Monday, May 19, 2008

Jeff in Beijing for the Great Wall Marathon

May 17, 2008

Our first glimpse of the Wall as we parked the van and got out to look around...it is magnificent on any scale...

On the way into the castle, traditionally dressed Chinese dancers added to the festivities...

...they were accompanied by some equally traditional Chinese musicians...all in stark contrast to the loud rock'n'roll being played at the start. Think of Bruce Springsteen’s "Born to Run" mixed with Mulan...

After leaving "home" at 3:50am, we arrived at the castle (a fortress built into the Great Wall) at around 5:30...all runners were in the courtyard...5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon. Notice the Wall snaking its way up the mountain in the background...


the festivities were perfectly timed with the sunrise over the mountain...


...the whole time the Wall lurked above us. The foreground tower (left) is part of the castle. The tower on top of the mountain we would pass through twice in the next several hours...

After a few speeches by Chinese officials the race officially started at 7:30am...

The race begins…
We left the castle and did a steep three-mile uphill run on a paved road before reaching the Wall...this was our first close-up look at the Wall...

...this is some of the first steps we took on the monster...

...during our first pass on the Wall section...this is one of the restored portions. Notice how steep the ascents and descents are. Steps ranged from 4" to 18" in height...some brick, some stone,...some cut cleanly, some very rough....


...about four miles into the race...this section of the wall was much less "finished" than some of the others. Some sections were downright treacherous... 40" or so wide, a wall on one side and a 30' drop on the other...95% had no handrails.

Chad Daniel, chomping at the bit, wanting to get to the next section of those stairs...

About a half-mile after getting on the Wall...the building on the far right is where we began the climb...after that steep 5k run...


Chelsea Stebar wrote "Oh my goodness. Those slopes are just inhumane." Hannah Stebar wrote "I wouldn't have made it past the 3 mile point..."

Chad begins another descent...quickly followed by another ascent...seeing the pattern?

At about 8-miles into the race the course leaves the Wall and winds its way through the Chinese countryside. We passed several villages...this one had nicely paved roads.

...all with dozens of people lining the way. This is the only day of the year some of these people ever see a foreigner...these areas were very remote.

Several sections were relatively rough dirt roads...

....but each village had scores of cheering locals wanting to get a high five as we passed...they would all yell "Jya Yo!, Jya Yo!" as we went by...this was the most fun part of the course.

... at around 17-miles the course turned into a cow path...rutted, rocky, steep...it was treacherous footing...we went through orchards, fields, and just plain wilderness.

This little girl is either making a peace sign or she’s two…

....winding our way through another village on rutted dirt roads…

More of the villagers…

...after a while a smooth dirt path along the river bed felt very good...

...but it was the children and their excitement that made this section of the race fun.

... one of the downhill stretches.

Then it was back up on the highway to push through the 20 and 21-mile mark. Notice the traffic is not controlled in any way...we dodged dump trucks, semis, buses, motorcycles, sheep, horses, camels...you name it, we went around it.


After passing through the castle at 21.5 miles, we crossed the river again...and headed for the worst part of the course...a death-march-like climb back up to the Wall...the tower on top of the mountain was where we BEGAN the second section of the Wall.

This photo taken from the bridge... With all the glycogen spent, 21 miles behind us... and an 1100 foot climb was the reward. During this climb no one was speaking...all I heard was panting, coughing, people throwing up, wheezing... there is no way to communicate how brutal these next three-miles actually were...several times I had to sit down, or lean against the Wall to keep from falling over...my legs were trembling...

From about a third of the way up the death climb, looking back down at the bridge and the castle...

At least half of the Wall sections were surfaces like this... rocky, uneven, slanted...and very steep. This is a rare section with a handrail. To see well-trained athletes struggle up these sections was remarkable...again, there is no way to describe how hard it was...

Once we made it to the top we were greeted by another set of monster climbs. This second section on the Wall was the reverse of the first...

...ouch...every step was an effort...

Look closely at this photo... this is mile 23...



A view of the Great Wall from the Great Wall.

The only level sections on the Wall were at the towers...there are 6,000 of these on the hundreds of sections of the Wall...

After running a steep downhill three-mile section we came back down to the highway and turned into the castle for the last time. Don't take the apparent look of excitement to be anything else but relief...this race is twice as hard as a normal marathon. I have never done anything that even comes close...as I crossed the finish line I was so dizzy that I almost fell over.

I was so tired that I didn't even remember to remove my fuel belt. After finishing this ordeal in just over six hours ( my normal marathon PR is 3:43) there was nothing left...

...it is all about recovery at this point...


Our Atlanta contingent...Jimmy and Maryanne, Chad and me...


"What some people will do for a cool medal and a T-shirt"

Some photos of Beijing taken in the days leading up to the race
























4 comments:

Amber said...

Congratulations Uncle Jeff. I remember how I felt after completing my marathon...and most of it was downhill....I can only imagine how tuff all that climbing must have been! What an experience though. Congrats again!

Rachel Bingham said...

Wow Jeff, that is amazing! What an accomplishment. This running thing is so cool. Maybe someday...

Where are the pictures of Wendy by the great wall???

Shelli said...

JEFF, CONGRATULATIONS!!! WHAT AN ACCOMPLISHMENT, WHAT A LIFETIME EXPERIENCE!! YOU ARE AMAZING!!

Dave said...

Great job Jeff, what an accomplishment. I wish I had a good knee to run with, because I would love to take on the challenge. I'm scheduled for Rt knee surgery, 1-6-09 or sooner if I wish,to repair my ACL and stabilize the knee. Maybe after that I'll be able to hit the road. We'll see. I envy you guys that can run. Dave.