Is there any greater symbol of China than the Great Wall? Comprised of multiple walls and fortifications, the idea for the Great Wall was conceived by Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the third century BC as a way to prevent invasion from nearby nomadic peoples.
The Wall’s best-known section was built between the 14th and 17th centuries during the Ming Dynasty. While it never fully prevented invasions, it became more of a psychological barrier and symbol of the country’s enduring strength.
In 1998, Albatros Travel founder Søren Rasmussen came up with the idea to host a marathon on the Wall. A year later, 292 participants ran the first Great Wall Marathon.
The race begins at the Yin and Yang Square in the old Huangyaguan fortress. While the race is filled with amazing views, it is far from leisurely. Among the many obstacles on the course, runners face a 2.9-mile ascent after entering the Great Wall, and its 5,164 historic steps.
Because the race is so grueling, the accomplishment is that much greater.
“So many steps. Everyone is cramping up up there, but man, what an experience,” said Phil Howard from the United Kingdom. “What a view from the top and what a euphoria coming down the hill at the end. It’s great. I’m glad to be done. I’m ready for a beer.”
The 2017 edition of the race was the 18th. There were 2,049 runners who participated, with 511 hailing from the United States and 187 from the United Kingdom.
“The wall is not easy – it’s super beautiful, but not easy,” said Hugo Montanari from France. “When we went through the villages all people the children give you high-fives and that’s super.”
Marcin Joachim Swierc had the fastest time among men competitors at 3:14:34, while Anna Sofie Nelsson ran a 4:11:21 to lead all women runners.
“It was overwhelming and it was really hot,” said Randa van der Kaooster of Holland. “I felt it was going up and up all the time. But it was just great.”