Of all the epic things I have done, the Great Wall Marathon is up there with climbing Kilimanjaro and completing an Ironman. It was possibly the hardest run I have ever completed. This includes the marathon at the end of my Ironman, so that is telling you something of the sheer difficulty of this race. It is billed as the hardest marathon on earth.
My preparation was again unconventional and unfortunately impacted by 7 days of sickness. After the Ironman I took 2 weeks off and this only gave me 6 weeks to prepare for the grueling 42.2 km marathon so being sick for a week of it and struggling to get my strength back proved emotional at times. So what makes this marathon any different to a normal marathon you might ask? Simply put you run 5km uphill then 3.5km across the Great Wall of China which includes a goat track downhill, you then run across the fort and out for 25.2km through villages and just for shits and giggles they put a 2km concrete surface hill at 20km. Then at approximately 34km you hit the wall again, literally! You run back up the goat track onto the Great Wall and then back down the 5km hill you did at the start. Yep this was going to be different!
My coach Dan, from IronmanDan Online, God bless him was up for the challenge again of coaching this fly in fly out rebel! Though seriously he kicked it up a notch! Steps ups on two different height steps for 20 minutes was initially torture. Sweat dripped off me more during that first 20 minute session than in some of my bigger rides preparing for the Ironman.
This follow session was nothing short of punishing!
3 x 10 back squat 65% 1RM
Bulgarian split squats (rear foot on bench) one D/B in each hand (start 5kg per hand) aim to do 150 reps per leg. Break it down as 6 sets of 25 lunges per leg. after each set do 1min of skipping
Have drink and a snack then do 20min easy run on treadmill then head out to football pitch and do
***This could hurt, just manage it take lots of water and some food***
In 10min blocks do the following for 50mins
first 5mins easy running then
1min bear crawl 30secs one direction then turn around
1min push up hold (hold yourself in ‘up’ position of a push up)
1min push ups
1min star jumps
THIS COULD HURT!!! Yes my coach wrote this could hurt… this was a gruelling session…but who doesn’t love to have a snack half way through a workout!
Two days before the race they pack all the runners onto a bus and take you out to do a race course inspection! Holy snapping duck poop! The bus ride up to the start of the wall had my wondering what the hell the actually wall will be like. I shouldn’t have worried. The wall, despite being difficult in its own right didn’t seem so scary now that I had walked it. I took Mutt for this part of the adventure!
The next day I stupidly got a massage…. OMG a Chinese deep tissue massage is not nice. Now don’t get me wrong because I love the pain of a deep tissue remedial massage. My physio back home, Craig, is brutal but in a good way. He can get right into the bits of my body that need the work. Despite me telling him somedays that I hate him because the pain is so intense I always feel better for it. This however was something out of this world in a VERY BAD WAY. It was like someone squishing their fingers through your flesh to reach their palms and then pinching your skin! This was not good!!!!
But I am getting side tracked… how did I actually go on Race Day!
After an early morning bus ride and a breakfast box (I really should have brought my own food for this bit!) and we all assembled on Yin Yang Square! My tiny bladder rewarded me in a female squat urinal pre-race nervous pee. Nothing wrong with sharing a concrete room with five other women on squat toilets taking a nervous pee! Yep I had to pee in front of 4 other women on a drop toilet squat! Sharing is not caring in this case!
Being in the third wave I had time to really centre my thoughts and know that after my less than perfect preparation that I could just go out and have fun. There was an 8 hour cut off and my goal was 7.30 because I really didn’t know just how difficult this race would be coming off the back of the Ironman.
The initial hill should not have been as much torture as it was but my calves had been blowing up on me for a few weeks already so I had compression calve sleeves on and within 2kms I was alternating between power walking and running. As I approached the wall one of the other runners from our tour group caught up to me. I think if it wasn’t for him I would not have had such a fun first 14km when he peeled off to do the half marathon. We ran together, walked together, gave each other grief and powered on. The wall was this fun playground that first lap but I was acutely aware that I actually had to run it again!
Thankfully there was no shortage of people to chat to along the way. The surfaces changed from the stones of the wall to bitumen to concrete to compacted dirt with many rocks and tree roots. This part should have been my favourite bit considering I love trails yet it was painful due to being in direct sunlight without any toilet stops! I can confess that I pee’d behind a wall in someones orchard! Sorry about that!
I walked far more of the race than I thought I would but when I reached the half marathon mark at 3 hours I knew that I would be well and truly under 8 hours. The biggest pain was actually my cheapo camelbak! I had mixed my nutrition into it and after the first few mouthfuls the mouthpiece had split so it was leaking down onto my boobs and legs. I was literally the definition of ‘sugar tits’ with my sickly sweet nutrition covering my boobs!!! Lovely just lovely but unfortunately I let this effect me more than it should. I was having to hold the end of the feed tube up and this was effecting my running posture. I wanted to ditch the whole thing a number of times but given I had the rest of my nutrition and my phone I figured it wasn’t the best idea! It took me a long time to realise that if I blow back into the tube after I had a drink it would stop it from running out all over my boobs! Mentally I used up far too much energy thinking about my ‘sugar tits’. Funny thinking back now but not so funny on race day.
I have still not found a nutrition plan that works for me. The taste of my sour grape nutrition burnt my mouth and I ate the bananas and took the energy drinks from the aid stations along with water. I also ate some nuts and jelly lollies. Chinese jelly lollies are the best thing for pick me ups!!!
As I came back through Yin Yang Square to go over the wall for the second time I was really hoping to see my mother so I could actually get rid of the pack but she wasn’t there at the time. As I climbed the first few steps I wondered how long it would take me to conquer this section!
What came next was a little bit of “Goat track love”! As I started up the goat track I was beaming and having a ball. It would appear that goat tracks and walls are my thing!
I was powering along and the only delays were being caught behind other runners who were struggling. I even had time to stop and tease the photographer not take a picture until he got my best side. He asked what that was and I stopped, flashed a massive smile and raised my fingers in my customary peace symbol. He giggled and snapped a few pictures. (I haven’t brought my race photo pack yet or I could show you that photo! Being a cheapskate here as it costs nearly $150 for it and most of the photos aren’t that good).
I was over the wall in 55 minutes and would have been 10 minutes quicker if it wasn’t for the two-stepping around and waiting for other runners. However the worst was yet to come. I thought if I just kept running, one foot in front of the other and grimacing through the pain I could do the last 5km in 30 minutes. As my feet hit the bitumen it become very clear that my left knee had taken a beating over the previous kilometres and the mind was having difficulty pushing through what could be more than just simple pain. I didn’t run as quickly as I wanted too. I had crisscrossed paths with two of the girls from the tour group and as they ran forward without me I felt sad that I wouldn’t be crossing with them. It was in this self-pity that realised I had done some epic training sessions leading up to the race and with the Ironman training I could push through this last few kilometres and my body would recover perfectly.
As we crossed the line together I did a little jump! Just like the jump I did finishing the Ironman. I think this is going to happen after any long endurance events I enter!! I was very emotional at the end and I will admit I did shed a tear or two. Well maybe a lot more than two. I was very happy with my time of 6:37. Given I thought I would be finishing in 7.30 I felt very proud of my effort. Unlike the Ironman, I was starving when I finished so ate before going for a shower and the free massage. Somewhere in the course of 24 hours I forgot just how painful my last Chinese massage was! I was again assaulted with fingers trying to pull through my flesh. How can people actually enjoy this? I couldn’t let her finish as I was debating in my head whether I should slap her or face a complete mental breakdown so I just stood up and said, “Sorry I can’t do that, it hurts too much” and walked off.
Would I do the Great Wall Marathon again? I am not sure. I loved the race itself but I think there are other challenges that I would like to do rather than repeat this one. Funny I keep thinking that an Ultramarathon sounds REALLY good! Would I recommend it other people? Bloody oath!! It was a great challenge and you meet some amazing people.
For now it’s time to get back to an unconventional training strategy for my next race. The Sunshine Coast Half Ironman! Stay turned to hear how this one goes cause seriously after a full Ironman, a half should be nothing ….. Right? LOL we shall see!
Note: I had trouble uploading pictures. Will update post when I am back in Australia!