The 10K Race of Doom (Part 2! Yay! I Didn’t Die! I think.)

May 25, 2012

I’m alive, you guys!

Either that, or I am dead. In that case, death feels a lot like life. Which is stupid because I always thought I’d be a lot skinnier in the afterlife. Or, at least, I always thought I’d be one of those people with visible ankles.

As you may recall from my last blog post, I signed up to run a 10K race – a 10K race which just so happened to be on top of the Great Wall.

You know, that big, huge wall thingie in the middle of China? The one that was built for the express purpose of keeping hoards of marauders out of the country? The one that’s so packed full of ridiculously steep steps that even the marauders who managed to scale the side of it would see the steps and be all like, “Forget this. Let’s go invade Uzbekistan or something.”

Yep, that’s the one.

Why I thought signing up to run a 10K on top of the Wall was a good idea I’m really not sure. I mean, I like running and everything. But I also really like my knees. And I was pretty sure my knees were no match for all those steps.

Even though I did buy myself this fancy new knee brace which, as you can tell, is very high-tech because it has a name with both letters and numbers in it. It’s kind of like a computer. For my knee.

Ooo, S-300!

I thought about dropping out or just not showing up a few times.

Like when I arrived in Beijing and found out my hotel had a breakfast buffet with an omelet bar, piles of crispy bacon and cheese platters. Especially since going to the race meant I’d have to catch a shuttle bus at 3:30 AM on Saturday morning. Which meant I’d have to miss out on the buffet and my morning allotment of cheese for the day.

Omelettes! Cheese! Bacon! Cheese!

I mean, I’ve been all about challenging myself this year, but willfully missing out on cheese?

That’s not really like me.

But I got on the bus anyway.

Because I may be a scaredy cat, but I always try to finish what I start. Usually, of course, this motto just applies to cake.


I can’t say I was feeling too optimistic when I boarded that bus. Partly because it was 3:30 in the morning. And it’s kind of impossible to feel optimistic about anything at that hour.

This is what 3:30 AM on a shuttle bus looks like. Totally depressing, right?

Plus, everyone who got on our bus was really thin and sporty-looking and wearing those little shorty runner-type shorts – the kind of shorts that only thin, sporty, runner-type people can wear as they’re the only type of people who don’t have to worry about their thighs rubbing together too much and starting some kind of fire.

I, on the other hand, require full thigh coverage. You know, because running is hard enough. I’d really rather not burst into flames while doing it.

Preventing fires. One fully-covered thigh at a time.

When the bus pulled into the race site around six, I was greeted by a rather festive crowd. Everyone looked excited about the day’s activity. And not like they wanted to run away screaming.

My fellow racers. Shorty-short wearers and all.

Most of the other runners were fellow foreigners like me. Probably because Chinese people have enough common sense not to sign up for something like this.

Luckily, though, not all my fellow runners were the thin, sporty-looking, shorty-short wearing types.

There were people of all shapes and sizes and ages and athletic abilities. And outfit choices. Including one rather portly gentleman in a panda costume.

If Panda Man can, so can I! I hope!

This made me feel a bit better.

And a bit like I was back in Japan, where it was perfectly acceptable to show up to a race in a full-body furry costume.

Googly eyes & tails. Just another day at the races in Japan.

As my race didn’t start for another couple hours, I decided to fit in a little light reading.

I opened the pamphlet I had received a month or so ago with my race packet that I had never read. Mind you, I had tried to read it. But the few times I had tried, I would become so overwhelmed that I would start to hyperventilate and pass out a little.

I flipped to the page with the route map on it.  And that’s how I discovered that only the first two kilometers or so of the 10K race would be on the Wall. The rest of the race would be on roads – roads built for walking and driving and running and not for keeping out marauding hoards.

The route map... or as I referred to it "The Map of My Pending Doom." It has a ring to it, no?

This made me feel even better.

Or, at least, a little bit less like I was going to die.

What the course map didn’t explain, though, was that the first part of those two kilometers was on a section of the Great Wall that didn’t actually look like a wall. Or really anything too great.

It looked more like the Not-So-Great Crumbly Ledge.

Umm, excuse me, but this doesn't look like the Wall from all the postcards.

Sometimes, there would be a handrail or rope to grab on to.

Yay, a handrail! Safety first!

But usually not.

And there really wasn’t much to separate you from the steep drop off the side of the Wall. Besides, you know, all the trees.

No worries. Trees are really good at breaking falls.

By the time we made it to the section of the Wall that actually looked like the Great Wall, we were all like, “Ooo, look at those steps! Look how sturdy and even and un-crumbly they look. And there are walls to keep us from falling off! Walls! It’s practically like a luxury hotel room up in here!”

You know you’ve had it rough when this looks easy:

Walls! On both sides! And even-ish looking steps. Fahhncy!

I spent most of my time on the Wall drudging along slowly.

The one time I attempted to run, I promptly fell into a drainage ditch. I took this as a sign that I should take it easy.

Drainage ditch or booby trap. You decide.

I stopped a lot to catch my breath and stare at the view.

I chatted with the other ladies around me – fellow Americans who were also living in China.

And I took a lot of pictures. Including lots of photos of me looking really red and sweaty.

It's a good thing I wore a hot pink shirt. Matches my face perfectly.

And then a weird thing happened.

I actually started to enjoy myself.

It started to feel like I was on a Sunday stroll with friends – well, a Sunday stroll that involved my having to stop every few minutes to cling to the side of a wall.

This is fun. Right, guys? Right?

After our two kilometers on the Wall ended, I found myself on a wide stretch of road.

And seeing as my knees were surprisingly still functioning at that point and road was mercifully going downhill, I pumped up the Katy Perry songs on my iPod and started to run.

Look, a road! No handrail required!

The road wound through tiny villages, past chicken farms and mom and pop shops. Gaggles of villagers gathered at the side of the road to stare at the sweaty foreigners running down the side of the mountain.

Watching the crazy, sweaty foreigners. Even better than TV.

Over two hours after I started, I finally crossed the finish line.

I can’t say I broke any records. (Unless there’s some kind of record for sweating. Because I’m pretty sure I broke that record.)

But I did get a medal.

I won! I won! I won! Or something.

And I totally didn’t die.

I think.

I mean, I’m pretty sure there would be a lot more cake in the afterlife. And cheese platters. And I’d totally have ankles by now if I were dead, right?

Do anything you totally thought was going to kill you lately? Tell me all about it!

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On May 25, 2012 at 4:07 pm Waegook Tom said:

    Just looking at that drop off the side of the wall makes me feel like I’m going to die! I’m getting virtual vertigo here.

    Congratulations on conquering death. I hope it was meant to be and that you escaping the drainage ditch doesn’t mean that your life will become like the movie Final Destination.
    Waegook Tom recently posted..Yuba Dabba Doo

    • On May 26, 2012 at 6:32 am Sally said:

      Yeah, the woman in front of me was deathly afraid of heights and she was really not enjoying that part. Luckily, I was so excited at having all these English speakers around me to chat with I totally wasn’t paying attention to the fact that I could die at any minute. Hmmm, funny that.
      P.S. I’ve never seen Final Destination. Now I think I never can.

  2. On May 25, 2012 at 4:13 pm Jeremy Branham said:

    Congrats on the achievement! A little disappointing that only a couple of miles were on the actual Wall. I actually hate running (I don’t mind exercising and I am in good shape but running bores me). However, setting a goal and accomplishing it is a great feeling! And you even got a shiny medal for it! 🙂

    Since this is the Great Wall of China, you can now train yourself to do the 10,000K! (OK, it’s not quite that long but a 10K doesn’t sound so bad now does it?) 🙂
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..A northern California hiking video and travel guide – Horsetail Falls

    • On May 26, 2012 at 6:31 am Sally said:

      Oh, trust me, it was not a disappointment. Those 2 KMs were the toughest 2 KMs of my life. Probably because most of them were completely vertical. I think it took me longer to do the 2 KMs on the Wall, than it did to do the 8 KMs on the road.
      I don’t know about 10,000K (is that even POSSIBLE?), but I am planning to sign up for a few half marathons in the States for my return. Hopefully none of them will be on top of walls, though!

  3. On May 25, 2012 at 4:44 pm James @ Fly, Icarus, Fly said:

    That is awesome! I don’t know why I thought it’d take longer. Two hours doesn’t sound that horrible. But then again, you had to fight death to finish, so that’s gotta take something out of a girl… Seriously, though. Very proud of you. BTW, that breakfast buffet looks GOOD. A huge mound of sausages! I hope you stuffed some in your bag for later! And admit it, you totally used taking photos as an excuse to rest every 5 minutes, am I right?

    Panda Man: Excuse me, pink lady, why you stop so often?
    Sally: I need to take important photos for my awesome blog.
    Panda Man: Ch-yeah, right. (or whatever noise pandas make)

    And now, a shameless plug to vote for my photo in the Conde Nast finals! See? We BOTH can win. LOL.
    James @ Fly, Icarus, Fly recently posted..Unemployed, Alone and Often Confused — And Loving Every Minute

  4. On May 25, 2012 at 4:54 pm DebbZ said:

    Congratz! you’ve made it! Must be feeling good, right? I feel the same way when I conquered mount Sinai in Egypt, because I’m not a fit person too.
    Will you join another 10K race again next time ? 🙂
    DebbZ recently posted..Poland: A heartbreaking story about Nazi Death Camp

    • On May 26, 2012 at 6:25 am Sally said:

      I’m actually planning on doing a couple half marathons in the States after I return this summer. I used to run a lot of races in Japan, but I’ve never run any races in the States before. I’m looking forward to it. Especially since these races won’t be on top of any walls!

  5. On May 25, 2012 at 5:00 pm Carmel said:

    Wow. That looks…horrendous. I’m going to stop complaining about my race now.
    Carmel recently posted..Healthy White Bean, Avocado & Tuna Wraps

  6. On May 25, 2012 at 6:35 pm ChinaMatt said:

    Awesome! I loved this line: “Most of the other runners were fellow foreigners like me. Probably because Chinese people have enough common sense not to sign up for something like this.”

    I remember hiking up Nanshan in Shenzhen on a particularly humid day. One local saw my friend and me and commented, “Wow, foreigners get tired climbing mountains too.”
    ChinaMatt recently posted..Just a Facade

    • On May 26, 2012 at 6:17 am Sally said:

      Ha ha. Hilarious.
      There were a couple Chinese tourists on the Wall while we were doing the race (although, technically I believe the section we were on was supposed to be closed to the public). Of course, the women were wearing impossible shoes and teetering around on the crumbly bits. And they were staring at us like WE were the freaks.

  7. On May 25, 2012 at 7:00 pm Stephanie - The Travel Chica said:

    I just took a bus in Bolivia on what I heard is one of the worst (aka easy to fall off a cliff and die) routes. I lived, but I certainly had nothing to do with it. Well, maybe I prevented a heart attack by closing my eyes after the first 30 minutes of hell.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Foto of the Week from … Buenos Aires: Heaven and Hell

  8. On May 25, 2012 at 7:23 pm Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) said:

    Pretty much the only thing I have done that I thought would kill me, emotionally if not physically, was finishing up grad school and finally earning my PhD. I actually just did this yesterday… and pretty much for the last month it was touch-and-go whether I would make it through all of the emotional breakdowns and pull my shit together enough to finish. I very much thought that I was at a very real risk of forever breaking my brain, but somehow I managed to write a dissertation, talk about that dissertation in public, and answer lots of questions about it too. I don’t get a shiny medal for my travails, but I suppose I can now pompously append “PhD” after my name should I choose, which has to be worth something, no?
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..China Visa Woes, Oh Noes!

  9. On May 25, 2012 at 10:54 pm Ceri said:

    Congratulations, hun. Like I said before, I can’t even run 1K because I’m a big, fat lazy heffer. So the fact that you ran 10K *and* managed 2 of it on the Great Wall, is something truly amazing. Well done!! 😀 And yay for not dying!
    Ceri recently posted..Getting Assaulted in Oaxaca City

    • On May 26, 2012 at 6:13 am Sally said:

      Thank you, Ceri. I’m sure you could have run it too. The awesome thing about the race was that there were people of all ability levels — some super athletic people who looked like they must run tons of races, along with just your average looking folks who were like, “I want to do that!” It was very reassuring.

  10. On May 26, 2012 at 1:54 am Marie said:

    Re: Starting fires with thighs (Now you’ll get some awesome spam. You’re welcome.) I am with you, sister. I think if we put our heads together we could totally come up with a marketable smoke detector for women like us. Perhaps to be worn around the neck? In funky designs?

    Besides that, I think it’s awesome that you’ve done this. I think about running all the time. In my head I am a runner. I am the person who can eat as much cake as she likes because she will run it off. Life is sweet in my head.
    Marie recently posted..7 things my travelling life has gifted to my mothering life

    • On May 26, 2012 at 6:12 am Sally said:

      Thanks, Marie! I did feel really accomplished having finished the race. The gold medal certainly helped. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t gold. But who’s checking, really? And, yes, I’ve used the race as an excuse to eat all kinds of cake… and cheese… and bacon… and ice cream.

  11. On May 26, 2012 at 12:19 pm Margaret said:

    You are and inspiration! Congratulations!
    The funny thing is, I never thought about a race as a way to see new countryside–what a great idea!
    So… what’s your next big adventure??

    • On May 27, 2012 at 4:07 am Sally said:

      Hmmm…. good question. I finish my contract in China in June & don’t have to be in the States until August. So I have a month (and unfortunately limited funds) to play with. I’m looking into my options now, but I’ll definitely keep everyone updated!

  12. On May 27, 2012 at 12:52 am Maria said:

    A 10 k with adventure built in! Kudos!!!
    Maria recently posted..When a Stranger Calls

  13. On May 27, 2012 at 5:10 am Andi of My Beautiful Adventures said:

    Seriously you’re my hero! A 10K on the GWC!!!!!!! Who gets to say they did that??????? Bravo darling!!!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Macau: Day 2 (Part 3)

  14. On May 27, 2012 at 8:05 am Daisy said:


    It looks like it was totally worth skipping the breakfast buffet. I think it’s an amazing show of willpower and determination. Finishing the race, I mean. Okay, turning down the buffet too 😉

    And that is such a scary, precipitous drop! I don’t even think I could take a picture of it for fear of getting distracted and falling. Good for you for getting that shot!

    Also, thank you for posting more people who dress up like monkeys/panda bears/and other stuffed animals. Who started that trend?! Weren’t those people uncomfortable?!

    Congrats again!
    Daisy recently posted..Wild Spinach and Radish Green Spanakopita

    • On May 28, 2012 at 12:25 pm Sally said:

      I didn’t actually look while I was taking that picture. I just kind of stuck my arm out & clicked the button.
      And, you’re welcome about the photo. I think it’s a Japanese trend as every race I went to in Japan was populated by people in big furry costumes. Once I ran next to an eggplant for 10 miles. And, another time, I was passed by a woman in a sexy Mrs. Claus costume. Now THAT was humiliating. I mean, I know I’m slow… but slower than a woman in a furry red mini-skirt? Just embarrassing.

  15. On May 27, 2012 at 9:56 pm Charlie said:

    I am starting to walk along Hadrian’s Wall in the UK tomorrow. I don’t think it qualifies as a near death experience though because even though it is very crumbly, you don’ so much walk on it as in it’s general vicinity. I love that you didn’t look at the details until you were actually there- a girl after my own way of doing things (why know beforehand eh?) Well done on your achievement and good luck in your future not-so-near death experiences!
    Charlie recently posted..339.3 kms: Rose Bridge-Dalston-Carlisle.

  16. On May 28, 2012 at 4:32 am Ross said:

    Way to so Sally!! It sure looks like a lot of fun. I just ran a 5K at work for fitness week. We just ran around the block. I would much rather run a 10K on the Great Wall.
    Ross recently posted..Annular Eclipse – May 20, 2012

    • On May 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm Sally said:

      Next year maybe you can get everyone at work to head to the Great Wall. I’m sure going to China would make a great team-building exercise!

  17. On May 28, 2012 at 7:00 pm Sarah said:

    Wow, that’s fantastic! I can’t say a 10k is really something I plan on doing anytime soon, but I’d probably run that one just for the heck of it. I also wouldn’t have looked at the race map and would have found out while run/walking (or “runking” as my friend calls it) that the whole thing wasn’t on the wall.
    Sarah recently posted..Even More Conversations With Ex-Boyfriend

  18. On May 28, 2012 at 10:43 pm Ayngelina said:

    Wow what an incredible experience! I hate running but even I would do that…or at least try it and cop out at the half way mark.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Disconnecting in Hana

  19. On May 28, 2012 at 11:50 pm Jen Ryder said:

    You’re so cool! I really want to do this run now, even though heights make my palms and feet sweaty. Oh, and I’m not really big into running… But it seems amazing! Do you think I can just hug the wall the whole way along that steep drop off part? Or crawl?
    Jen Ryder recently posted..Learning to Cook Chinese Food

    • On May 30, 2012 at 12:41 pm Sally said:

      Yep, definitely can. In fact, that’s what the woman in front of me was doing. She seemed really terrified. (I was also terrified but trying not to think too much about it.)

  20. On May 29, 2012 at 1:09 am Rachel said:

    “is very high-tech because it has a name with both letters and numbers in it” – this made me laugh out loud! haha
    i love that people wear costumes when running! it definitely makes it seem less serious and a lot more fun! glad you finished! were your legs sore from the stairs the next day?
    i just finished a 70km cycle (the shimanami kaido here in japan) – defs didn’t think i would finish that! but managed to fairly pain free!

    • On May 30, 2012 at 12:40 pm Sally said:

      Wow! That bike ride sounds amazing. I had friends in Japan who used to do a lot of long distance cycling. I always wanted to join them, but never did. Just one more reason I should really go back! Good for you for doing it!

  21. On May 29, 2012 at 4:10 am choi kum fook said:

    Good attempt!Congratulation for the achievement! Miss Sally, you can taken up long distance race in future!Running is the best exercise for the health if you can do it, even without paying single cent for it!

  22. On May 29, 2012 at 2:14 pm Claire said:

    I really want to do this run now, even though heights make my palms and feet sweaty. Thanks for letting me stopped by.

  23. On May 30, 2012 at 10:40 am Sonia said:

    Congrats on not dying! How many hours did you sleep if you took a bus at 3.30am?
    Sonia recently posted..Why GetLunched is an awesome idea

    • On May 30, 2012 at 12:38 pm Sally said:

      Not much. Plus, I was so nervous, that I didn’t sleep much while I was actually trying to sleep. I made up for it the two other nights I was in Beijing — I think I slept for at least 12 hours each!

  24. On May 30, 2012 at 5:38 pm Ava Apollo said:

    Ooohhoohhh I really like the medal! Your bit about bursting into flames had me laughing.

  25. On June 1, 2012 at 1:36 am Roy Marvelous said:

    Did you find out Panda man’s time??
    Roy Marvelous recently posted..I Had To Cross An Ocean To Realize It’s A Small World

    • On June 3, 2012 at 2:21 am Sally said:

      No, he did the 5K & I was gone by the time he finished. My friend who came with me said he was one of the last 5 K-ers to come in. I imagine that panda costume added quite a bit of wind resistance.

  26. On June 2, 2012 at 11:27 am Grace Sevilly said:

    Wow, 10k run is definitely something to admire, and that Great Wall looks pretty intimidating too. If that were me, my knees would have already buckled

    • On June 3, 2012 at 2:12 am Sally said:

      My knees did surprisingly well despite the fact that I have pretty bad knees. I think it’s because I went slow… that and my high-tech new knee brace!

  27. On June 4, 2012 at 7:48 pm Heather said:

    Rock it, chica! So proud of you for giving it a go! Very glad you didn’t die.

    You’ve just encouraged me to look up the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler website. I can’t sign up til later this month but maybe I will. I’ve only done it once before and miles 2 and 3 are up hill. People lied to me beforehand and said there were no hills!
    Heather recently posted..Walking and eating my way through Brighton

    • On June 8, 2012 at 1:06 am Sally said:

      Ahhh, 2 miles uphill? That sounds awful. This was the first race I did where so much of it was vertical. Most of the races I’ve done were pretty flat.

  28. On June 4, 2012 at 9:41 pm Leah Travels said:

    Ok, so I’m just catching up on all my favorite blogs. I’m so glad you didn’t die, because I would have totally missed your funeral, or at least your blog post about your funeral.
    Leah Travels recently posted..A Second Chance for SoCal

  29. On June 5, 2012 at 8:56 am Harvani said:

    Good, nice post. You are really brave brave girl. I thank to you because of to get knowledge about this wall. Thanks for sharing with us.

  30. On June 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm Katie Greulich @ à pied said:

    Love this post! How many people get to run a scary, no-handrail 10K on the Great Wall? And be gawked at by Chinese locals? And wear a computer on your knee? So much fun.

    I have been reading for a long time and loving every one of your Chinese adventures. Thanks for sharing them!
    Katie Greulich @ à pied recently posted..Weekend Suitcase–Trumpetissimo!

  31. On June 16, 2012 at 11:54 pm Jess said:

    Add me to the list of people glad you survived the race.

    And to the list of people inspired.

    Because I just started the Couch to 5K plan. And get this: I kind of like running. Weeeeeird.

    Mostly, thanks for the hilarious blog entry.
    Jess recently posted..A Trip to the Principal’s Office

    • On June 17, 2012 at 7:13 am Sally said:

      Wahoo! Good for you! Another one of my blog readers also signed up to do the Couch to 5K Plan after reading this post. I truly am an athletic inspiration. Wow, I never thought I’d say THAT.
      Good luck!

  32. On October 30, 2014 at 2:43 am Pleddie said:

    I feel I too must congratulate you. I am returning to China for a second time and have been thinking about participating in the Great Wall Marathon. I say that, but to tell the truth, I was considering their “Fun Run” part, which is only 8.5 km. And, like yours, only part of that is on the Wall. You have inspired me, and I now feel I definitely will. Thank you.

    You asked your readers: “Do anything you totally thought was going to kill you lately? Tell me all about it!” I will, but I didn’t think it would kill me when I started. It was in the summer of 2012 and I was always fascinated by the Grand Canyon here in my US of A. I had been there many times and viewed it from the north and south rims. However, I have always thought it would be cool to hike it Rim-To-Rim. I have a friend, whom I convinced to do it with me.

    That first day, we started from the north rim. I should mention here, this was quite different than any mountain climbing I had done. In the Grand Canyon, you hike downhill first and then up hill at the end. They had had lots of rain a couple of weeks before we arrived and it had washed all the loose material off the trail. As you would expect, we had to step over the water diversion logs and rocks. With all the loose materials gone, the distance I was stepping down was much greater than usual, and in some places about 16 inches. Soon my thighs began to throb with each step down. I thought I would die or they would have to fly me out by helicopter. We were on a fixed schedule and had to make the campsite halfway down. I did finally make it, with lots of encouragement and some help and was OK for the rest of the hike.

    The highlight of the hike was on my way up the south side. A young couple stopped me and asked if I was the 73 year-old man who was hiking the Canyon Rim-To-Rim? That shocked me and with my tongue in cheek, I told them no, I was not that man. I was the 74 year-old man hiking the Canyon Rim-To-Rim. The young man then asked if his wife could take his picture with me. It was even better than a gold medal. It made my whole trip and I will remember it for the rest of my life.

    WARNING: Don’t try this in the summer. When we reached our campsite in the bottom of the Canyon, the thermometer read 130 degrees.

    • On November 1, 2014 at 1:35 pm Sally said:

      I’d definitely suggest doing the Great Wall race — it was one of my highlights of my time in China, even if it was so hard. I think 3 of the races — the Fun Run, the 10K and the half-marathon — all do the same 5K-or-so portion on the Wall. Whereas, the full marathon does the portion on the Wall twice. The Wall part of the race is definitely the hardest part — especially the stairs. The rest of the course is quite pleasant and winds through some small villages and goes pretty much entirely downhill (as you’re winding your way down from the Wall). I remember thinking I could have done the half marathon, but the full would have killed me — if only because there was NO WAY I could have done the Wall portion a second time.


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