For more than a decade now, the Great Wall Half Marathon, with its 1,800 stairs midway in the route, could possibly be one if not the most unique course you may ever run.
The rulers of the Ming Dynasty have probably never even dreamt that athletes would someday race along its ramparts when they built it five centuries ago. Running a half-marathon on the largest fortification and biggest battlement of the world may just be an exhilarating fitness adventure. It’s not all knee-bashing steeps. Located in Huangyaguan, two hours north of Beijing, the course includes four miles of the wall, thenheading down onto flat gravel roads and loops through rice paddies and small farming villages. Kathy Loper, whose outfit organizes Great Wall Marathon trips says, “Running the wall is certainly amazing, but it’s the people who make you feel like you’re someone special…In the villages, everyone comes out to cheer.”
Because of the expected steep climbs on the wall, add thirty minutes to one hour to your normal half-marathon finishing time. Even though you may not notch a personal record on
Tom Holland, a multiple Ironman Triathlon finisher and endurance coach advises, “It may only take six weeks to get ready for a half-marathon, but this isn’t just any course. The hills on the Great Wall are total thigh-busters.”
Holland’s tip for the race day is, “Take it easy on those steep downhills. In races like this, it’s not the uphills that kill you, but the pounding on your joints and muscles from going down that does you in.”
If budget permits, upgrade to first class on all intra-China travel so you don’t arrive kinked and miserable at the start line. You may return to Beijing after the event for a hotel stay and further cultural exposure and shopping.