2015 Great Wall Marathon in Photos

As my friend and I climbed up the set of stairs leading to the Jinshaling stretch of the Great Wall of China, we encountered some interesting individuals both descending and ascending the steep and ragged stairs.

One would expect large groups of tourists, photographers, or even vendors on a warm (and clear) April afternoon, but these people were unique and special— they were runners.

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As a runner from Hong Kong told me, this was no average run. They were near the finish line for the 2015 Great Wall Marathon. You read that right- the Great Wall Marathon. I didn’t believe it at first, but there were hundreds of people running 26.2 miles on one of the world’s most famous landmarks. At this point we still had not seen the wall ourselves, but once we arrived the immensity of the challenge was soon very apparent.

The Jinshaling section of the wall is the most-photographed section of the Great Wall. As it serpentines the ridges and mountaintops, it creates a breathtaking scene. This scenery coupled with weathered barriers was interesting when juxtaposed against marathoners.

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Once we reached the Wall, we our exciting 4 hour walk alongside marathoners led to new friendships and some unforgettable scenery.

I have never run a marathon, but I can say with a great deal of certainty that it is one of the most challenging and physically demanding athletic pursuits out there even if it is on flat ground or a paved roadway. The Great Wall Marathon was neither on flat ground nor was it on a paved roadway. Runners were met with steep slopes, ragged staircases, and eroding pathways as they carried on towards the finish line.

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As my friend and I struggled down these staircases, we could only imagine the difficulty and cramping runners faced as they reached mile 20 running on this wall. There was a real possibility for serious injury but they all pressed onward towards the finish line.

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In the face of this daunting challenge, many runners were cheerful and could not wait say hello during the marathon. IMG_4414

Runners of all ages with walking sticks stopped to say hello or wave as they continued towards the finish. IMG_4416

Other runners wearing nothing more than a tank top and shorts pressed toward the finish. 

Crossing through the watch posts was another interesting part of navigating the Great Wall and finishing the marathon. There were often bottlenecks inside as groups of runners jockeyed for position to keep up their pace.

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Our fantastic guide, Jack, was all smiles as he explained the Wall’s history and its importance throughout the duration of our tour. Anyone interested in doing a tour of the wall should definitely stop by the Wild Great Wall Adventure Tours website and book with them (http://www.wildgreatwall.com). The experience was world class and Rick and his team did a great job making sure everything was arranged for us weeks in advance.

Once we passed through the first watch tower, a young couple was giggling at the bottom and eventually ended up talking with my friend and I. Since they were staff for the marathon, they joined us for part of the walk to make nice conversation and talk about some of the race’s details. While there were some communication gaps, they helped make the whole tour memorable. It’s another example of meeting interesting people along the way when you travel.

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As the day grew older, we split ways and continued towards the terminus of the tour but encountered even more runners as they braved the Great Wall. About midway through our tour, the Chinese flag provided a great opportunity to see runners hustling down one of the smoother portions of the Jinshaling Wall.

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Several hundred yards later, an ominous watch tower was a preview of some of the difficulties runners would face later on in the course.

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From this point onward, the climb became even more difficult. Steep inclines and declines made some joggers take pause but they kept going against all odds.

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As we continued towards our tour’s terminus, there were beautiful scenes around every corner. Looking back at the wall as the sun began to set, we thought about the runners and finally making it to one of the world’s most famous landmarks.

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The runners and the marathon were an interesting distraction during the day, but the moment for which we had waited all day finally arrived– sunset. Words cannot describe how beautiful this sight was.

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Sunset at Akashi Bridge |明石海峡大橋の日没

Sunset over the Akashi Suspension Bridge as seen from the Kobe Portliner on the way to Kobe Airport. This is the longest suspension bridge in the world.

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Walking into the Sunset in Kyoto

This Sunday, I hopped aboard the JR Rapid Express train at Kobe’s Sannomiya station to revisit one of my favorite travel destinations from my 2011 study abroad experience: Kyoto. What I had hoped would be an enjoyable day ended up being a nearly perfect day in many different aspects. 

As soon as I stepped outside my door in rural Kobe, I knew that today’s weather would be absolutely perfect for photography and sightseeing in Kyoto. The first time I visited Kyoto back in the winter of 2011, it was a cloudy day that was not very accomidating to quality photography. I took many photos, but not too many to worth keeping or printing. They all exuded a feeling of the day’s bitter cold and dreariness. Today’s weather would be rather different. While it was the hottest October day on record for Kobe, there was very little humidity. 

Upon arrival in Kyoto about one hour after departing from Sannomiya, I was instantly hit with the positive memories from my entire study abroad program and my initial trip to Japan. Have you ever been somewhere for the first time and you thought that you would never return to that place again? The first time I went to Kyoto, I knew, for certain, that I would never return. As a result, I took in as much of the city as I could. From Arashiyama and its monkey park, to downtown Kyoto and the shopping in the train station, I did it all. Today’s return and a probable return on Saturday with a friend allowed me to slow down and take in more of the sights and sounds than I was able to during my first visit to Kyoto. 

This time for reflection and observation took me back to 2011, as I relived heading to the famous sites with my friends and the joy we all experienced as we entered Kansai for the first time. Long-forgotten memories of getting on the wrong train and being hopelessly lost in rural Kyoto and desperately phoning our chaperone for help and other memories of enjoying a green tea flavored parfait on the streets after drinking a warm, pancake-flavored, vending machine drink rushed back to me all at once.

History even had a way of repeating itself as I nearly boarded the incorrect train bound for Arashiyama in the hectic Kyoto Station. All I could do was chuckle to myself as I nearly made the same mistake as I did years ago. The only difference this time is that I have a handle on Japanese and should not have made any of the mistakes I did two years ago!

I took a moment to take in all of the sites for a second time as I crossed the bridge into Arashiyama. It was amazing how all those positive memories from years ago came rushing back all at once. The memories and the places that hold forgotten memories helped make today a perfect day. I was taken back to the excitement of walking across the bridge to begin the ascent to the monkey park. I remembered which flags were flying outside of Kyoto Station. I even remembered what we ate for lunch that day during our free time in the city. The brain is so amazing as it keeps so many memories locked away, waiting fo rthe perfect time to reveal them once again.

The third aspect that made today perfect was the scenery. While I stayed confined to an area adjacent to Arashiyama, the scenery was absolutely perfect. Whether I was riding the one car train between Arashiyama and Kinkakuji Temple, walking through the streets, or heading down the bamboo walkway, the lighting and the atmosphere of the entire day was perfect. Joyful tourists filled the air with conversation and laughter and the clear air and clear skies allowed the sun to illuminate the area in a way I had never seen in the past. Kinkakuji glistened in the sun and the bamboo walkway became a perfectly lit walkway through a subdued forest. I even got a glimpse of some geisha riding a rickshaw before departing towards Kyoto. I started my day walking through the city and revisiting old sites and ended my day watching a young woman walk off into the sunset in the groves of bamboo stalks. 

The following photo is the best representation I can provide as to why today was an amazing day in Kyoto. May you all have the ability to walk off into the sunset someday like I did today. Image