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Feature: World's 10 most Intesteing & Unusual races

Posted Dec 12 2008 12:14pm

Great-wall-marathon
Today we continue our newest EverymanTri exclusive feature called: World's 10 Interesting & Unusual races.

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.

Great-Wall-2008 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 one.

GWM1

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 Adventure Marathon.

  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.

According to CNN.com:

"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.

The 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 the wall.

Hagerty is already a 2007 Guinness Book World Record holder for the oldest woman to run a marathon on seven continents, including Antarctica.

"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."

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