The Great Wall Half Marathon

I've run a lot of races, but I have never run a race like this before.

A year ago, when my dad suggested that my family fly to China and run a half marathon on the Great Wall, I smiled and thought, "That is too epic to actually happen."

Cut to Saturday, May 16th, and this was us:

The experience was once-in-a-lifetime, and completely epic-tastic.

I'll admit, growing up, I didn't think the Great Wall sounded too impressive.  I probably looked at my bedroom walls and thought, "They're okay, I guess."

But this wall is seriously cooler than my bedroom walls.  Its construction began around 700 BC and didn't stop until a few hundred years ago.  Throughout its thousands of years of construction, it's said to have reached a length of more than 13-thousand miles -- more than half the length of the earth's equator.

That's a friggin' long wall!  Bravo, China!

Apparently working on the wall was so difficult that as many as a million forcibly recruited peasants, soldiers, convicts, and prisoners of war died constructing it, and instead of burying or cremating some of the bodies, wall construction continued right over some of them, and their bones are still inside the wall.  For that reason, it's been nicknamed "the longest cemetery on earth."

Nothing like running a race through a long cemetery to show respect for those who have passed on....  er.... new paragraph.

Only a tenth or so of the wall length remains today, but it looks pretty amazing.

Seven us ran the Great Wall race together -- my dad, two brothers, sister, brother-in-law, and my husband.  We wore team shirts that said "Run Like Hales" -- paying homage to our family name, of course. 

There were three race options -- a fun run (5+ miles), a half marathon (13.1 miles), and a full marathon (26.2 miles).  We opted for the half, but I really want to go back and run the full someday.

My poor husband -- apparently he got registered as a female somehow, so he got to sport a nice "F" on his bib.  Hahaha, I guess I'm gay!

The race started and ended at a place called Ying & Yang Square, just at the base of the Great Wall a couple hours from Beijing by bus, and the area has surprisingly remained undiscovered by tourists (other than us runners, of course -- perhaps a bit of culture shock for everyone when we all come to town).

All three race courses started by running 3 miles on a Chinese town road.

The beginning of the race -- running the town streets in China.

After a long run uphill, we hit the wall.  Well, not in the sense that runners normally "hit the wall."  We got to the wall.  And thus began two scenic miles on the Great Wall of China itself.

The steps were something to be reckoned with, but the views were incredible, and the energy was contagious.  It was awesome.

Hubby Spencer and I running the Great Wall Half Marathon.  (Photo credit:

The full marathon boasts 5,164 steps -- both up and down.  I think the half runs about 2,500-ish.

After the wall, we passed by cheering spectators at Ying & Yang square where the fun run participants finished, and the half marathon and marathon runners continued down a few more town streets and into an amazing and completely authentic Chinese village, where many of the residents came out of their homes and cheered for the runners.  

Kids cheered us on as we ran through their village.

A local village resident gives us a thumbs up.

I loved meeting the amazing villagers and seeing the way they lived.  It truly made me reflect on my own life.  They were so kind and happy to see us, even though we didn't speak the same language.  One sweet little girl gave me a flower that she had picked.  She'll never know that I sentimentally dried it and pinned it to the bulletin board in my living room.

These little girls were picking and handing out flowers to runners.

I pinned my flower to my wall.

The full marathoners put in some additional mileage around the village, and then everyone turned around and headed back to Ying & Yang Square, where the half marathoners finished.

Another group of half marathoners runs toward the finish line.

The full marathoners, however, passed through the square and went on to conquer 2-thousand more steps over the final 6 miles of their race.  Out of our tour group of about 40 people, two full marathoners got heat exhaustion and couldn't complete the race -- one around mile 16, and another around mile 22.  That's how tough it is.

The race is named as one of the most difficult races on the planet, for obvious reasons.  

What race could be more difficult?  Apparently there's a North Pole Marathon...

North Pole Marathon -- more difficult that the Great Wall Marathon.

Our family decided to stick together during the race.  While we are typically sub-2 hour half marathon finishers, we decided to squelch our natural competitive nature and take it slow (though this excuse will only work once).  Not to mention, three of the seven of us were injured and another one of us (lucky me) was sick -- I have lots of medications to thank for the smiley video.  There was no way I was gonna sit that one out!  Though I pretty much haven't gotten out of bed since.  Worth it!

Since my brother speaks Mandarin fluently (awesome, right?), we stopped and talked to a few native Chinese.  I just watched, smiled, and filmed them like any dumb American would.

We even paused and bought ice cream from a local peddler, who laughed her head off when some American runners knocked on her door and asked her for ice cream.

My sister Christy, running and eating an ice cream cone at the same time.

Slowest half marathon any of us have ever "run."  Darn proud!

Honestly, if you're a runner -- put this race on your bucket list.  It's organized, challenging, fun, and a cultural experience beyond anything you've been through.

I'll be posting a formal video review on the experience in an upcoming post, as well as some footage of Beijing, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, run like Hales!


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