Hitting the wall is a phrase well-enough known to marathon runners who suddenly run out of fuel just a few miles from the finish – but for City of Salisbury’s distance specialist Di Cross it took on a completely new dimension when she ran the Great Wall marathon.
Widely considered to be one of the world’s most challenging marathons, it’s also one of the most breathtaking.
“It was an amazing experience but the race itself was brutal – made worse by some especially hot weather this year,” says Di. “By the time we started out on the second section of the wall the temperature was at least 38 degrees – even the metal handrails were too hot to hold! A lot of people were struggling.”
The race – which also has a half marathon and fun run option – starts in Yin and Yang Square in the old Huangyaguan Fortress, with runners being set off in four waves to avoid congestion. From the fortress, runners passed through a tunnel before joining the Jinwei Highway and then, after a kilometre, a left turn up the steep Changcheng Highway before joining the wall at 5k.
“It’s strikingly beautiful, the most incredible structure. However, it’s quite hard to run on as it’s really steep in places and the steps are different sizes – with no steps at all over some sections.”
After a 3k section there was a further kilometre round the walls of the fortress before heading back across the square to loud cheers and then back up the highway and a long, hot section through the local villages.
“The local people were so encouraging and lots of children were out high-fiving us and waving. It was great to have that encouragement. Thankfully, drink stations were frequent and the marshalls helpful, providing sponges as well as bottled water, which was warm in no time!”
After 34k, runners returned to the square and had to pass the finish – without crossing it – before heading back up towards the wall. First, however, they had to cross a bridge out of the fortress, where they were given a green wristband stamped with ‘5,164 steps into history’. A strict six-hour cut-off was in operation here, and those not arriving in time had to return to the square without finishing.
“I reached the bridge in five hours, taking it at a really steady pace as I was struggling in the heat, but then we had to climb up the goat trail – 700m of really steep track – boy, I could have done with that extra pair of legs as mine were screaming! Certainly one of the hardest things I’ve had to do – especially in that heat. The camaraderie between competitors was wonderful, however, and a great support and medical assistance was on hand.”
Having conquered the second stretch of wall, from west to east this time, the final 5k was back on the road and downhill back to Yin and Yang Square and the finish line. A very welcome sight!
“An incredible experience with a truly international field and well organised by Albatross Events. I travelled out with UK company 2:09 Events and made some good friends over the week that our group was in China. So pleased I completed it – in 7:37:08. An amazing adventure.”