Over the next several months we'll crisscross the globe and feature the 10 Most Interesting and Unusual:
- Marathons (Friday Feature)
- Triathlons (Monday Feature)
- Swims (Tuesday Feature)
- Rides & Bike Races (Wednesday Feature)
Our goal is to travel the world with you in search of the most unusual, fun, and interesting races from Peoria to Peking.
So today we actually travel to Peking China, but most people may know it better as the town of Beijing. It also happens to be the place of the running of the 2008 Great Wall Marathon. Did you know this infamous marathon typically takes runners about 50 percent longer to complete than a traditional marathon.
The excitement condenses It all starts at 3 a.m. Saturday morning – at least for the large part of runners
who are staying at hotels in Beijing. They then have three hours of contemplating their
awaiting task while driving further and further up into the Chinese hills and closer
to the Great Wall. At 6 a.m. the first runners start arriving at the start area.
Eyes filled with excitement, anticipation and just a hint of panic stare up against
the steep wall hovering in the horizon as restless legs cross the big Yin and
Yang sign decorating the start and finish area. As time goes on, the endless
line to the bathrooms grows smaller, people are getting in sync with the energetic warm-up
girls, and before you know it, the first marathoners are on their way.
Off to the Wall The race starts off headlong with a five-kilometer uphill run. Then the second
big challenge waits: 3 km of steps, steps and more steps on the Great Wall. After
stepping down the last rugged step – for now – a stretch of both paved and unpaved
roads takes the runners through several villages and serene Chinese nature. The villagers
in this remote part of China hardly ever see visitors, and
always serve as enthusiastic and encouraging marathon spectators. After some kilometers
of being cheered and clapped by happy, high-fiving children, the half marathoners
run straight to the finish line, while full marathoners have a second meeting
with their new best friend, the Wall. The very last part of the marathon course
is another 5 kilometers of steep hill, but this time downwards.
The first finishers While most of the half and full marathoners are still crawling around on the Wall,
the first participants in the 5K and 10K races begin running under the big red FINISH
sign. The very first runner to get a medal around her neck is Victoria White from
Great Britain, who needed only 38 minutes and 54 seconds to climb 5 kilometers of
ups and downs on The Great Wall of China. The second runner across the line is
the male winner of the 5K run: Bodo Manfred Zeug from Germany (0:46:30). By now,
the medal presenters are getting busy, as both 5K and 10K runners start pouring
in, soon followed by the half marathoners with American Andrew Dorobek as the first
A new course record While some runners kick back in the massage chairs or just sit down in astonished
wonder over what they have just accomplished, others, i.e. the marathoners,
take pride in their own toughness as they run past their relaxing co-runners for
another trial at the Wall. In the next few hours hundreds of runners cross the
finish line, including the youngest and the oldest runner. 5-year-old Signe Jensen
from Denmark ran her 5 kilometers of uneven steps in 2 hours, 9 minutes and 15 seconds.
And about an hour later, the oldest person to have ever run the Wall gets her
medal. Margaret Hagerty from the US, who at 85 has run the Great Wall 10K in 3:14:31,
is also a Guinness World Record holder for being the oldest person n the world to
have run seven marathons on seven continents. A few minutes after this Great Wall
senior, the very first marathon runner throws his arms in the air and even earns the right to
call himself a new course record holder. 3 hours, 18 minutes and 48 seconds was
all that 37-year-old Romualdo Sanchez Garita from Mexico needed to finish his first
A great day is over After 8 hours it is all over, and it is time to head back to the hotels and look
back on a great day of running one of the most historic marathon routes in the world.
The rain-predicting weather reports had proved false: No slippery steps and muddy
paths, just a nice layer of clouds to keep the sun out. No serious injuries: A couple
of dislocates fingers and a little dehydration. And as if traveling around half
the world to climb 5000 steps of Great Wall was not admirable enough, the runners
and spectators gathered more than 4,500 dollars for the victims of the earthquake
in China’s Sichuan Province, which happened less than a week before The Great Wall
Marathon. Next year The Great Wall Marathon will celebrate its 10th anniversary,
and this milestone will be marked by the very first Adventure Marathon World Championships.
"Mao Zedong once said, "He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man."
Mao likely never anticipated the scene on May 17, when more than
1,600 athletes from 49 countries not only climbed but ran The Great
Wall of China Marathon. The race was held for a ninth year in Tianjin,
a rural province three hours outside Beijing.
"For most people
just seeing the Great Wall of China is a big deal," explained Cliff
Jennings, an agent for Marathon Tours, a Boston-based adventure-running
company. "But, for a few hours one day a year, people can actually run
over 2,000 years of history on a portion of the Great Wall."
Revered as one of the most challenging marathons in the world, runners
clambered over thousands of steps, varying in length and size, to
complete the course.
In addition to the marathon, participants
also had the option to run a half marathon, 10K, or 5K. Far from the
pollution in Beijing over which the Olympic marathon runners are
fretting, these runners enjoyed a mild smog-free day.
event's diverse participants span the globe and represent generations,
with ages ranging from 14 to 85. Margaret Hagerty, who at 85 competed
in the 10K race, now holds the record for the oldest woman to ever run
Hagerty is already a 2007 Guinness Book World Record
holder for the oldest woman to run a marathon on seven continents,
"I've run over 80 marathons across the world but climbing all those
steps for the 10K race on the Great Wall was the hardest thing I have
ever done," Hagerty, a North Carolina native, admitted. She began her
running career at 64 after she went to a clinic to quit smoking. "The
Doctor told me to stop smoking and start moving," Hagerty said. When
asked why she chose to run the Great Wall she replied, "Why not?"
Despite the difficulty of the course, runners such as Terry Theobald,
who did not finish the 2007 marathon in the eight-hour time requirement
necessary to get official credit for the run, managed to complete the
challenge this year.
"There were so many times I wanted to
quit along the way, but I was determined to not let the wall get the
best of me this year," Theobald, 41, who lives in New York said. "When
I crossed the finish line with a time of seven hours and fifty two
minutes with just eight minutes to spare, I was thrilled." Theobald had
a tattoo of the Great Wall Marathon designed on her back as a reminder
of her desire to complete this year's marathon.
The Great Wall
marathon typically takes runners 50 percent longer to complete than
their average marathon. This year Romualdo Sanchez Garita, a
37-year-old runner from Mexico, set a new marathon record of 3 hours,
18 minutes, 48 seconds."