Running the Great Wall of China

There is a thing of universal language among common interest.  Music. Mathematics.  Science.  Art. Dance. 

My biggest fear in the past regarding eastern international travel, beyond Canada, Mexico, South America, and nearby islands, has been related to the inability to communicate.  I can't tell you how or if I've conquered this fear.  Life has given me a gift greater than my fears, passion. 

So here we are.  Race day.  In The People's Republic of China.  My roommate for the past few days is from South Africa.  I've come roughly 8,000 miles, halfway around the world, to share miles with people from The Netherlands, Germany, The UK, China, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Japan, Arizona, and folks currently living in my home as state of Alabama.  Countless other countries as well. 

Despite the differences.  Despite the sounds, sights, and tongues which are foreign to my ears, there is a familiar thread unifying us all.  A challenge.  5,164 steps along the infamous Great Wall of China. 

Known as one of the toughest marathons in the world.  The gods spare us on this cloud filled day, the morning after a downpour late into the night which cooled the temperatures.   It's a nice 18 degrees, in celcius (deal with it my fellow US countrymen). 

The wall looms in the distance.  Intimidating.  A structure built over many dynasties to protect the people from the treat of invading Mongols, now stands between us and bragging rights.  Many won't make it. Many will fall. Literally.  Many will give in to the relentless climbing, which inevitably becomes insanity.  Fractured bones.  Exhaustion.  It's all on the menu today. 

But what makes this race memorable is the opportunity to run among local villages in the Huangyaguan province.  

I've run a few races in my day.  I can say this ranks as the number one race in regards to spectator enthusiasm and participation.   And no, my opinion is not twisted by the fascination of locals whom have never or rarely see people of color.  Okay maybe.

I've had babies put in my face for baby selfies people.  You gotta love it. 

The folks were excited for all of us.  I saw runners of all nationalities and skin tones stopping to take photos with locals.  It was endearing to see the human spirit transcend languages. 

But enough of the warm and fuzzy 😝

I've been asked by several how I trained for this: Speed work, getting my heart rate up for the demand and need for blood movement in the legs.  A twisted ankle kept me from doing hill and stair work.  I wanted to come healthy, so I kept the mileage low and the heart rate high. 

Everyone else, want to know about The Wall. 

Step 1:  Take runners on a 5k slow climb up to the Great Wall entrance.   This slow burn will slowly chew them up without them knowing.  Depleting them of valuable calories needed to fuel their biomass.   <evil laugh> 

Step 2:  Send them down the Great Wall with a few climbs, but mostly down hill for 4-5 kilometers which will give them a false sense of confidence while shredding their quads and some knees without their knowledge. 

Step 3:  The enthusiasm of the locals and spectators will distract them from the gentle climbing they are undertaking destroying their calves over the course of 20 kilometers.  They will delight in selfies.  The music.  The charm of the villages.  The people.  The magnificent aid support.  The deceivingly gentle terrain.  It's wonderful.  They will be delighted and motivated without knowing how we have tortured them for the return!  <group evil laugh>

Step 4:  Let the torture begin.  As they approach the square we will send them back.  Back to the Great Wall.  But in reverse.   The decent earlier is now a climb from hades.  The goat trail the the wall is now a nightmarish mental and physical masochistic torture trail that only those strong in will can conquer.  As a lady from South Africa exclaimed "It's all in your head! One foot at a time!"

Step 5:  Finish Them!  Once back, The Great Wall will find what's left of you and explain how this wall has kept the people of China safe from invading people from the north.  And you didn't come with horses.  Just sheer will and determination.  And a whole lot of aid support, specialized modern running shoes, high tech quick drying fabrics, dense calorie rich fuels, and UV eye protection.  Hope you didn't forget the lube. 

It's during stage 5 my dark dog began licking my face.  Folks are climbing on their hands.  My roommate has a severe cramp.  The sun is beginning to poke from behind the clouds.  I'm getting pissed off.  I'm beat.  I'm tired. I want this over now!  I see Brent and Cornell are together so I bid them a fair adu.  Head down, grind time. 

Stage 6:  5k decent to the finish to shred what's left of your remaining muscle tissue. A quick grade you can't escape by walking.  There is discomfort running or walking.  As Connie would say "feeling alive."

A Chinese woman and I ran together for a spell. She couldn't speak English well.  It didn't matter.  We shared a common universal language and we both were appreciative of one another as we paced each other the final few kilometers.

We both understood what was going on. Both physically exhausted, yet mentally inspired.  Both runners.  Encouraging one another through the fabric of the human spirit. 

By this time I had come to understand the terms "come on" (Lai ba?), "go" (zou?), and "push" (tuidong?) in Mandarin from the cheers and encouragement of the spectators and villagers along the route. 

In short, I discovered I had learned a new language myself.  Universal in nature.  Greater than the differences that separate us.  As I've written about my journey on social media, "

The Great Wall Marathon is well hosted and respected by the people of the PRC.  Aid stations are plentiful and the experiences are life changing.  The medal is nothing more than a trinket symbolizing the experience and the memories within.  The stories shared when runners return home with associates, friends, and loved ones.  

Best of all, the world becomes a wee bit smaller and whole lot like visiting distant family as a result. 

Now where to next?   ...Africa perhaps?

Enjoy the quick video, make your world smaller.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Ed that was incredible, loved the read, so inspiring. Congrats on finishing and thank you for gifting us with your expierience.


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