(this was written few days ago)
Tomorrow is the Great Wall marathon, ready of not. Yesterday, I did the race ‘inspection’ tour. Jumped on a bus at 6:30am for 2+hr ride NE to the wall with about 500 other folks.
Most of the people running are on a package tour from everywhere but China. They are in town for 5-10 days and this race is the end of their visit. Only saw a few locals (Chinese). But, I road on the bus with those other ‘locals’, who were not on tours. Most lived in China or SE Asia as expats. We referred to ourselves as “the orphans” since we had no one telling us which bus to get on, herding us around, giving us water or shouting instructions at us.
On our bus were Americans, German, Dutch, Mexican, French, and Austrian. We arrived at the race central, Yin and Yang square in the old Huangyaguan fortress, Great Wall, Tianjin province. It was about 9:30am and several vendors had food, snacks and tourist trinkets out for sale. I noticed more than a handful of folks buy and pop open a cold beer.
That activity kinda sums up the first of the two kinds of runners I noticed this day. This first group was here for the experience, visit china and enjoy themselves. If they wanted a beer with breakfast, by god they had one. Many in this group didn’t have the typical ‘runner’s body. Likely they planned to participate in the fun run or walk a significant part of the half marathon. Didn’t expect to see them in the full marathon.
The second group were the more serious runners. Not all uber fit and trim but many were and most had completed numerous marathons before and were not going to be drinking beer for breakfast. I spoke with several who were in the mist of running a marathon on each continent. One woman from Minnesota would complete this milestone tomorrow. These runners could still have a good time but the number one reason they were here was to run.
On the website, this ‘inspection’ day is described a chance to come to the wall, check things out, hear the race director discuss the course, the logistics, talk to other runners and actually walk a small part of the course. This sounded all good to me, so I paid some amount of yuan for a ticket to do this. As we runners sat in the increasing warm sunshine, listening to race director describe the few kilometers of the course we would soon walk, my stomach sank. We would be driven up to the wall (out of sight, over a ridge) and walk back to this square. We would walk down ‘the goat track’, the steepest section of the entire route, just two days before the actual race.
I quickly debated if I wanted to walk this or just stay in the square and maybe have a beer? The reasons to walk it:
- Be on the wall, get a feel for it
- Talk to other runners, be social
- enjoy the stunning views from the wall
Reasons not to walk it:
- It was HOT, getting hotter.
- How long would I be out in this hot sun? I could only guess
- They would give us one 8oz bottle of water to carry
- The wall is insanely steep in sections so walking down is tricky
- many stone steps are cracked, missing or slick
- If I turned/twisted my ankle today…
I decided go, when in Rome….
About 90% of the other runners also decided to walk it so we walked back onto the buses and drove the first few kilometers of the actual race course, to another part of the wall and climbed up on to THE WALL.
Even going at a very leisurely pace, walking is not so easy. No part of the wall is level of flat, it just rolls, going up or going down. Did I mention it was a hot day? Think I downed my little 8oz bottle of water within 10 minutes. I did have another in my backpack and estimated this walk would take about an hour. Then we hit the ‘first’ bottleneck. The wall narrows or steeply descents and the people’s pace is a crawl.
About 30 minutes we arrived a the top of the ‘goat track.’ My knees and ankles were already getting sore. Why was I subjecting my body to this, just two days before the race? This isn’t exactly a ‘rest day.’ The back of my neck felt sunburned. Oh yeah, I don’t have any sunscreen.
An hour and half after we left the square, I walked back into it. Too late now to kick myself for making a poor choice but here I was, exhausted, hot, and definitely dehydrated. Saturday morning would arrive quickly and I really, really hope these sore, tired, heavy legs can recover before the start of the race.
Likely, the most important take away from the inspection tour was do not do the inspection tour next time. Actually, it was to realize how much energy I’d expend on the wall, even if I walked it. And, the weather calls for another HOT day tomorrow. Mid 60s to low 80s during the race. So, I gotta go slow, really slow on the course not on the wall. Initially, I was thinking jog 9min miles for the non wall sections, now I’m thinking 10 minute miles. And drink a river of water, pour water over my head often, to help fight off dehydration and heat exhaustion.
Time to stay off my feet, carbo load and drink water. See you on the wall.