Beauty in Beijing

Whenever I travel solo I don’t always like to be restricted to having concrete plans. When I arrived in Beijing a week before my marathon, I ventured out of my hotel and fell in love with the beauty of everyday life. I walked along Dongsi W. Street until I arrived at the Forbidden City, which was a madhouse: lots of people, lots of tours. So I ventured across the street to Jingshan Park.

Families, tourists, and locals all congregated at this public park, which was about a 2 – 5 Yuan entry – super cheap! I was fascinated by how many locals arrive each weekend to meet with each other and sing, dance, or play music. No matter where you were in the park, you could hear drums beating in the distance, or the soft echo of a choir. These are locals who meet not for the amusement of tourists, but simply because it’s what they do for pleasure. An added bonus is the ‘Everlasting Spring Tower’ which is the highest point in the park, and will also provide you with a fantastic view of the Forbidden City.

The following week, I visited the Temple of Heaven as part of my tour group. Like Jingshan Park, people here also relaxed and played music:

I came across a few tourists who preferred Shanghai and other, more metropolitan cities, but there’s something special about exploring a new city, simply for discovery and immersing yourself in local culture.

An Art Fan?

Do visit the National Art Museum of China. It’s free entry as long as you show your passport at the ticket kiosk. My favourite exhibit was from Wen Lipeng, whose oil paintings were beautiful to say the least.

Where I Stayed

Tucked away in the Dongsi district is the Beijing Double Happiness Courtyard Hotel. The staff was super friendly and incredibly helpful. When you’re ready to leave, the staff will arrange for a taxi upon request.

Who Run the World?

For the international runner out there – this one’s for you. If like me, you are seeking to run a marathon in every continent, may I recommend this behemoth of a marathon? The Great Wall Marathon boasts to be one of the most difficult in the world. Indeed, organizers have suggested adding about 2 hours to your regular finish time. I had the privilege/horror/mistake (however you want to see it), of running this marathon in May of 2016.

The first 10k is spent running up the mountain to the actual Great Wall entrance, and back down towards the surrounding villages. If you run the Half Marathon that’s all you will do, but the full marathon requires you to run back up that very same mountain and run the stairs of the Great Wall yet again. Me being the stubborn person I am ran the full. It was hot. It was dry. People passed out and dropped out. A huge plus is that there are frequent water stations which I definitely took advantage of. Completing this marathon is such a huge victory and the chance to meet runners from around the world was amazing.

Done? Haha, joke’s on you. Full marathoners head back to the Wall instead of the finish line.

The Logistics

I arrived in Beijing a week before the actual marathon to acclimate to the weather as well as the time difference (I would recommend doing this). I booked my flights and accommodation on my own for this period until my actual tour started, which brings me to…

… Travel Packages.

I signed up for this trip through Marathon Tours & Travel, however, the main organizer for this event is Albatros Adventure Marathons. My own package was well organized and I was able to select some great tours as part of the package such as visiting the Forbidden City, Ming and Qing Dynasty Tombs, among others. See MT&T’s 2017 travel itineraries here. Both these agencies will include a 10k walk along the actual marathon route on the Great Wall a few days before the marathon in order to mentally prepare you….or scare you off, I’m still not sure. My only critique was that the meals which are included in the packages are not exactly vegetarian friendly, despite my noting I was a vegetarian prior to travel. So if you’re a meat eater, have no fear! Even as a vegetarian, you can easily get by on your own. (Ramen and Tofu? Yum!)

If you wanted to travel within China while you are there, I recommend visiting Ctrip for domestic flights (and flights around Southeast Asia). They’re like the Ryan Air or Easy Jet of China so travel at your own risk, but I got by just fine!

First time Runner?

There were actually several runners I met who chose the Great Wall Marathon as their very first marathon. Woah. But more power to you because if you can run this marathon as your first one, you can run any marathon.

My doc once recommended this FREE marathon training guide: Hal Higdon Training Program.

So say it with me, Who run the world?! You do, my friend. You do.