Since this was the first time I booked a marathon through a marathon tour group, I thought I’d share my experience with you. I wasn’t sure how this would go, because I always plan my own “tours” and I’m pretty good at figuring out deals for accommodations and things to do in whatever city or country I am in. But I had read the reviews before booking and they seemed legit and great! And at the time I booked this, I just needed my life to be easy for a moment, and this was basically an all-inclusive package. Easy peezy!
The company that put this race on is Albatros Adventure Marathons (www.albatros-travel.com). It was a $1,600 package (does not include your flight) for 7 days and included most of the meals except meals on the day you arrive, which was okay since I arrived later in the day and only needed dinner, dinner after the race, and lunch and dinner on your last day. But I only needed the breakfast anyway on the last day because I was leaving midday to go back home. There are other packages available that are longer. There is also a package that includes moving to a different hotel two days before the race so you are closer to the race start (and don’t have to get up so damn early), but I opted to just stay put in one spot the whole time.
I compared it to Marathon Tours and found their packages consistently more expensive. I think they put you in more expensive and nicer hotels, and that’s great if that’s what you want and are looking for. I chose a 2 star hotel with this package with Albatros, but it was more like a 4 star. It actually was pretty nice and other people agreed. If you want to look it up it is the Jingtailong International Hotel and it’s very close to Tiananmen Square.
My package also included four days of excursions and sightseeing with the group. These days are pretty full, but lots to see and you can choose to add some extras and pay a little more if you want to add on. We were assigned to a group when we arrived, so each day you went with these same people on buses to your excursions. There were probably about 35-40 people in our group. And you met friends pretty quickly, as everyone is friendly and fun and from all over the world.
Day 1: Found the tour guides at the airport to take us to our shuttle to the hotel. Arrived at the hotel, checked into room, and also got our race bag and shirt and info for the week. After getting settled, I was starving and went to dinner by myself. I didn’t want to travel far so I walked to the corner and found a restaurant but had a difficult time getting them to understand I needed an English menu. Eventually I was finally seated. I ordered a plate of fried rice and plate of dumplings. I found out quickly that everything is served family style and got loads of food on each platter. And it was less than $4 US for everything! Later that night, I talked to some girls in the hotel on the same tour and ended up going to dinner with them. We wandered through this great pedestrian street that was close by with restaurants and shops and found a nice restaurant upstairs above a store. They ordered Peking (Beijing) duck, and large prawns, we had some beers, and they brought us watermelon with dry ice underneath. Then we had almond tofu with honey desserts that were really good.
Day 2: Breakfast each day was served in the upstairs café/cafeteria at the hotel I stayed at. A huge buffet of all types of food – Chinese and Western options. We then went on our excursion to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was really hot this day and by the middle of the day I was a zombie (so tired…jetlagged). After walking for hours, lunch was served at a local restaurant and we had Beijing duck. They prepare it in little tortilla type things and put sauces and veggies inside and then fold it up and eat it. They were pretty good. We then went to the Temple of Heaven and on to a small silk exhibition hall. This silk exhibit was kind of boring and not really worth it. I think they just wanted us to buy items. Most of my group wasn’t impressed. It was a really long day and I was beat after we had our dinner. But when I got to the hotel, I ran into Alex and Petra again (these are the girls I met on Day 1), and they wanted to see the Bird Nest at night all lit up, so we hopped in a cab and went out there for a bit.
Day 3: I was finding myself waking up each morning at 4:30am! It was so annoying. The sun rises at 4:30 so I would wake up and not be able to fall back asleep. Bleh! Today was Inspection Day so we took the buses to Yin Yang Square and gathered in the center to go over race details and then get to walk the Wall. There was an opportunity to buy finisher shirts and other race apparel (hats, backpacks, etc) as well. It was great to be able to walk on this part of the Wall and see what it would be and feel like for race day. And you were able to take tons of pictures. We then had lunch after the walk, which were Subway sandwiches, and hung out for a while and met other people from all over the world. We headed back to the hotel, dropped off some of our group and then went to dinner with everyone else. We had a large dinner again and had lots of dumplings. Some people opted to go to an acrobat show after dinner (paid for ahead of time with their package). Some of us went out by ourselves to a street lined with all types of vendors, but mostly with weird foods. We also stopped to have green tea cones and I had a jasmine milk tea with boba. Yum! We took a cab to this street, but then walked back which was kind of nice. We got to see areas all lit up with decorative lights and lots of people still out on the town late into the evening.
Day 4: Went on an excursion to the cloisonné factory, then the Ming Tombs with areas before and after lunch. We also went to a jade museum. We then had a group dinner and it was supposed to be our “carb up” dinner, but it barely had any type of carbs and strangely had a lot of chili based dishes. We had one noodle dish with tomato sauce that was actually really good, and a German fellow in our group kept asking for more. After we arrived back at our hotel, a few of us went to KFC across the street to get fries (which were delicious) and then wandered down the pedestrian street again and bought teas to take back home, had green tea cones again, and did some clothes shopping. I found out after I arrived that the celebration dinner after the race was kind of a dress up occasion, but I didn’t pack anything dressy, so I decided to buy a dress from Zara to wear so I didn’t look too casual.
Day 5: Race day!! Left at 3:30am to get to the Start location by 6am. Race started at 7:30am. Lots and lots of aid stations with plenty of water and electrolytes. Volunteers and everyone helping on the course was great! As you finished you collected your lunch and you could purchase champagne and beers if you wanted to. Great medals for all distances. 100 degree weather was crazy! But I did it!! After a crazy long bus ride back to the hotel (took over four hours because the driver wasn’t going to take our small group back to our hotel…miscommunication), we showered quickly and went to Pizza Hut for dinner. We got pizzas and salads and had a nice evening, but I was quickly fading. I was tired after that and went to bed.
Day 6: After breakfast, we went on our excursion to see the giant panda at the zoo, then to the Summer Palace (which was beautiful and we had an amazing lunch there), then to a pearl museum, to a tea house to learn about how to steep and brew tea, and then we got ready to head out to our “celebration” dinner. We took buses from the hotels to the convention center and had champagne to start and then congregated inside the very large room with so many tables and plenty of areas of food for each section of the room. So much to choose from and eat! They talked a little about the race and went through all the countries that participated and showed a great video of race day. Everyone got dressed up and had a great time! There was an optional “after party” and a good size group of us went on the little journey to the bar where it was being held. It was on the 4th floor of a building overlooking a street with a DJ spinning great music and the drinks were flowing. We had a good time. Stayed up til about 3:30am.
Day 7: Woke up to rain outside. Very strange considering it had been so hot the entire time I had been there. Not much to this day other than breakfast upstairs and getting ready to check out. I couldn’t check in on my phone so I had to ask the front desk to make sure my flight wasn’t delayed. I had heard from some folks going back to Finland that their flights were delayed so it had me worried. The gal at the front desk was hard to communicate with but after a while she was able to see that my flight was on time still. We waited for our shuttle for the airport and off we went. While we were waiting for our driver, a gal and her son from Canada realized they were supposed to leave the day before! She had looked down at her itinerary and realized it was the same times but wrong day. We got in our shuttle and as we hit some traffic and an accident on the freeway our driver decided to pull a u-turn and drive onto a frontage road head on into the traffic coming at us. Yeah, it was a little freaky! We were holding on for our lives hoping no one would hit us. There was a guy that works with Albatros in the front seat with us, who was also catching a flight, and he was able to translate what was going on. It was a great ending to this week long adventure!
Overall, it was a fast trip, but well organized and a great experience. I would definitely recommend this tour company and I am even considering doing some of the other races they put on in other parts of the world. I also think the pricing for the package was worth it. It seemed very reasonable for what it included.
By the way, China blocks a lot of social media sites, email, browsers, etc. So, I couldn’t communicate very well with people back home. I was able to use my WhatsApp which at least I was able to talk to my brother and friends watching my dogs, so that was good. So just keep that in mind. I was able to download a VPN app and it finally worked for a bit on the last day, which allowed me to check my email, Facebook or Facebook messenger and Instagram. I wasn’t too worried about this stuff though since I was supposed to be away on vacation.
-Came in 88/250 females (top 35%)
-Age group: 13/42 (top 30%)
-Final time: 6:28:26 (PW = Personal Worst…but who really cares…I just ran the Great Wall Marathon!)
30 female didn’t finish
30 male didn’t finish
250 total female finished
367 total men finished
=617 total finished
**They told us that 900 people signed up for the marathon, so there are just under 300 people not accounted for here, but this could mean some didn’t start, or some decided to do the half marathon instead because they weren’t feeling good and knew they couldn’t finish the full, or because they didn’t make the cutoff in time.**