If you can dream it, you can do it- AT’s Great Wall Marathon Report

Wanaka based runner and former Luxmore Grunt record hold Andrew Town just raced the Great Wall Marathon in China, here is his account of the experience. 

20140515_121756If you can dream it, you can do it!!….and so began my journey to Beijing, China to run in the 16th Great Wall Marathon! I truly felt honoured and privileged to be a competitor in this spectacular International race. Firstly I’d like to pay tribute to my amazing friend Anna Hiatt and the team at Marathon Tours, without you I would not have got to the start line, thanks guys!

Since the first race in 1999 The Great Wall Marathon has grown to become an internationally recognised running event with participants from all corners of the world taking part.

The first view I had of the Wall itself left me speechless, it is absolutely spectacular and no words can really justify the immense respect and emotion you feel seeing this wonder of the world! Two days before the race, the group I was travelling with from Marathon Tours (they were awesome too!) with myself got to inspect a 3 km section of the Wall.

I had seen numerous photos of the wall, but nothing could prepare me for what I saw and felt. The steps, and there will be over five thousand of them to negotiate in the Marathon, are so steep and rugged that it leaves the ‘jraw dropping’ at the mere thought of actually running them.

It got me thinking how the hell did Jono Wyatt former multiple World Mountain running champ from NZ run this bloody thing in a record time of 3 hours and 9 minutes?? Insanely quick and world class on this terrain to say the very least!
(Respect Jono!)

Race day dawned and at 3.30am we were up and rearing to go, a quick breakfast at the hotel where we were staying and then onto the bus to the race start in Yin Yang Square, Huangyaguan. I was seeded in Start Wave 1, this being the group of runners that would normally run a Marathon in 3 hours or less. This Marathon however was so brutal that it would take runners a full hour and more to run than a flat fast course. At 7:15 am Wave 1 runners, me included, and the early seeded half marathoners are lined up in the start line and set to go!

There is a brief official welcome by the Tianjin province officials, then at 7:30 the gun goes to start us and so we are underway on a special and unique journey into history! I find myself lined up literally in the front row. There are some quick looking dudes around me including a few keen half marathoners. The gun goes and we’re off, we settle quite quickly into a steady pace and everyone is being sensible knowing full well what is in store on the wall!

Race morning- AT ready to go!

Race morning- AT ready to go!

I’m in the front bunch from the get go, there is an Italian ‘skyrunner’, a French guy, and an American plus a couple of half marathoners.

There is close to 5k on the road before we enter the wall and after the first 500 metres we’re straight into a steady climb, I’m feeling great and get into the lead, (holy crap, this is an International Marathon and I’m leading!) We enter the gates to the wall and by now the French guy, Pascale has pushed to a 200 metre lead, then it’s the skyrunner and me.

Once we are onto the wall we start the first of the stairs. After 2km of relentless, steep stair climbing we are at the top, skyrunner and I have caught Pascale and we both attack the downhill steps and we’re fairly evenly matched, we pop out the bottom and pass the waiting crowds of spectators, I’m in front again!

We head out onto a flat section of the course, I’m feeling good but I’m not quick on the flat and it’s bitumen too! I hang on grimly as Pascale swallows me and the skyrunner up, sky runner starts to put the pressure on and I can feel the bungy cord stretching!…(why can’t I be fast like Al Funnell!). I hang onto 3rd as we run through the local rural villages, I’m high fiving several hundred little Chinese kids along the way, it’s so enjoyable, and cool and it’s taking my mind off the pain I’m feeling in my “off road” designed legs.

I glance over my shoulder, there is no one catching me and I can’t see anyone behind me when I look at a clear 500 metre stretch of straight road, so far so good I’m in 3rd place!

We come back through the start finish and re enter the “Wall of Pain”! An Argentinian greyhound running like an Ethiopian quickly passes me, I double check to see if he’s breathing, he’s running so effortlessly. Into the climb again and we’re into the final 8 km..I suck a Gel back and I’m immediately in terrible trouble, I feel sick and within minutes I’m physically ill, vomiting over the Great Wall, not a good look!

I continue, but I feel irreparably cooked! Two guys, including fellow Kiwi, Shane Thrower come out of no where and pass me, they realise my dire condition and are really supportive  and encouraging me to carry on, telling me I’m nearly there, but I still have the small matter of over 2500 steps to climb!

I soldier on I’m losing so much of the gain I’d worked so hard for …but I’m holding onto my position and now we’re into the final 5 km of the race and it’s all down hill. I’ve miraculously recovered! I run as hard as I can now knowing I’ve lost ground, but suddenly I’m onto the Argentinian grey hound and I pass him and offer him plenty of encouragement. Finally the gates to finish line loom large and I’m into Yin Yang square and the finish shoot.

I finish in 4hr03min and 7th place overall in a field of just under 1000 runners, I’m 1st in my age group and 2nd for NZL!!!…
This Marathon is ranked as one of the 5 most difficult marathons in the world…I’m super stoked… well worth the 30 hour return flight from Wanaka :)

Footnote: Would I recommend this Marathon to others?? HELL Yes!..get onto it now, it sells out quickly, so contact the team at Marathon Tours and make it happen!

In conclusion I just want to thank a couple of people ..
..firstly Grant and Jane Guise,BCR, you guys do so much to promote events, encourage like minded runners and get news and messages out to the national and international audience, thanks guys!
The Marathon Tours group I travelled with, what an awesome bunch of cool people, special mention to Dawn and her super cool group that she trains! :)
Tim Richards my travelling buddy, room mate and now a good mate, thanks bud! (he finished 93rd, awesome result)
Simon our very hip and ultra funny Beijing guide!
Finally, but not least Hayley and Ange our amazing hosts from Marathon Tours.., you rock ladies! Thanks heaps!
Ps Also Wendy from Marathon Tours, sorry you couldn’t travel with us :(


About Andrew Town

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1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. Well done AT! A great read and a wonderful achievement. Well done also to BCR for supporting guys like this. Inspiring stuff.

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