Jun 14, 2012

The Great Wall Half Marathon: The Preparation.

I first heard about the Great Wall Marathon at the Disney Race Expo in 2004. I was a senior in high school and was there to run/walk the Disney Half Marathon as my high school senior project. I remember the booth, a lamenated picture of the Great Wall behind some very fit looking people. "That must suck and be so awesome," was my impression. 

In the next 5 years I would complete 4 more half marathons and a 21 mile walk all while dealing with yo-yo'ing weight and no emphasis on training. I didn't really care, I was just there for the party (runners can eat!) and to feel included in my family of talented runners.

By the time I moved to China in 2008 (holy crap, that was a long time ago), I weighed over 200 pounds, felt like crap, but covered it up with an attitude of, "I'm an awesome, strong woman no matter what I look like." Road races fell off my radar because I would never run outside in China with the stares from the locals and the horrible air quality. 

I lost and gained the same 15 pounds over and over for 3 years while living and traveling. While traveling in late 2009, I met a dude who had done the Great Wall Marathon and I picked his brain for over an hour about the experience. How much did it cost total? How did you sign up as an expat? Did you want to die? He was patient and enthusiastic and after talking with him, the race was back again on my radar. The only problem - I was in no shape to complete a rigorous race. 

Last year, as I have posted before, I joined the gym with the initial goal of mental health management, but later added the goal of a healthy BMI (which I achieved in February, 2012 after a full 11 months of life style change commitment). During this year, two friends and I began to chat about the Great Wall race. Some friends completed the Hangzhou and Shanghai races, and all the while I was thinking to myself...this is cool, but the Great Wall would be epic. 

When I returned from India in February, I felt physically strong, capable, and mentally tough. After a few weeks of hemming and hawing about money and time, Jessica and I shook on it at Starbucks that we would do the Great Wall Half Marathon in May. 5 years after first seeing the booth at the Disney expo - we were doing it. 

Signing up for the race proved to be almost as torturous as the race itself. Most people enter the race via a tourist package from their home country. Kathy Loper Events seems to be the primary group from the States. There are a certain number of spots available for people living in Chi.na (locals and expats). In order to get one of those spots, you have to have lengthy email conversations and then wire cash to an account in Beijing. This process was frustrating and long. It took several days to register. If you are thinking about doing the race and live in Chi.na, be aware that you must wire money from the bank that they belong to - not your own bank, and that you will be required to scan many reciepts and send them to the offices. Finally, after all the run around, Jess and I were officially signed up! I cried in the bank the day I sent the money. It was surreal to be signing up and I was still concerned that I might not, "be ready." 

After the official stuff was completed, Jess and I set to training. We both followed the Runner's World Smart Coach iphone app and I highly recommend it for any race if you plan to train alone. I ended up running 3 times a week, one slow run, one "tempo" run, and one longer run on the weekend. Sometimes I would switch out my long run for the stairs with Jess, sometimes I would complete both. Looking back, I realize that I should have spent more emphasis on running and not stairs. If you want to do the race, do not freak out about stairs. And make sure you are ready for running on uneven ground. I did all of my runs on the treadmill and I think that this hurt me big time on race day - but what can you do? Gotta work with what ya got.

Jess and I met most Sundays to climb the stairs in her apartment complex and I grew to love these times even though it hurt. Sometimes I felt strong and awesome, sometimes I felt like I was lugging 30 pounds of bricks up the stairs. The stairs were always a mental battle - more so than running. My thoughts would go from, "You can't even do this, how are you going to do the wall?" to, "Wow, this is so great, just imagine when you are looking out at the Great Wall and not a stairwell!" Each round of 8-10 laps was a mental battle and I think I am a better person because of those hours in the stairwell. Besides the stairs, Jess and I never ran together. Our schedules were very different and we are both solo runners. It worked out well for us. 

In addition to running and stair'ing, I attended a Body Pump class once or twice a week. I like the way I feel after Body Pump and was convinced that the weighted squats would aid me in running the stairs. I think I was right. 

stealth photo while everyone stretches..hahaha

Finally, after 12 weeks of training, it was time to head north to Beijing. Jess had plans around the race and bought a flight to BJ. I wanted to take the new high speed train since I do not particularly like to fly and thought the nerves of flying would be detrimental to my mental calm right before the race. (Know thyself). I packed my things, and rode the 6 hour train to Beijing. 

Things I packed for the race: 

Running capris and shorts (the forecast was saying 85degrees!)
Thorlo socks 
4 packs of Blocks
3 peanut butter sandwhiches on wheat bread. (one for the train, two for before race) 
instant coffee packets 
Pepto (ha) 
3 headbands (to choose from morning of)
a million hair ties/bobby pins
wet wipes
extra money on my phone to cover 3G costs for talking with family

SHOULD have also brought: 
something American/sparkly

I checked into my hotel and met Jess down the street. We found a grocery store and stocked up on diet coke, bottles of water, and bananas. Then we went to the Marriot hotel looking for some Italian grub. They did not disappoint, and after dinner I took my carb-full belly back to the hotel where I watched Chine.se MTV (hilarious) until my 8pm self-appointed bed time. The alarm was set for 2:30am. 

All night I received "good luck" texts from friends and my sister, which instead of cheering me on, pissed me off. "I have to wake up in 2 hours, turds!" I thought to myself. Ha. Thought that counts? Ya. 

At 2:30am when my alarm rang, I was already awake and waiting for it...the day I had thought about for years had finally arrived. 

Time to do the Great Wall Half Marathon. 

I'll tell you about that in the next post...I'm late for a coffee date. :) 

walk slow. xoxo. 

1 comment:

agapelife said...

you're such a great story teller. I can't wait to hear more.