Sunday, May 31, 2015


All of these pictures are a little nutso - but the whole day was nutso!  The race on The Great Wall was by far the most fun and exciting race I've ever run! I'm not sure any other race will ever top it.  It was SO MUCH FUN!

From the starting line- to the finish- every step was amazing.

Besides the fact that we almost DIED on the way to the race!!  for real, though.  We had to be up and ready to head up at 3:45AM!!!  they fed us breakfast- and we checked out of our hotel and loaded onto the busses.  For some reason- our bus driver decided to take a short cut to the Wall instead of following the other 20 busses full of runners!  after 30 minutes of trying to maneuver up a crazy mountain pass- a farmer came chasing after us and demanded we stop!  apparently the road was only for small vehicles.  we were NOT a small vehicle in any way.  The bus had to turn around on the skinniest little road on a cliff you've ever seen.  and we were up a mountain.  honestly- it got a little 
terrifying. and it was pretty fun.  we couldn't stop laughing. 
we got to the Wall at 7- and the race started at 7:30!  everybody else had already been there for over an hour.  Luckily- the bathroom lines were all short by the time we arrived!
 see my pal, susan, in the green?  she ended up running the FULL marathon.  She's awesome.

we were so excited for the race!!  that's why we look slightly crazy in every picture.  

and I was quite a bit terrified.  Honestly- it was pretty insane to be at the Wall prepping to run a half marathon on it!!  after our day walking part of the course- I was nervous.  There were A LOT of stairs :)
All of China has a strange obsession with Christmas.  We saw Christmas decor everywhere.  And at the beginning of the race- there was a Chinese marching band playing "Jingle Bells". how funny is that?!  It was so awesome.
I took a lot of pictures.  All along the race route!  they are all cell phone pics- and slightly blurry thanks to the sweaty hands and running legs- but they do the job of showing how much fun we had.
We were mostly worried about the first half of the race.  Three miles of steep switchbacks taking us to the wall followed by several more miles of THIS!!  lots and lots and lots of stairs.    I was worried my legs were going to be shot before we even hit 10K.
and here's my 'crazy exhausted' face!  but- honestly- I could not believe how EASY the hills and stairs were!  I know I trained really well and really hard- but I think it was all of the adrenaline and excitement.  We were all just so happy to be running the greatest race ever!!
Here I am in one of the towers.  people kept telling us we had too much energy and were jumping up the stairs way too fast! but have I mentioned how excited we all were to be there??
the views were pretty stellar. and the weather was perfect.  It was nice and cool with a slight breeze.
this guy and his son were just hanging out on the wall watching everybody go by,  I think they hiked up with a lunch and camped out for the day!
 Once we finished the first half - the race changed to flat dirt roads through farms and villages!  It was just as fun as the wall part.  Maybe even better. There were so many people cheering us on and watching us run through their neighborhoods.
 here's part of the course!  maybe a road under construction??  who knows.
 a lot of young kids biked alongside us and handed us bananas and waters!  This must be a pretty exciting event for them every year!  they were so nice and happy to see us all.  I must have given 500 high fives.
 this is literally the race route.  Just families hanging out on their porches. And we stopped and took pictures with them all :)

check out the one girls looking at me like I'm nuts!!   they were all lined up giving high fives and I couldn't resist a picture.

more of the race route!!!! can you believe we just ran through these alleyways and dirt roads in a Chinese village?  pretty amazing, huh?
 there were even several kids handing us bouquets of flowers!!

maybe the race felt so easy because we stopped and took so many picture breaks!!
 aren't these little girls adorable!?
 I love this picture.  We are all mid run.

these kids were terrified of Leanna!!  I love it.  It's maybe my favorite picture of the day! so so funny.

the last two miles of the race felt amazing.  we were getting a little tired- so we turned up Taylor Swift's "Welcome to New York" and "Shake it off" on my phone and pushed ourselves hard to bring in our two fastest miles of the race :)

The finish line was a giant party.  Since we had a lot of bus rides, hotel stays, and meals with so many of the other runners- we got to know quite a few of them!  this is Roberto- our very stinky Italian friend.  We ran into him just about everywhere we went! and he always wanted to get a picture.  And he was always stinky.  He had the thickest Italian accent you can imagine and was so so friendly.
It was such an incredible run.  I would recommend that EVERYone run a race on The Great Wall!  an experience of a lifetime for sure. and worth every day of training and every stair we climbed.

here's the winner of the whole race! He finished the full and came in just over an hour after us!  we ran the half in 2:31- and if we hadn't taken so many picture breaks- we could have come in a lot faster!  really- I still can't believe how fun and easy the whole thing was.  If you ever want to do a half- or even a full- this is the one to do!  It's full of so many distractions and muscle changes- I think it makes for a easier race than normal!

the race was the definite highlight of our vacation- but we had lots more fun the next few days!  and I have plenty more pictures.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Day 1. The Great Wall of China!!!!

I have a problem.  I take a lot of pictures.
At some point- a long time ago- I crossed a line.  I moved from vacation picture taker to vacation picture obsessor. And going to China without kiddos made it waaaay too easy to just snap away.  So now- 2000 pictures later- here I am.

 It was so hard to narrow down day ONE into only these 40+ photos.  and it's ONLY day 1!!!

We arrived late in Beijing wednesday evening.   I was so excited all day.  Driving to the airport, getting on the plane, landing.  ALL of it was fun.  I love anticipation and I love adventure.
Here's a cell phone shot of Fuji as we left Japan! 

I made a new friend on the plane named Chen.  He was returning home to China from school in Michigan and told me all about his lost cat named "little pepper".  We are facebook friends now- and I found out that his cat has since been found :)  he also gave me all sorts of great info about China.  It came in handy several times on our trip,
and here's a cell phone shot of us approaching the smog of Beijing :)   The air really is pretty thick and dirty!  descending from blue skies into brown skies was pretty crazy.

when we landed we had a driver and translator waiting for us at the airport!  I'll post more about them later- but may I just say- the way to experience Beijing is with the help of fabulous and generous people!!  I've never had somebody waiting for me with a sign!! it was very exciting.
we dropped our stuff in the hotel and ventured out for dinner! somehow we stumbled upon a deliciously inexpensive restaurant.  I think we tried 12-15 dishes and only paid 10 dollars a piece!!  pumpkin soup, sweet and sour chicken, kung pao, dumplings, salad, zucchini and eggplant pancakes, and the list goes on.  we were all super impressed.  I'd had several people warn me about starving because we wouldn't be able to find any good food.  Our first night proved them wrong.
My favorite part of the evening was me trying to use my Chinese!  I thought I'd learned some great phrases from 'Ni Hao Kailan'- but apparently I wasn't using them correctly.  Plus I was so tired from the day- but still so excited to be in China.  we were all laughing so hard I almost peed my pants.  It's a good thing I don't drink alcohol- because I get tipsy enough on bottled water and no sleep!!!!
We settled into bed late and had to be up before 6 to catch a ride up into the mountains to find the wall!  our hotels and bus rides between cities were all put together by race organizers.  In order to run the Great Wall race- you have to sign up through a travel company that takes care of major logistics.  It made things VERY nice.  They fed us breakfast and then we piled on busses to head out.

The drive up into the mountains was pretty gorgeous.  These are bus window pictures- but still pretty great.

Our first day was spent getting race information and 'surveying' the course!   Driving up to the wall and seeing it for the first time was pretty awesome.  It's an astounding sight.

they wanted us all to sit in the bleachers for an hour- but we rebelled and walked up above the group aways and listened from there!
2600 people ran in the race! and they had to organize us all.  It got a little hectic at times- but overall was an awesome experience.  the set up for them must have been pretty intense.

the big group meeting was at 'yin and yang' square. This is the finish line of our race.  If we look crazy in all the pictures on this day- it's because were so excited to finally BE IN CHINA and about to RUN THE GREAT WALL!  we'd been prepping for months and it was so crazy to finally be there and see it all in real life.

after an hour briefing- they loaded us all back onto bases and drove us up a 3 mile mountain (the first three miles of our race) and dropped us at the base of one of the Great Wall entrances.
we bought silly cheap rice field worker hats for photo ops!  the hats got annoying fast- but they did make for great pictures :)

we spent about 3 hours on the wall this day checking out where we'd be running!  it was an exhausting afternoon.  After our actual race we decided that walking the wall is actually HARDER in many ways than running it.  As 'Great' as the Wall is- stairs are only so entertaining for so long!  we got bored pretty fast.

everything you see in these pictures is part of the race route.   Can I say again how incredible it was to be here? and to know we'd be running a race on these steps in a couple of days!?

the weather in China was pretty perfect while we were there.  Clear with a cool breeze up in the mountains!  and honestly- as worried as people were about running a race in the pollution and smog of China- it wasn't bad at all.  The air was pretty nice and clear up on the wall.

we ran on a section that isn't very touristy.  In fact- we only saw one other group of people on the wall besides the 2600 runners :)

although at a few of the really narrow portions of the wall- we had a few traffic jams! another reason that running the wall was so much better/easier than this day walking it.

there are A TON of stairs on the wall. obviously :)  what I didn't realize is that most of them are NON uniform and many of them are old and crumbling.  different sections are made of different materials, too.  and many of the sections vary in age from the others. Parts of the wall were constructed in the years BC!!  they say the Great Wall is the biggest cemetery in the world.  All the people who died in construction had their bodies thrown under the bricks as they put them down.

Here you can see 2 different portions  made from different materials.  It was also a very steep portion.  The rock parts were pretty slick and a lot harder to maneuver than the brick.

this section had long wide steps.  they were my least favorite!  there was no easy way to climb them!  it was awkward to take them both 1 and 2 at a time.

I can't believe the Chinese people built walls on mountain tops!!  I can't even begin to imagine the difficulty of it all.

Here's my Mendel PTO Panda shot! Zeb and Ike go to Mendel Elementary and their mascot is a Panda.  One of my pals who came- Merri- is on the PTO board with me next year so we had to get some school spirit pictures :)  and I bought this fabulous panda hat.

and- because a piece of my heart resides there- an 'O-H-I-O' picture.  3 of us lived in Ohio- and 1 is moving there next month!

after several hours hiking- we stumbled back into Yin and Yang square for a late lunch. and more pictures.

I knew that obviously the Wall was built in a mountainous region of China but I hadn't fathomed how beautiful it would be!

Parts of China were familiar to me because of the Asian commonalities shared with Japan.  I think that lessened my culture shock quite a bit. A lot of the architecture was similar- and the Buddhist themes throughout. Although- there were some parts of China that were MORE shocking and jarring to me coming from life in Japan than would have been coming straight from America.  Japan and China are complete polar opposites in several aspects!!  Beijing vs. Tokyo in particular were so entirely different.  I'll have more pictures illustrating that later.


as we were finishing up our tour of the wall- we ran into a large group of Chinese military.  Sometimes it was hard for me to remember I was in China- a communist country- and not in Japan- a very friendly American Ally.

this guy is walking towards me telling me: "no pictures! no pictures!"  But if he didn't want his picture taken- he shouldn't have been walking towards the American with a giant camera taking pictures on the Great Wall of China!!  right??

There's a marathon for foreigners in North Korea that I would LOVE to run.  But it makes Kent a little worried.  I don't have much of a 'quiet voice' or a filter let alone a 'North Korea' voice!!!  but really- how awesome would that be to run a race in North Korea??!  It fascinates me,

Just outside the wall- there were all sorts of trinkets and fun knick knacks to buy! this is where we got our panda and rice field hats! I also got the boys wooden slingshots- and metta a bracelet.  China is ALL about haggling prices and getting good deals.  It was so much fun. Although I have to admit that by the time I left- I was exhausted from the bartering!!!

China was FULL of crazy motorcycles and teeny weird wheeled vehicle! I took lots more pictures that I'll post later.  Japan would never allow these types of dangerous and probably unregulated forms of transportation!!  they were so much fun.  we rode in several while we were there!!

this little shrine was directly on the race route! it was pretty nice to have incense burning while we ran.

After our long day of walking and shopping- we were bussed to our new hotel in a smaller nearby town called Jixian.  and oh-my-goodness.  Our hotel was UNBELIEVABLE.   It was quite possibly the nicest hotel I've stayed in. The Jixian Marriott.  I'll post pics on my next blog :) Once I get through the next batch of edits!!!