My first impression on arrival at the Great Wall of China close to Beijing was its variety of colors and the correspondence to the surrounding terrain.
The wall in the red hills was vivid red and closer to the granite mountains it was a dark green.
It was clear that the builders and architects used easily sourced local sands, soils and rock to create and sculpt the bricks that then gave the Wall a patchwork quilt of colors at it snakes across China. Sport in China is often associated with harsh gymnastics and ruthless coaching, but the reality is that the public parks and gardens are full of people walking, working out, dancing and keeping fit. The Great Wall is a cultural icon and not associated with sport so the idea of running along it is quite intriguing to them (ie. they think we’re mad).
My invitation to race the Great Wall of China Trail Race, am event in its 20th year and the flagship event of Contrastes Voyages was met with both excitement and alarm; wait, what… where?!
7 days and 40,000 stairs across Chinas’ Wall is an incredible feat and draws in runners and walkers from across the globe to compete in the different categories or to just enjoy the experience.
The first 3 days of the adventure included visits to the Sun temple, local eateries in Beijing, a prologue and 2 stages on the Wall.
The prologue took place around 8 hours after landing in Beijing so I was expecting to stumble around jet-lagged. But I felt good – really good actually, and placed 3rd behind two Ultra-Trail veterans which was a surprise. Maybe it was just the coffee. Let’s wait for Stage 1.
Stage 1 arrived with a 7am start and directly into climbing broken Wall, which is surprisingly easier to run along than the smooth, newly renovated sections. A thigh-shattering 13km that took nearly 3 hours to complete just below threshold and I found myself in 3rd place. Hmmm…
Stage 2 delivered ridges and valleys with increasing amounts of descending that burnt thighs and knees to a crisp. We were further south than Stage 1 and the the days were clear and warm. We intersected forested valleys with turrets and Wall they stretched into the distance. Mentally it was tough to look ahead and see the upcoming vertical climbing so I focused on my breathing and foot placement. Not easy to do when descending blind down crumbling Wall. A small group of the emerging 3 top (myself included) runners finished together to avoid wrong-turns and finish safely as a group. We were noticing how easy it was to become lost and in true sportsmanship fashion called a truce.