resting at the top of the hill. I saw another runner from our tour group and I gave her my bottle of Gatorade. I was still in good shape and she was exhausted. Later I found out that she and another woman from the tour group didn’t make it within the 8 hour race cutoff. She said the Gatorade and the other woman definitely helped.

I slowly walked up the stairs and hustled across the flat and downhill sections to save time. I took refuge in the shade inside the towers. I rested there for a few minutes to cool off before doing the rest of the course. There were definitely many people that did not look good all along the wall the second time. I was glad I took it easy on the first part of the course as I didn’t have too much trouble with it and I had very little hill or stair training.

I reached the other side of the wall and the start of the downhill 5k right at 7 hours. I knew it was only 5km left and it was all downhill so I felt good about finish within 8 hours. This was the point where I knew I would finish, but I completely stopped caring about how long it would take. I decided to walk the entire downhill section, even though it was downhill.

There were only a few people who passed me on the downhill as many of the people at that point of the course and with the time I had didn’t have enough to run downhill. It was fairly steep grade all the way down so it was very taxing on the quads, much more than climbing up the stairs.

Below is a picture of the gate at the base of the hill, about 1 mile before the finish. This was a few hundred feet before turning right back on the main road.

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When I got down the wall, I saw a few stores in the village. This was where I decided to get a cold beer. It just felt right and at this point, I need all the help I can get. I cracked one open and started sipping it on my way to the finish. A few villagers definitely found some humor in it, along with other finishers who were walking along the course. I really stopped caring. Luckily, they don’t do breathalyzer tests after marathons for some reason. I’m not sure at what blood alcohol level I’m not legally allowed to run.

Also, I found out that beer fizzes if you run with an open bottle. Also, there was a 2 Tsingtaos for 10CNY sale going on.

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Overall it was a great marathon. I finished around 7:40 so not too bad, considering the non-training I had. It was well organized, except for the gross oversight of the crowds on the wall. I believe Scott noted that as well for the previous year in 2011. Why the half marathoners couldn’t start later is beyond me. This lead to some people who couldn’t finish the full marathon.

After the marathon, there were food, water, and fruit. There were many massage tables there. I got there kind of late but still had time to have a massage. They were closing it down shortly after I arrived as they noted that the race was over a while ago and they noted fewer people crossing the finish line.

There were a collection of buses that were shuttling people back to Beijing. All of the tour companies would be providing this services to everyone. The buses would leave as soon as it filled up with people, so you would not be on the same bus as the one normally assigned to your tour. Each bus stopped at a few different hotels and are listed in the bus front window. By now, you should recognize your hotel but they also make an announcement. I saw a few people in my tour group that were on the bus.

I finished my 20oz beer and got on the bus. I was a bit nervous at first as I thought I would need to use a bathroom, which this bus didn’t have. However, I slept for most of the ride and made it back to the hotel.

After the race, we were all given the night off. Many of the runners made plans with others to go find food. Many of them were hanging out in the hotel lobby waiting for other people to get dinner. I unfortunately had to meet a coworker for dinner.

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