Let’s go international with this week’s edition of the runner’s weekend. This past week I traveled around the world to Beijing, China to run the most incredible race of my life. If you can get past the 14 hour flight from the East Coast then this is a trip that you must take for runners and travelers alike. This race takes place mid-April every year and just over 1000 runners compete each year so you may want to register early. The race I am referring to is the Jinshanling Great Wall Marathon.
That’s right, this race takes gives you the opportunity to run on top of the Great Wall of China. But be prepared, their slogan of “The Most Beautiful Great Wall, The Most Difficult Marathon” is no exaggeration. The Jinshanling area of the Great Wall is a site to be seen and truly is beautiful, however it is also a very difficult run. Starting off in the visitor’s area runners start their run along the winding paved road leading to the wall. At the 4km marker runners are faced with a grueling climb up a winding staircase all the way up to the wall. This steep staircase takes runners on an elevation climb of 250m over the next kilometer before reaching the top of the Great Wall. The next 2 miles are run along the top of the Great Wall which is filled with more steps, narrow staircases, and steep sloping paths. Runners then break off depending on their race distance. 10k runners leave the wall and head back to the starting line, Half and Full marathon runners continue forward for another couple miles before looping back around, completing the run in reverse. With time limits of 3 hours, 6 hours and 9 hours for the 10k, Half and Full respectively runners are sure to feel the burn in their legs as they push through to finish within the time limit. Included in the race registration is round trip transportation from Beijing to the Great Wall, post race snacks, t-shirt, towel and same day access to revisit the Great Wall after the race. Runners who finish the race within the time limit also receive a finisher’s medal.
Not sure what else to do in Beijing after running the race? Here are a few fun sites to visit:
The Jinshanling section of the Great Wall is considered the most beautiful section, but it is not the only one visited. In fact, the Badaling section is the most visited section by tourists. There are also several other sites including the Huanghuacheng with lake scenery, Mutianyu which is the most fully restored section, Juyongguan with one of the greatest Great Wall forts, and Shanhai Pass where the Great Wall ends at the sea. If April doesn’t work for you then there is also the Great Wall Marathon that takes place on the Huangyaguan section of the wall in May. So, if you didn’t get enough of the Great Wall during your run, then there are plenty of other sections to explore.
Both races take place just outside of the city of Beijing, a city filled with traditional Chinese culture dating back as far as 3000 years old. You will find yourself in awe of the traditional architecture found throughout the city. Some of the must-see sites are
located around Tiananmen Square. Tiananmen Square is the location of the famous “Tank Man” photo from the protests in 1989. In the square is the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, National Museum of China and the Great Hall of the People. Every morning at sunrise is the flag raising ceremony and every night at sunset is the flag lowering ceremony. During this time the entire road is closed off to traffic so the guards from Tiananmen can cross over to the square to raise or lower the flag.
Inside the gates of Tiananmen is the Forbidden City, which was the Chinese imperial palace from 1420 to 1912. It is now open to visitors to tour the grounds on your own everyday of the week except Monday. You can visit the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Military Eminence, Hall of Literary Glory, Palace of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Mental Cultivation, Palace of Tranquil Longevity and the Imperial Garden. If you leave the Forbidden City through the north gate you will find yourself in front of Jingshan Park. Atop the hill at Jingshan Park provides a stunning bird’s eye view of the Forbidden City. Continuing to the north, visitors can make their way through the famed Hutongs, or narrow alleys, of Beijing such as the Nanluoguxiang Hutong.
A short distance to the west is Houhai Lake, a lake which has become famous for its nightlife as many residences along the shore have been converted into restaurants, bars and cafes. This is the place to go for live music and drinks. It is also a nice area to rent paddle boats and relax. Also nearby is the former residence of Soong Ching-ling, Prince Gong Mansion and the Bell and Drum Towers.
Other sites of Beijing are a bit further from Tiananmen and the best way to catch them all is with a night drive, on your own or with a tour guide. Beijing is a beautiful city at night when many spectacular buildings are all lit up. The Place is a high-end shopping mall outside the city center with a huge LED screen canopy. You may also like to visit the National Grand Theatre also known as the Eggshell, and the Olympic Stadiums. The Water Cube is the National Aquatic Center that was used for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Inside the Water Cube is where Michael Phelps wowed the world by winning 8 gold medals and setting 7 world records. Inside the Water Cube now is a water park and a swimming pool that is open to the public. Next door to the Water Cube is the Beijing National Stadium known as the Bird’s Nest. The Bird’s Nest hosted the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the 2008 Olympics as well as Track & Field Events and the gold medal match for Men’s Football. Mostly unused now, the stadium is still a site to be seen at night. Another place to visit at night is the Donghuamen Night Market. Located just off of Wangfujing, this market is filled with exotic food vendors and bargain souvenir shops. This is the place to go for adventurous eaters as you can find fried scorpions, pigeon, squid and other delicacies all in one place.
About an hour away from Tiananmen by subway is a tranquil place of beauty that is a must for all visitors to Beijing known as the Summer Palace. The top attraction of Summer Palace is the Tower of Buddhist Incense, but there are many other great sites in this huge park. A thorough visit of the Summer Palace could easily take all day as you can enjoy renting boats on Kunming Lake, walking through the various gardens and appreciating the beautiful architecture of the many buildings located on Longevity Hill.
Along the same subway line (Line 4) is the Beijing Zoo. The Beijing Zoo is a collection of many animals that are endemic to China. Within the zoo grounds is also the Beijing Aquarium, the largest aquarium in China, but has an additional cost separate from the zoo entry fee. The biggest attraction of the Beijing Zoo is the giant pandas exhibit. Here visitors can see the giant pandas up close in a separate section of the park dedicated to them.
Southeast of Tiananmen is the Temple of Heaven. This temple was visited by the
Emperors of the Qing and Ming dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer for good harvest. The primary attractions of the Temple of Heaven is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, the Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Circular Mound Altar. Within the park is also the Fasting Palace, Seven-Star Stone, A Hundred Flower Garden, China Rose Garden and the Nine-Dragon Cypress.
Nearby the Temple of Heaven is a shopper’s heaven known as Hongqiao Pearl Market. This multi-level building has everything a shopper could ask for. The first floor is filled with souvenir items such as hand carved buddhas and dragons, keychains, silk scarves, paintings, jade sculptures, and more. The second floor is a giant warehouse of purses, belts and shoes while the third and fourth floors have several pearl and jewelry shops. Also, nearby the Temple of Heaven is the Legend of Kung Fu show at the Red Theatre, a great way to end your visit to Beijing.