One of the nicest things about the Great Wall Marathon is the opportunity to walk the wall two days before marathon day.

It gives runners a chance to test the 3800 irregular steps, to enjoy the magnificent views in a relaxed atmosphere and to plan how they will tackle the terrain on the day.

The Great Wall Marathon is an awesome adventure marathon. Don't expect a personal best time but you can expect the experience of a lifetime.

The race crosses the remote Huangyaguan section of the wall, in Tianjin province, about 130km north of Chinese capital Beijing.

It's a tough route that can take a good third longer than most marathons. Even the cut-off time is a generous eight hours. Yet it has attracted an increasing number of participants since its inception in 1999.

Last year more than 1700 completed either the full or half marathon, 10km or 5km distances.

Introduction of the shorter distances has widened the event's appeal and all routes take participants along the wall at least once. The marathon traverses it twice - once in each direction.

The marathon begins at Huangyaguan village and almost immediately heads 4.5km up a steep, sealed mountain road to the Great Wall.

Running the wall has its own challenges but no surprises, thanks to the earlier inspection visit. It is a series of guard towers connected by undulating paths and flights of steps varying from a few centimetres deep to almost knee-high. Happily, in any one segment, they are a uniform depth.

two runners celebrate

Mostly the wall rises both sides of the paths but there are times when there is a sheer drop to the valley below on one side. In these areas, it can be helpful to hold onto the safety rope. The route also takes runners through a number of villages, past fertile farmland, riverbeds and canals.

At times the road is sealed and at others it is not. It can be hot and dusty but the organisers ensure there are plenty of drink stations along the way.

The race ends at the Great Wall fort in Huangyaguan, in the pleasantly sheltered YinYang Square.

However, that is not the end of the event for participants. The grand finale is a gala dinner traditionally held in Beijing the following evening.

The Great Wall Marathon is from the stable of Albatross Travel, a Danish company, specialising in adventure marathons in exotic locations.

The Great Wall Marathon

Next event date:
2009: 16 May



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