The world lost an incredible mother, wife, daughter, friend, attorney, underprivileged advocate, and community member suddenly and unexpectedly on October 16, 2013. In honor of my late wife, Holli Wallace, I am training for the Hallucination 100 mile trail run and raising money for the Children's Grief Center of the Great Lakes Bay Region.

My training progress

Monday, July 6, 2009

50k ultramarathon on the Great Wall of China

Total time in motion: 11 hours 50 minutes
Total distance 50k or 31 miles
Average pace: 23 minutes per mile
Distance on or along the Wall: 20 miles
Distance on roads around the Wall: 10 miles

I'm far from an elite runner and not even particularly fast, but I have been around the block. I've completed a 100 miler, a 50 miler, and a few 50k races. I can generally go 50 miles in under 10 hours and 50k in under 6 hours. 22 minutes per miles isn't even a fast walk--at least under normal conditions. These were certainly not normal conditions.

I compared my times with a local guide and it sounds like I was moving on the wall about twice as fast as most people. I tried to run the flats (which were very few) and walk the stairs. While I did stop to take breaks and take photos, I tried to minimize these stops, which I think it part of why I covered the ground so quickly (at least relatively). There were some mildly treacherous areas where running was simply not an option, at least if you are concerned about falling off the wall. Still, I kept moving and, as some past ultrarunner once quoted, I blew past rocks and trees like they were standing still.

Perhaps my times speak for themselves, but I would definitely rate this as a 10/10 in terms of difficulty. I believe most of the marathons that are held on the Great Wall are only actually on the Wall itself for 3 to 6 miles. I will note, with no small amount of pride, that I was on or alongside the wall for about 20 miles. Seriously, it was sort of like being a stairmaster for over 8 hours except the steps were often irregularly shaped rocks.

As I thought might be the case, this was a more mentally challenging race than some of my past races. Holli wasn't there to back be up with encouraging words or to provide me with supplies. No one really had any idea what I was doing so there wasn't even the general ambiance of a race that can be so motivating. Still, there were some people who stepped up when I needed help. There was the fellow long distance hiker who helped me get back on track after I got lost trying to avoid the military base in the way of getting to Gubeikou (I never made it to Gubeikou, but made up for it by going an hour past Simatai). There was the two shop-keepers who generously gave me a pair of headphones after mine were lost in the same overgrown brush disaster that scratched up my legs and arms and led to, perhaps, the lowest part of the race. There was the woman who sold souvenirs on the wall who showed me a shortcut around a particularly bad hill during my final miles on the wall (dude, she said she comes to the wall everyday and then walks for two hours to get home. She told me that I was running fast and I believed her until I saw her move on some mountain trails--she was like a mountain goat! To make myself feel better I am telling myself that I wouldn't have struggled to keep up if my legs were fresh.) Oh yeah, and there was the American couple who gave me some sun screen--a critical supply that I failed to bring.

In 2010, I will return to this section of the Great Wall with my students. I'm working with a travel agent who will arrange for overnight stays on the wall. I had my low points on the run and my high points--I perhaps had more doubts during this race than during any of my previous races. However, the scenery was incredible and getting to the next tower for another view was always a motivator--be sure to check out the video for some scenery and details about my run.

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1 comment:

Twice the Health said...

Hi Brian,

I'm hoping to embark on a similar challenge with my best friend this May and was hoping you could offer some advice?

We're struggling to find a route but it seems you nailed it. Could you share some secrets?