There seems to be a theme for me combining milestone birthdays with travel. My 21st was celebrated in Sydney (Australia), my Mum’s 40th in Venice (Italy) and my 30th in Cairo (Egypt). Marking special occasions with travel for me certainly makes a holiday and birthday memorable – any excuse to travel.
When my Mum told me she wanted to celebrate her 50th by running the Great Wall Half Marathon – yip, on THE actual Great Wall. In China. I was sold. Initially I had only planned to go and support her, though somehow she convinced me to sign up for the 8.5km ‘Fun Run’ (she’s good like that) and Mike the half marathon just five weeks out.
Thanks to making use of the No. 1 Traveller Lounge at Heathrow and getting a row of four each to ourselves on our Emirates flight (win!), Mike and I arrived reasonably rested in Beijing via a stopover in Dubai. We were met on arrival by a tour representative and transferred to our hotel where we got to meet up with my Mum, Stepdad, Aunt and Uncle after a year of not seeing each other. It was exciting to meet up in China and spend the first night catching up with family.
As our stomachs grumbled, we went off in search of our first taste of local food. We headed towards Silk Road Market conveniently near our Hotel and found a good selection of noodle dishes and dumplings. I opted for the Kung Pao chicken; a popular local dish made of chicken, peanuts, spring onions and chillis, which quickly became a trip favourite.
When we couldn’t fit in any more food and had caught up on events, it was time to get some sleep for our early morning departure the next day to the Great Wall (5am kinda early).
Just over twelve hours after arriving in Beijing and we were on the bus for a three hour drive to Jixian for the pre-race inspection. Rated as one of the worlds top ten hardest marathons, all runners were required to walk the 3.5km Huangyagyan section of the wall that was part of the half and full marathon course. This gave us a chance to see what we were in for in a couple of days time and gave participants the opportunity for any last minute changes to distance. I know some down graded from the full to half marathon, though I’m not sure how many upgraded after it!
Pulling into the parking lot near Yin and Yang Square, it was surreal to get my first glimpse of the Great Wall. Everyone had their cameras out, taking snaps while others were sucked into buying conical hats (my Mum included, despite my best efforts) and other souvenirs from lingering touts. The energy was building and people were buzzing as runners gathered in the square – the start and finish points for the race on Saturday. This was really happening!
During our briefing we were given final details of the race, told how the event would work on race day and other bits of useful information. Everyone cheered as we were told that in the 14 previous years of the event, our year was the bluest sky and greenest landscape the officials had ever seen.
As I listened to the briefing, I couldn’t help but look at how steep all the steps looked in the distance. And, yes, they were all part of the race course.
When the briefing was over, we were back on the buses to be taken to the entrance of the wall. I was all smiles and ready to get my feet on that world wonder!
Being at the entrance of the Great Wall was a very surreal feeling. After seeing so many photos over the years and finally getting to experience it myself felt like a dream.
A few more stairs and we were there. On the Great Wall of China. The only words that spring to mind to describe the experience are unbelievable and spectacular. This man made wonder blows my mind, especially when you see how large just a small section of the wall is.
What goes up…
…must come down, and back up again. 2,516 times.
I purposely wandered behind everyone to capture photos without hundreds of people. Needless to say, it felt pretty special having all of this landscape around me nearly to myself. Just hanging on the Great Wall, as you do.
Eventually I caught up to a few others who were taking a few silly photos (which is when I joined in to get my token jumping shot).
After walking the 3.5km wall section, it was back to Yin and Yang Square, where giddy on adrenalin, excitement and a little bit of FOMO (fear of missing out), I decided to upgrade to the half marathon just two days out from the race. Besides the massive reason of not having done any training, I couldn’t think of any other reason why I shouldn’t give it a go. More on that to come though in the next post.