When I first found out that we would be traveling to China, I was a little worried about the logistics when we got there. China isn’t like say France or Spain where I don’t speak the language but could look at words on signs and somewhat guess what they are or at the very least learn the words as I went. I really was concerned about how we were going to communicate or understand anything, especially since I had been told that the majority of the people we would see or meet in China wouldn’t speak English, and that very few signs have translations on them.

Adventure Marathons was one step ahead of us.

In order to run The Great Wall of China Marathon you have to book a tour package. You can not just sign up for this race and run it unless you are a local. They assigned us a group we were with the entire week and we had the same tour guide, a lovely woman named Julie, who was with us on all excursions, meals during excursions, and race day. She was our translator and without her there is no way we would have been able to get around and experience half of what we did.

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Our tour guide Julie giving us a little history

I think is under promoted part of The Great Wall of China Marathon race package is the social aspect. One of the many things I love about running relays is that you quickly become fast friends with people – it’s like friendship on fast forward. You do more and experience more with your teammates in two or three days than you do with some friends in an entire year. You have to let your guard down. These people see you when you are happy, elated, but also dead tired, cranky, hungry, trying to find a bathroom, etc. They see the good side and the not so great side of you all at once.  The whole experience felt like a relay minus sleeping in the vans. Come race I felt like I had more friends at this race than I do at a local race in Virginia or DC.

The first day everyone was just getting to know each other – what country we were from – what language was our first {I was one of the very few people who only spoke one language} – how far we had traveled to get there – what was the time difference – did we have family – we were there running alone – on and on. By day two you felt like you had friends, at breakfast you didn’t sit alone or only with whomever you had come with, you had a table filled with people to chat with. Those people had to make it to the same bus you did at the same time and had the same schedule. It felt like you were in the whole race week experience together. and really for the most part you were.

There is something incredibly special about experiencing a new country and culture with someone. The icing on the cake was not only did I get to see China, learn about its culture, experience Beijing and run on The Great Wall of China, I got to learn about the countries that all the various people were from in my group. There was never a lack of something to chat about. There were people in our group from The Netherlands, Denmark, South Africa, Lithuania, Italy, Canada and more. As we would later learn at the Gala after the race there were 61 Nationalities represented at the marathon.

 

On our first full day there we visited Tiananmen Square. The air quality wasn’t as bad as it typically is, so we didn’t have a “foggy” view of the sights, but rather a pretty clear one. The square was as large as I had imagined but much more crowded than I had expected. There were tour groups everywhere, many of them were Chinese groups that had come from other parts of the country.

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Walking from the hotel to Tiananmen Square

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Newline Sport {one of the sponsors of the Run The Wall contest} sent one of their employees to be with us that week, Karina! We didn’t know until the week before we left that someone was coming with us. It made the week that much more special having someone to share it all with. It also took some of the stress off of worrying about race day details – in the end we didn’t need any extra help with logistics – Adventure Marathons had every little detail planned and taken care of.

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After our visit to Tiananmen Square I had my first experience in a Chinese bathroom {the airport and hotel had American style bathrooms}. I had no clue Eric was taking pictures of me as I walked out. I think the look on my face sums up the experience pretty well. For those of you who don’t know this {I didn’t either till someone emailed me and told me} the toilets in China for the most part are in the ground. Others had described it to me as a hole in the ground so I literally imagined a hole in dirt {still laughing about how dumb that thought was}. They are actual toilet bowls, only they are in the ground, and you do not sit, but rather squat. The squatting as I would later figure out is not how say a woman would squat over a toilet seat she doesn’t want to sit down on, but rather much like how you see people sitting on the sidewalks squatting low as if they are almost sitting on the ground, yet not on the ground. The smell was worse than anything I’ve smelt before which actually turned out to be a positive thing – I’ll never complain about how bad a race port-o-potty smells again. Perspective is a wonderful thing. Oh and you have to carry your own toilet paper with you everywhere, because there isn’t any in the restrooms and as I would later learn for the most part locals do not use toilet paper.

{Tip: If you are planning a trip to China – little tissue packets are perfect for carrying everywhere – STOCK up before you go}

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The Forbidden City was our next stop….and since this post is already 2308234923094 words long….those pictures/ramblings will be in another post which I promise will not taken me months to write 😉

Related Posts:

Back From The Great Wall of China Marathon

China: Great Wall Marathon Inspection Day

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