Tuesday, March 18, 2008

We've Moved!


Thanks for visiting our old blog. We've now moved and you can see updates about the work of International China Concern at:

Please visit the website where you'll find lots of information about how we continue to bring love, hope and opportunity to abandoned and disabled children in China.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Rich and Chloe's Great Wall Run - China

Rich writes:

The day begins at 1.30 am, leaving the hotel to get to the buses that leave at 3 am from Beijing and dawns over some beautiful countryside northwest of Beijing. When we arrived it was very cold and we took over a restaurant that was opening for breakfast for warmth and preparation. There was a mad dash for the Chinese loos as nerves set in, the first time I’ve ever seen them so popular.

We eventually found the start, unsignposted outside, inside a large stone fort in the base of the valley. Music and aerobics seemed a wasteful use of energy but eventually each stage was crouching at the ‘4 minute to start’ signal. Then we were off! Not too fast, we are soon at the base of a 5km rising hill – and I thought Heartbreak Hill in Boston was bad. The road was a long, long steep ramp leading constantly upwards. There were many walkers but we found it more ethically satisfying to trot often no more than walking pace, occasionally faster. Then the road opened up to car park with the path still leading upwards. The first steps upwards for 5 minutes - then the Wall.

First steps seemed huge, well over knee height, long flights up to the first tower and water, lots of water stops - no longer cold!, with temperatures rising fast to 30 degrees. The air was very dry so we were barely sweating. Top to the tower then down - no stops except to photo. Wall narrows - a lot of single file. Walking on the rising stages now, more towers with often a 90 degree turn right or left sometimes straight on to a vertigo-inducing steepness, the large steps hitting us in the knees going down now. More single file and areas with no side wall. A scuff sends a stone into the forest far below last moved by a builder, perhaps 500 years ago? Most of the path is heavy stone so little major damage is caused by the 1,000 runners. Down a steep track where the wall ends - the hill is now so steep that no wall would hold and the watchtowers top and bottom guard even that gap. Some, like us, are sliding past runners who are taking the steep path slowly, then across the bridge and back on the fort. In, out and around the ramparts then a decision point: left is up a couple of hundred metres (oh no!); right down goes down to the road. Phew, the marshal signals right and we are back down to road level in the base of the valley. We grab some water bottles, now downing half a bottle without noticing, the rest over our heads. 10 minutes of running and a sign comes up 12 km. Seven miles in an hour and a half! How slow - but that is after 3,200 steps and hundreds of vertical metres, in 30 degree heat. (The marathon winner took over 60 minutes longer than his expected time on the flat.) Mentally being on the flat makes it very tough. A long slow grind along the road, very polluted by ancient diesel engines with lots of heavy traffic ignoring the slow signs and the occasional police car.

After too long a time on the tarmac, we exit down an unmetalled road down to Dongzhuan village, down to the village, more water. I touch my uncomfortable knees and they feel swollen, my back hurts. Then through the old village of some size - in and out of old alleyways, past old men and small children holding out their hands and saying Ni Hao, Jia You, hello, come on!! Muddy alleyways, packed houses, in and out, up and down, and then up to the top of the village to run alongside unplanted, flat dry fields, an economy that looks past. More down hill, more twisting and then across the bridge over the river for the last time …. with only a long 6 km to go. Still half an hour. Very tired along the unmade track and out onto the polluted road again. This time it is sheer grit and determination keeping me going, not going to be beaten by the road or by myself. Chloe was fantastic in her encouragement skipping along like a gazelle, having passed her longest ever run at the 10 km mark, even taking pictures as she runs! Then a few spectators clapping, calling encouragement and into the last last kilometer, not daring to think that it is. Keep going for another 50 I tell myself to keep going.

Finally, not too well signposted, the entrance to the fort. Chloe and I join hands and run up the stone ramp to Yin Yang Square, ouch ! even that hurts, a sharp bend and we can see the final portal, we are there and through. Lots of shouting and noise. In a daze, I felt my hand shaken and a red-banded medallion put around my neck. It shows a very steep but empty section of the Wall with a tower at the top. I look down and read the inscription, it says - ‘The Great Wall Marathon, 19th May 2007’.

A special thank you to all of our sponsors who so generously gave to International China Concern for abandoned and disabled children in China.