Great Wall Marathon
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Guide to Running the Great Wall Marathon in China

Looking for more than a typical vacation?  How about a destination “runcation” at the Great Wall of China? That is exactly what is in store for you when you run the Great Wall Marathon and Half Marathon in China, heralded as one of the toughest races in the world!

The Great Wall of China Marathon

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Guide to the Great Wall Marathon and Half Marathon in China



Location: Huangyaguan, China

Date: the 3rd Saturday in May

Distances Offered:  Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5 Mile Fun Run

Running Organization: Albatros Adventure Marathons

Running Packages Offered: 6 Day and 7 Day Packages

Cost: $1,695 for 6 Day Package / $1,895 for 7 Day Packages – view different packages HERE!

What is Included in the Cost: Lodging, most meals, transfers, and race entry

What is NOT Included in the Cost: Flights, excursions, visas (get important info on obtaining a visa HERE)

What’s the Weather Like? In May, chances of rain are low, and temperatures average in the mid 70’s Fahrenheit, but can occasionally reach as high as mid-90’s.  Expect some humidity.

Register HERE!


Views from my "runcation" at the Great Wall Marathon
Views from the Great Wall Marathon and Half Marathon in China!



Background on the Great Wall Marathon and Half Marathon


Since its inaugural run in 1999, the Great Wall of China Marathon and Half Marathon regularly show up on “toughest races in the world” lists, which is what made it appealing to me in the first place when I initially heard about it.  This race is held annually on the 3rd Saturday in May, and offers a full marathon, half marathon, and 5 mile course. 


Several other things appealed to me, one being that a tour organization, Albatross Adventure Marathons, plans and organizes the majority of the logistics, and also that this race provides the chance to rub shoulders with almost two thousand other runners from all over the world.  The camaraderie that this race offers is unmatched, as you have the chance to be lodged, fed, transported, and ultimately tackle the Great Wall Marathon or Half Marathon together with others all sharing the same passion, and all there for the same reason.


When I ran the Great Wall, I got to meet fellow Texans, fellow bloggers, international runners, and even runners who were celebrating milestone birthdays by running the Wall.  In short, the Great Wall of China Marathon is a destination runner’s dream.


Downtown Tianjin


The Great Wall Marathon and Half Marathon Package Itinerary


This race encompasses more than just a chance to see the Wall, although that is definitely a highlight.  This race allows each runner to get a glimpse of multiple different facets of China’s culture, history, and people.  Runners will time in various cities and regions throughout China, including Beijing, and of course, the Great Wall!  Here’s a brief synopsis of what to expect from the Great Wall Marathon and Half Marathon package itinerary:


Great Wall Marathon and Half Marathon Package Itinerary Highlights:

  • Day 1: Arrive in Beijing and Transfer to Jizhou, Tianjin.  Pick up race packet, and explore at leisure.  
  • Day 2: Route Inspection Day.  Walk a portion of the course on the Great Wall.
  • Day 3: Optional excursions or explore at leisure.  
  • Day 4: RACE DAY!
  • Day 5: Excursions and Celebratory Dinner.
  • Day 6: Depart Beijing.
  • Optional Day 7: Additional Excursions


Available Excursions:

  • Qing Tombs
  • Forbidden City
  • Summer Palace
  • Terracotta Armies
  • Avatar Mountains


*Excursions can be booked in advance through Albatros Adventure Marathons.  


What to Expect in Beijing


Like any big city, Beijing takes on its own form of beautiful chaos, and allows visitors to truly become immersed in its masses, interact with its people, and form their own conclusions. There are outstanding architectural feats including The Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and a plethora of impressive temples.


My favorite thing in Beijing was visiting the largest antique market in Beijing, the Panjiayuan Antique Market.  If you are looking for a place to observe the hustle and bustle of daily interactions, and do a little shopping of your own, this is the perfect place.  Textiles, jewelry, pottery, books, metalworks, etc., it is all here.  And if you really want to know what it feels like to be a local, take a ride on the subway!


Panjiayuan Antique Market


Downtown Tianjin
Downtown Tianjin


A glimpse of daily life
A glimpse of daily life


What to Expect in Tianjin


Runners have a chance to also visit one of China’s smaller regions and cities, Tianjin, located near the start of the Great Wall Marathon and Half Marathon. I would have to say that I enjoyed my time in Tianjin more than in Beijing, as it seemed to have a slower pace that allowed me to be a little more introspective, and do some unassuming people watching! 


I was told by locals that there was not much to do in Tianjin, but that is not true! Upon arrival, I discovered a quaint town center bursting at the brim with traditional architecture and glimpses into China’s daily life, outside of tourism’s lens.  There were just enough shops and restaurants to offer visitors a choice of where to spend their time, without being overwhelming.  I also found the oldest wooden structure still standing in China, the Dule Temple.  The best part of my time in Tianjin, was that I found all of this simply by deciding to take a walk and get a little “lost”.


The Dule Temple in Tianjin


The Great Wall Marathon and Half Marathon Course


Now on to the heart of this “runcation”, the Great Wall Marathon and Half Marathon itself.  Full marathoners ultimately tackle over five thousand steps on this monster! 


***Ready to Start Training for Your OWN Race?  Check out my collection of handy training printables, trackers, and calendars HERE!!!


As stated in the itinerary synopsis above, Albatros Adventure Marathons brought all runners to the section of the Great Wall that was to be run on race day two days prior to the race for “inspection day”.  I was thankful for this chance to enjoy this incredible structure without the adrenaline and chaos of race morning.  I was able to “walk” the Wall, and by “walk”, I mean that I quickly discovered that it is much more of a hike up a mountain. 


These are not your ordinary, consistently sized stairs.  Some stairs on the Great Wall are over a foot tall and require visitors to basically haul themselves up.  Some sections of the Wall could barely qualify as stairs, and were basically just rough, uneven sections of terrain that required us to hold onto handrails to prevent from slipping and falling.  The incline of this section of the Great Wall is not to be underestimated, but just as challenging is the descent.  Your body takes just as much of a beating as it brakes and comes down hard on your feet over and over.


Views along the Great Wall Marathon course
Views along the Great Wall of China Marathon and Half Marathon course


Views Surrounding the Wall
The Great Wall of China Marathon and Half Marathon course


On first approach to the Wall, it looked as though there were some sections that “dead-ended” into the sides of mountains, but I found that they simply snaked their way under treelines and often through heavy canopy that were not visible from the ground. There were cannons, intricately mazed guard towers, and breathtaking panoramic views.  It really was quite unexpected to find so many different variations in what I had always thought was a consistent, manmade structure.  In truth, the Wall blends seamlessly with its non-manmade surroundings to become one symbiotic structure.  It was quite surreal to see it in person, as this is one of those landmarks I can now say pictures do not do it justice.


Views from one of the towers
Views from one of the towers of the Great Wall


The Great Wall Marathon and Half Marathon Race Day


After inspection day, your calf muscles will no doubt be burning as were mine, but fortunately there is a day in between to rest your legs and prepare for race day. Race day started early as we were fed breakfast and shuttled to the Wall.  There was a brief guided warm up routine, some logistical announcements, and then it was time to line up and take off!


The first several miles of the route for both the Great Wall half marathon and full marathon involved running uphill on a winding road to the entrance of the Wall section.  This section does not level out at any point as you make the ascent, and is quite challenging in that respect.  However, there were many locals that were lining the street waving, cheering, high-fiving, and taking pictures, so it is definitely a morale boost as your legs warm up on this incline. 


After several miles you will reach the entrance to the actual Wall section, and will begin running the stairs.  This also is several miles long, and will involve sections of both steep incline and steep decline.  There is no shade here, but luckily the temperatures did not climb out of the 80’s as it has in the past.  Still, if you are sensitive to the sun, some form of sun protection in this section would be beneficial.  And it is imperative that you hydrate consistently throughout the entire race, but especially on this section of the wall, as you are not only running, but you are climbing as well, and the sun will take more of a toll on you here. 


Also keep in mind, though this section is the highlight for many people, it is also the section that will prevent you from obtaining a personal record.  It will require you to take your time, in part due to the natural funneling that will occur as several thousand runners attempt to run together through narrow sections of the Wall, but also the care that will need to be exercised on the stairs, especially during the decline.


Funneling down the stairs
Funneling down the stairs


The Great Wall Marathon course winding through local villages
The Great Wall Marathon and Half Marathon course winding through local villages


After emerging from the Wall, runners make their way down the major thoroughfare through town, which in all honesty is less scenic than it is loud and smoggy.  This was my least favorite part of the course, although once again there were many locals out cheering us on.  After running down this main road, runners take a dirt path off to the left and begin the section of the race that winds through several local villages.  This was by far the best part of the race for me, and what made it truly unique. 


The beauty about some of these “runcations” is that you may never have a chance to see the glimpses you are able to see unless you are running that specific course on that specific race.  Had I not been running this race, I do not know if I would have had the chance to see this intimate, beautiful view of daily life among China’s people.  These were humble villages, with humble houses and humble people.  You could tell they were genuinely excited to have us in their home, and embraced us with their warmth. 


Whereas China’s people as a whole seemed introverted and individualistic, especially in the big city of Beijing, the children in these villages were running alongside the other runners, handing out candy, and gracing us with the most enthusiastic high fives and biggest smiles.  Often in the middle of unassuming dirt paths, crumbling buildings, overgrown gardens, outdated structures, even the open sewage and mounds of trash piles in some places, the true beauty of these children shown through and made this the absolute highlight of the trip!


As the course winds out of the villages and back onto the main road, you are then on the last few miles of your 13 miles.  Half marathoners are approaching their finish, marathoners are preparing to do a second loop to complete their race!  Again, this main road was my least favorite part of the course, and by now the sun was out and slightly stronger than before.  I struggled with not only exhaustion of the legs and the heat, but the slight monotony of this section.  But there is no better feeling than crossing a finish line, and this finish line takes the cake! Rounding that last corner to see the Yin and Yang Square ahead, and knowing that you get to finish the race on the Great Wall itself!


Ending the Great Wall of China marathon and half marathon at Yin and Yang Square


Course entrance to the Great Wall Marathon
Entrance to the Great Wall Marathon and Half Marathon course


*Have questions about the Great Wall Marathon and Half Marathon?  Shoot me an email!


*Want to read another review about another unbelievable destination runcation put on by Albatros Adventure Marathons?  Check out my guide to the Polar Circle Marathon and Half Marathon in Greenland!


Read More: Decided you want to take on the Great Wall Marathon or Great Wall Half Marathon? Follow my half marathon training guide for beginners to get you there! 


Ready to Start Training for Your Own Epic Destination Race?


Get your FREE 16 week Half Marathon Training Calendar HERE!


FREE 16 Week Full Marathon Training Calendar HERE!





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