Not for the faint hearted: Great Wall of China 26.2

No amount of time on the Stairmaster can replicate 5,164 steps over 26.2 miles. Meet the UAE residents running the world’s most revered marathon

In ancient Chinese philosophy, opposing forces such as fire and water are actually complementary. The two cannot exist without the other.

It’s ominous then that the Great Wall Marathon begins at Yin and Yang Square in the Huangyaguan fortress (or 'yellow cliff pass'), which winds like a dragon’s scaly tail deep into mountainous Jixian county.

Light and dark moments fills the minds of most seasoned marathon runners. Certainly for those signed up to Albatros Adventure Marathons, an exciting company offering the world’s most challenging courses in the Petra Desert, Polar Circle and even an African game reserve – race timings arranged whenever the lions are not stalking the start line – conditions are designed to test nerve, spirit and physical prowess.

The Great Wall’s biggest obstacle is obviosuly its elevation. 2,500 runners from over 60 nations, many from the UAE, will ascend 5,164 steps that includes the infamous 2,296ft drop of ‘Goat Track’ at this year's marathon. 

We talk to two UAE-based runners making their debut on one of the Seven Wonders of the World in China this week, and ask them what it takes to step up from novice to Great Wall finisher... 

Great Wall China 4
Today the Great Wall of China is 5,500 miles long. However, its historical length is estimated at 13,170 miles long

Reda Rimkute

Age: 37

Nationality: Lithuanian 

Place of residence: UAE

Reda Rimkute

Who knows what the security people who were watching security cameras of the fire exit stairs must have thought of me! Crazy woman! 

Reda Rimkute

How long have you been running? 

My running story started three years ago. I used to enjoy early morning running but it never even crossed my mind to run a marathon and let alone one with thousands of steps! I lived in Gibraltar at the time and there were 10km fun runs organised by a local charity in which a few of my friends decided to participate – I just came for the ride. I hadn’t done any training at all for this purpose and surprise-surprise – I won 2nd place. It is how I discovered that I can run and how much fun it was. Now I have four full marathons up my sleeve and China Wall is going to be my fifth.  

What does running give you that nothing else does?

I have an office job and I tend to have intense and stressful days mentally. Running clears my mind and gives me that ‘switch off’ time. Also being able to run a full marathon it gives me a bit of pride in myself. A good mood for all the day is guaranteed.

How did you specifically train for the Great Wall race? 

I do my usual daily distance but added running up the stairs in my tower where I live. Reading the description of the marathon made me a bit worried. Who knows what the security people who were watching security cameras of the fire exit stairs must have thought of me! Crazy woman! 

Great Wall China 3
Just before the 7km mark runners face a 700m long section with a steep descent on the infamous “Goat Track”

What is your best running memory?

The most exciting and most worrying memory is my first ever marathon – The Virgin Money London Marathon. I didn’t have any idea of what to expect and how I would cope. 42km – it sounded really scary. The feeling when crossing the finish line I guess it was the moment when I became truly hooked. I wanted to book the next marathon almost straight away.

What is the allure of the Great Wall Marathon?

It is an unusual experience to be running at such a historical place that is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I’m also looking forward to cross the finish line and the feeling of achievement. I signed up for this marathon the day after I returned from Jordan after completing Petra Desert Marathon. I wanted to experience the next adventure. 

What have you learned in training?

That it is really hard to run the stairs. Fingers crossed I will survive 5,164 stairs in China. But as always, overall the experience of training and looking forward to the big day is exciting.

Rachel Kuryan

Age: 40

Nationality: Indian

Place of residence: UAE

Rachel Kuryan

Running gives you the advantage of positive space and reinforces your inner drive

Rachel Kurgan

How long have you been running?

My running career is quite new. I did not take up running until I was 36. The inspiration came from my husband Rajesh and his friend Ashok, who have started setting running milestones.

What does running give you that nothing else does?

Running is something you can do without any big fuss around it. I am a mother of three kids and Rajesh and I are full time working parents. Finding time to do something different outside your regular chores gives you the advantage of positive space and re-inforces your inner drive.

What do you think about when you run?

Mind over matter is true for any running experience. Start in baby steps and the rest will follow. As for me, the hurdles in my mind tend to go away once I hit the half way mark. As for the Half Marathon, in my mind it’s split into 6km, 11km, 16km and then the rest of the course. 

Great Wall China 5
Built by the Ming Dynasty, the ascent is 2,296ft at one point

How do you specifically train for the Great Wall race? 

Endurance and will power are the key ingredients. Since there are not many hills in UAE my training was split into treadmill running (1km flat and 4km incline), followed by climbing my apartment stairs (G to level 51 and back, adding up to 3km). This was kind of mirroring the expected run route, but the steps will be steeper and harder.

What is your best running memory?

I classify 2015 Abu Dhabi Striders Half Marathon as something special. I was turning 40, a ‘veteran’ age in most minds but I was blessed to be a mother of a little guy at this age. When I signed up for the event, I had not put on the running shoes for nearly two years. But on race day, it seemed to be falling into place. The adrenaline rush kept me going, injury free and with a strong finish. I felt accomplished as a working woman, mother, and with little training… you still can chase your dreams… and I owe a lot to my family for the great support.

Great Wall China 6
The course, which winds through the world's largest military structure, must be completed in under eight hours

What is the allure of the Great Wall Marathon?

Scaling new heights and conquering this beautiful landmark as part of the Adventure Marathon. We like to go places. As opposed to a regular running course, Great Wall Marathon has the reputation of being made for the tougher runners.

What have you learned in training for this race?

Do your part well – train well, eat clean. Stay strong in your mind – no hurdle is greater than what you have set in your mind. Live for the moment, enjoy the race and the experience will last you for a lifetime.