Great Wall of China Marathon – race report

Finally I took the time to write a report on the Great Wall of China Marathon, you can also see my first video here, but at least i’ll post some pictures here.

Beijing

First, at our arrival to Beijing, I was agreeably surprised by the city. I was not expecting it to be so clean, so green and so easy to go around. There are trees or parks everywhere, but still less than bikes available for rental (download your app, scan the barcode on the bike and here you have a bike you can use and drop anywhere). of course the first few days, there was a bit of pollution but still ok (end of the winter means also no more coal burning in the city and also the pollution fight by the government is clearly giving results in Beijing). I was also surprised by the nice big roads, with big (huge) bike lanes, completely separated from the car lanes. Finally, another nice touch is all the electric motorcycles, no noise pollution is very nice (coming from Bangkok, this is a big change). However, they still clearly have to make progress on English… as even in international hotels (ok budget international hotels) staff spoke almost no English and relies on translation apps on their mobile phone to exchange with customers.

race registration

After few days visiting, meeting with the friends (5 of us are participating in the race), it was time to go to pickup our bibs for the Great Wall of China Marathon at the official race hotel. Small race means small organization, the bib pickup happened into the room booked by the organization. At least the organizer speaks English! A small hiccup with the bibs, my friends have bibs for half-marathon despite having signed and paid for the full marathon, the organizer takes care of it and tell them marathon bibs will be given to them before the start of the race tomorrow. We also take the opportunity to book the travel for supporters (package includes the same as the runners but not the entry to the race for half the price… no more details). The bib package includes a race T-shirt (not so many sizes available), the wording is nice but T-shirt is a very basic cotton shirt. Our registration completed, it’s time to head back to our hotel for dinner all together and an early night so we can wake at 4 for the departure by bus to the race location.

The Great Wall of China Marathon

Almost there, all getting excited, we arrive at the meeting point where about 10 buses are waiting (most of them already filled up with runners), we get installed and wait for departure, while the organizers provide drinking water to all buses for the runners. We depart a bit late, but after an eventless ride, we end up at the race start point (beautiful mountains, and we can see the wall waiting for us… definitively not flat…).

The morning is quite chilly (15 degrees is for people living in Bangkok at least…), but weather looks nice and we’re getting ready for the race. There is a bag dropoff organized (again, a small bedroom rented by the organization at the starting place), a bit of a lengthy process, but we get our bags stored safely in the room and can head up for the start point.

We’re all still smiling (though still a bit cold), some were more prepared than others with arm sleeves… but here we are ready and eager to get going. And we won’t get disappointed, in short, the race was really nice, though really hard as well ;). It took me a bit more than 10 hours to cover the 40 km, 15000 steps and 2400 m up (and down of course, since we finished at the same point…). The winner of the full marathon finished the race just below 6 hours. A nice touch from the organization was the printed certificate given on the finish line:

So, if you go racing there, what to expect? first, we were quite lucky with the weather, it started at 16-17 degrees and was nice temperatures most of the day. We had a little bit of rain near the end, which renders the wall very slippery (I don’t see how people would be able to race on the wall if it was really raining) and can be quite dangerous (even with my Salomon trails…). Second, I strongly recommend to have your camelbag with water and food with you, don’t expect any water or food while on the wall (despite the course map and organization indicating so…). Water stations outside of the wall were providing water, sport drinks, and food (bananas were not ripe… and oranges were wrapped individually in plastic), though I relied on my own food for the whole race.

There were no marking for the course, but most of it, you cannot get lost (just follow the wall…) and marshals were mostly posted at the places where you could have gone wrong. (there was some issue for the fastest runners where the marshals arrived late and therefore some runners did more KM than planned…). The course map also indicates toilets on the wall, I guess they mean the stairs getting out the wall and taking you to the forest where you can feel free to take care of your business… I did use some toilets after we got off the wall but Chinese public toilets (cabins with no doors and just a hole on the floor, no water…)

As mentioned before and as you can see in the pictures below, the wall is not flat (almost never) and slopes can be very steep to a point where it is very hard to run even while going down… Some of them have stairs but they can be small or high, and not always very wide… I definitively recommend to run with poles (make sure you use plasticprotection at the bottom) or if you didn’t, use the ramps when there are some or the wall itself when none are available. The part that is not on the wall is mostly paved road, though not flat either…

The cutoff was supposed to be 10 hours for the finish line and 8 hours for the last turning point, however it was not enforced and the last runner finished the race in 11h30m. The race was on the 1st of may which is very high touristic season, however the part of the wall where the race is happening is not touristic at all and the few people there did not make bother us at all, and actually it was nice to have some people cheering us.

going back to Beijing

If you don’t want to wait for the buses to get full to go back to Beijing then you can discuss with the organization (in advance) to have a taxi organized for you. (If I was to go there again, I would probably have a car or van if a group taking us to the start and bringing us back to Beijing).  There was a bit of traffic while getting back to Beijing (it was the end of a long week-end) but we ended there in about 1h30 which was ok. Almost straight back to bed, before one last day in Beijing. Surprise on the last day, a very nice blue sky greets us, I wouldn’t have thought that possible in Beijing:

gopictures taken during the race

details of activity

(registered with my garmin Fenix 5)

 

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