Tackling The Great Wall

Two things come to mind when I think about the Great Wall of China – flip flops and thirst.

Two things come to mind when I think about the Great Wall of China – flip flops and thirst.

Years ago I conquered the wall with friends while I was on holiday from my teaching gig in South Korea. I wasn’t a runner then but I was a strong hiker who couldn’t wait to check another adventure off her ‘to do’ list.

Let’s just say I was unprepared for the climb and leave it at that.

So I was very curious to learn about a Lacombe runner, who had recently ran the Great Wall Marathon.

Much like Troy Schaab, the challenging race has always been in the back of my mind.

Last year when Schaab and his wife Sonia sold Sunny 94 and KRAZE 101.3, Schaab knew he would have the time to train for a serious race between new careers.

The timing was perfect to give the Great Wall Marathon a go, said Schaab.

“I had seen some videos of runs on the wall,” said Schaab. “I saw how exciting it was and I thought you know what I want to give it a shot and to test my abilities as a runner.”

Schaab said he is not a fast or strong runner but he really wanted to test his endurance. He trained hard for 10 months on hills and stairs in Central Alberta.

“As a Canadian training for heat like that it was a tough one,” he said. “You are training over the winter months for a spring race. You had to find hills and you had to find stairs. In Canada, in the winter, that was just impossible.”

But Schaab laughs as he mentions that Vancouver runner (Hannah Andras Muir Hutchinson) won the women’s division in 4:25:35.

This year, a total of 2,800 runners ran either the fun run, the half-marathon or marathon. About 900 people ran the marathon, which runs a portion on the wall and villages near the wall.

Schaab travelled to China about a week before the marathon with a tour group.

Two days before the race, Schaab and the other runners were treated to an “inspection” day.

“They bus you out to the start line and they give you a three-kilometre course to check out the stairs,” said the father of two. “That was a real eye-opener for me. I don’t like heights at all. Some of those inclines are steep and the steps are very uneven … It freaked me out. I remember texting my wife saying I don’t know if I can do this. I might need a miracle for this run. But you know race day starts and that all disappears and the adrenaline takes over.”

Schaab said the marathon was extremely well-organized. There were 24 water stations packed with gels, fruit and electrolytes. The 42.2 km are not run entirely on the wall.

“Almost as exciting as running on the wall was running through the little villages,” said Schaab. “It was so neat. There were so many little kids lining the streets. All they wanted were high fives. You were giving high fives during the marathon. You’d stop every now and then and get a picture with them. That was an incredible experience just see how the local people live and to see runners from across the world run through their villages. They were so proud.”

Schaab said he struggled with the heat throughout the race but it really came to ahead at the 37K mark where he had to take a time out on the stairs. But he dug deep and crossed the finish line and headed straight to the medical tent to be treated for heat stroke.

“I drank 30 bottles of water and I didn’t pee once,” laughed Schaab.

“It was so weird. It was well over 30C. I was thankful to get home in piece.”

Putting my body through that and crossing the finish line (is something) I will never forget, said Schaab.

And he recommends the race to those who want to set a challenging goal and put in the work.

“It was the greatest thing I have ever done,” said Schaab.


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