So finally the time came and the trip began, Team G&T (Grace Kendrick, Tania Goodwin and friends Simon Pearse & Ranelle Cliff) said goodbye to Perth and headed to Beijing. Beijing is an amazing city of a hustle and bustle, cars, buses, taxis, bikes and people with a smoggy air that shadows the sun.
A few days later saw the arrival of many other runners and the anticipation was building rapidly, what would our section of the wall be like, as steep as the pictures lead you to believe.
The day of the Great Wall preview tour was here, at 6:30 we climbed on board our bus and set off for 150km drive through to Tainjin and to part of the wall at Huangyaquan. What awaited us was one of the most awe inspiring sights that many of us had ever seen, a trail of wall rising and falling with the contours of the Chinese hills and countryside. Back onto the bus and a 5km steep dive up the hill (which we would be running up on the day) to the start of the 4km wall section.
This 4km section took us 1:30 hrs to walk and everyone was tried and starting to seriously worry about race day and just how difficult this course would be. Up and down uneven steps, down a goat track and small uneven paths with no real hand rails or barrier to save you from falling down the side of the mountain…exciting yes, scary definitely!
1800 people from 53 countries were to take part in this the 11th Great Wall Marathon. The idea for the Marathon was the brain child of some beer fuelled Danes in Copenhagen, from a small idea to a now global event! Some of the stories of dedication were simply humbling, 1 person raining funds was doing 52 marathons in 52 weeks, another lady had been given some serious health news by doctors with only a few months to live and was still determined to finish her marathon experience.
And so onto race day, a 02:30 wake-up call and a 03:30 bus departure to ensure we were all at the starting line on time. The bus was filled with nervous chatter and focused determination. Square would be the start and finish lines and was full of runners, stretching, making sure running belts, camelbaks were all full of water and other necessary fluids. Mass warm up aerobics and the starting gun for the first runners went off, we were next……….The starting line, hundreds of people and adrenaline pumping and we were finally running! First the 6km hill climb, all we wanted was to keep a steady pace to get up to the top to the start of the wall with enough energy to get us up and over the 2700+ steps. Slowly but surely we ran and jogged up the hill, over the wall and down a very steep goat track, back through the square and onto the 13km through the local villages. The locals were lining the streets and young and old had come out to cheer us on and high five us as we went past, it was this support and mass will power that got many of the runners through this gruelling race and is exactly that feeling and help that we hope Youth Focus will help others achieve.
The highlight was crossing the finishing line and receiving our medals, with the whole team finishing the race in under 3:15hrs which was itself under what we had hoped for.