26.2 Miles on The Great Wall of China
Dorothy Beal of Mile Posts sat down with us to discuss her experience competing in The Great Wall Marathon.
1) How did you prepare for The Great Wall Marathon since this isn’t a typical course? I wasn’t exactly sure what I was in for in regards to this race. I allowed myself to walk as much as I wanted on my long runs, when I typically try to not stop at all. I knew this race was going to be more of a long run/hike/speed walk than an all out race. I looked at the training as someone would for an ultra, not for just the marathon distance. I worked hard on getting time on my feet, instead of being lazy after long runs, I kept walking as much as I could all day long. I was exhausted at night, but I think it helped.
I also worked hard on my mental game. I looked at this as an adventure rather than a 26.2 mile race. I didn’t want to get caught up in the numbers and stress, I told myself I was going to give it my all on race day and that my all very well could take 8 hours. I wanted to be happy with whatever my body gave me. On race day I felt prepared for the pain that came. I didn’t get caught up in the numbers and I was very present in the moment the entire race! Knowing what I know now, I would have walked even more on my long runs and tried to extend the time run/walking to 4+ hours. My longest long run took 3 hours and it took me 2 hours and 16 minutes more than that to finish the race. I would have also done more trail runs since large portions of the race were rocks and dirt.
2) Are the entire 26.2 miles on The Great Wall? They aren’t! You run around 3 miles uphill to get to the entrance of The Great Wall, then it was about 2.5 to 3 miles on the wall and the billy goat trail to get down to the base of the mountain. Once you made your way down, you ran through villages and towns and got to see rural China. There weren’t very many portions that were flat and the terrain continued to change throughout the race. There was a cut off of 6 hours to finish the rural sections and make it back to the wall. If you didn’t make it back to the wall by that time, your race was over. They didn’t let anyone enter the wall after the cut off. Once you got back on the wall again you were running/climbing the same section you had done before, only this time it was in reverse and drastically harder because more of it was uphill and you were at mile 20 or so of the marathon. After you finished on the wall you ran back downhill the same way you had ran uphill in the beginning. Only at this point going downhill didn’t feel good! 5:16 is the longest it has ever taken me to finish a marathon, and frequently in long races I find my mind wandering and I start to feel a bit of boredom. I wasn’t for one moment bored during this race. In a way it felt like I was out there all day, yet at the same time it didn’t feel like 5+ hours. The whole race felt like an adventure!
3) Did you have any specific goals for this race? Other than to finish? Seriously though, that was my goal. I wanted to finish with a smile on my face and soak up every single moment. When I was in some serious pain climbing the stairs on the wall for the second time, I kept saying to myself, “Dorothy, you are in China, on The Great Wall, running a marathon – this is not a dream – this is real life!”
4) Out of the 30 marathons that you have completed, was this the most difficult one mentally or physically? I’ve gone to some pretty dark places during some of my marathons, so I wouldn’t say this was as mentally hard as some of the others. Don’t get me wrong, it was very hard mentally, but I had prepared for that, so it didn’t defeat me. I knew ahead of time this was going to hurt in a very serious and very different way than other marathons had. As far as the physical side of it, I’ve often told people that I got faster after having three children because there was nothing more painful to me than childbirth. A marathon felt easy in comparison to that pain. I can honestly say that this marathon was right up with there as one of the most painful days of my life, giving birth may have been easier. Don’t let that discourage you though, May 16, 2015 was one of the most amazing days of my life, and I have had some pretty surreal and awesome days.
5) After running The Great Wall Marathon, would you take on any of the other Adventure Marathons? Absolutely! There are 5 races and the only one that doesn’t appeal to me is the one in the Polar Circle. I’ll leave that for the Polar Bears! They showed us a video of the other races at the post-race gala and needless to say I was already dreaming about how I could run the other three:
6) If you had to list out your favorite marathon experiences, would this one land in the top 5? Yes. Add this race to your bucket list, if it’s not already on it! I don’t think I was in the best shape I’ve ever been for a race, but it was certainly the most I have given during a race and therefore felt the most rewarding.
7) Was there anything that surprised you about the event? I knew that running/climbing was going to hurt the second time around, I didn’t realize how badly though. Once I got off the wall, I felt invincible. If I can do that, I can do just about anything. Another aspect I didn’t expect was to have so many “friends” on race day! I was with the same group of runners all week touring around China. We were with each other some days for 12 hours. You get to know people pretty fast in those circumstances. On race day it was fun hanging out with new friends before the race, cheering them on as you passed them or they passed you, or having someone come up beside you and chat for a mile. I went halfway around the world and felt like I had more friends and people to chat with than I do at most local races I run. It was truly amazing and an under promoted aspect of the entire experience.
8) Would you do it over again? 10 minutes after finishing, I told a friend that I was really glad it was over and that it was a “one and done” experience. 45 minutes later, I said, you know what – I think if I ran this race again I could complete it faster, if given the chance I would absolutely do it again. Not for a faster time, though that would be cool, but to test myself and experience those beautifully painful moments in the mountains all over again. I really think that is when we discover what we are made of, it’s not in the easy moments, but in the moments when we want to quit, when our body screams out and says enough and we keep going. The human body truly is amazing!
9) How long did it take you to recover? Are you still wincing every time you see a set of stairs? I really thought I was going to be in pain for days, but three days post race I felt completely fine. I used my Roll Recovery to roll out my legs every day and I think that helped. I didn’t run for five days after the race because I wanted to give my body a chance to fully recover even if I felt ready to run. When I went for my first run post race I felt giddy, which is exactly how I think you should feel after you have rested.
10) What Garmin did you wear during the race? I wore the Forerunner 220. I can’t recommend this watch enough! The data from the race has been fun to look at and analyze. My race day distance was 26.19 miles. How’s that for accuracy? I never lost signal and looked forward to hearing the beep go off each mile, knowing I was one mile closer to an epic finish line! Fun fact, my Garmin said that on race day my elevation gain was 2,979 feet and my elevation loss was 2,990 feet. No wonder my legs were trashed!
Dorothy ended up finishing with a time of 5:16:36 and was the 29th female to cross the finish line. Make sure you follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for updates on her next adventure!
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