Tour package review for the Great Wall Marathon

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!


View out in front of my hotel

The company that put this race on is Albatros Adventure Marathons ( 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.



Loads of fried rice and dumplings


Sunset on first evening after arriving to hotel

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.


Preparing Peking (Beijing) duck

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.


Great Wall of China



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.


Stroll through the beautiful Ming Tomb area

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 IMG_3428asking 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.


Demonstration of brewing and steeping tea


View at the Summer Palace

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.**

My 26th marathon – Great Wall Marathon

After arriving to Beijing, the organizers of the race, Albatros, were waiting at the airport to take us to our hotels. Once at our hotel we checked in and received our gear bag with our tshirt and other information and tickets we needed for the week. The tickets they gave us were for entry into the the Inspection Day and also tickets for race day. We were also assigned a group number for the week and these were the people we would do all the excursions with each day. I was in 4B.

IMG_3319On Thursday we went to the Inspection Day. It was an early day since we had to drive 2.5 hours away to get to the wall, which was located in Huangyaguan. We gathered in the Yin Yang Square while they talked about the course and what to expect. They also let us know of some changes this year due to the hot weather. Normally, they are happy to accommodate people that want to upgrade to the half or full marathons, but this year they said they were not going to allow for upgrades due to the hot climate. Too risky. So, they said that for full marathoners, they would allow them to decide if while running the race you didn’t feel good or if they didn’t want to finish the full they could follow the half marathoners and still received a half marathon medal.

IMG_3324Once we finished the briefing and relaxed a bit, we took off to walk the wall. This was great because it gave us a chance to see what it would look like and feel like for race day. It also gave us a chance to take photos and soak it all in a little bit more. It was a hot day too, so it wasn’t necessarily easy walking this part of the wall. We saw other tourists on the wall and well as folks selling sodas and food. It reminded me to bring money with me on race day in case I wanted one of those cold coca colas while exhausted on race day. Once we were finished walking the wall, we got lunch, which was Chinese Subway sandwiches. They were actually pretty good.IMG_3369

I highly recommend you go to the Inspection Day. You get a better idea of what you are in for. It’s not an easy walk, so at least you knew what to expect. I think going into the race, while training at home, you have an idea of what you think the race will be like, but the wall is definitely far different than what you’ve been imagining.

Race Day


Bag of breakfast items

I think I had gone to bed around 9:30-10pm the night before after a long day of excursions and then some shopping and green tea cones with some of the girls. We also had a “carb up dinner” at a local restaurant but it wasn’t your typical carb load. I think this made some of us nervous. It was local Chinese food and family style, as usual, and for whatever reason this was the day they served dishes with hot chilis, so I avoided those. We had one dish with noodles and the German in our group kept asking for more. I wasn’t sure this was going to be enough for me. So a few of us went to KFC and got some fries for more carbs.


sleepy participant in front of me on bus

We had wake up calls for 2:30am because we had to be on the busses at 3:30am to get to the start area. Super early! They provided breakfast which was a bag of a hardboiled egg, apple, a noodle package of some sort, bread, a package of milk, a thing that looked like a tube of meat (I don’t know what it was), and a bottled water. I only ate the apple and hardboiled egg since I brought some Kind bars and my own electrolytes and water. I was nervous about the hot weather so I had been drinking lots of fluids the days before and before the race. I also caught a cold on the flight over so I had been tending to a cold, which of course can be dehydrating also. I was a little nervous about this.


Sunrise from the bus

IMG_3313Once we arrived, we had plenty of time to go to the bathroom (a lovely Chinese hole in the floor bathroom stall), eat, stretch, change, and get rid of our gear bags. They had someone leading stretches with fantastic techno music and that was fun to watch. There were people assisting with putting country flag tattoos on our bodies (my American flag was backwards because they printed it wrong) and plenty of volunteers getting us ready to go in the waves.

IMG_3505My wave was #1 at 7:30am. As we stood in the corral, I talked to another American from Texas named Sarah. She was also here by herself and was nervous. She said she didn’t train much, which seemed to be a theme among a lot of these runners. I started with a gal from Argentina that was in my group. You could feel the sun get hotter as we waited to start. I was told by someone later that day, that the starting temperature was 80 degrees. Fun times!


Part of the first wall climb

As the gun went off, we went through the fortress at Yin Yang Square and entered the highway. It was warm, but do-able. We then kept going onto a road leading up to the wall. This was an uphill climb and we already were walking at this point. Once you get to the wall, it’s not easy but it’s not hard yet. The last part of the wall is pretty tough because it’s a fairly steep descent (which we will have to go UP once we start this climb on the second time around).

We then went through the Yin Yang Square again and headed for the long highway in the sun. You then pass through little towns on dirt roads. There were plenty of water stops with water bottles, Gatorade and wet sponges, which felt amazing. The only thing that wasn’t amazing was being in the middle of no where and as the pack of runners loosened up we were only with a few people in front and back of us. So sometimes you felt like you were by yourself. The nice thing is the organizers made signs with KM and MILES so it was easy to follow and not have to do the math in your head.

IMG_3512The locals were excited to see us and kids would stand in lines and high five us. HA-LO or Ni Hao! I felt like I had to go to the bathroom for a while. My stomach just felt full. So finally around mile 11, I asked a policeman sitting in the shade if there was anywhere to go to the bathroom. I just pointed at my crotch and tried to get the message across. He asked a person across the street and the man so kindly let me into his home. Or maybe it was a place of business. I don’t know. But I was relieved he let me in. Another hole in the ground. Oh well…had to go pee! I thanked them and took off again.


middle of nowhere









It was blazing hot. I just kept drinking so much water. I would run with a water bottle in hand and just keep drinking. My arm got tired and annoyed of holding a bottle but I had to. We got to this part of the run that was a paved road up through a village and it was incredibly hot. And boring. And it just kept going and going and going uphill. Right before we started this stretch we saw some of the top marathoners run by on the other side. I ended up running into some American sisters that I had talked to at Inspection Day. We ended up running for a while with each other which was nice.

Not long after this we were back on dirt roads. And we joined the half marathoners. It was a little confusing at first because I thought maybe I was on the half marathon course, but I asked a runner and she said we were on the same course for a while at this point.

Water, water, sponge, water. So much water!! Then I finally got to a station with Gu’s. I took that lemony-lime gel and gulped it down. I had been eating my shot bloks and some of my jelly beans, but I was tired of them for some reason. I never eat gels, but I took it this time. The gel didn’t taste that great at first, but I didn’t care and ate it all.

After a long while of dirt and rocky roads through small villages, we came to the highway again. It was on pavement and it was HOT by this time. Ugh. I walked a bunch of this because the heat was bad. A lot of people were walking, actually. Then we got to the split where half marathoners finish and the marathoners go through a different entrance and get ready to climb the wall for a second time. We ran through Yin Yang Square again and they announced our names and then back up the stairs. We also received a wristband to wear once we got on the second wall climb. Marathoners had to make it to the second wall climb entrance by 6 hours or 1:30pm or they would stop you and you couldn’t finish. I made it in plenty of time. Now, we were on for the challenge of going up the wall in reverse.


Straight up the narrow area we had ended on before. Holy hell…I said a lot of things out loud and in my head. People were cussing, exhausted, stopping, breathing hard, you name it. Our heart rates were climbing as well and I was nervous about this. People were nauseous and I saw an Asian guy stand over to the side and throw up more than once. I had to plug my ears so I didn’t hear it.

I just took it very slow. You can’t run this at all. I just took one step at a time and some parts had railings so I grabbed the railings and let them lift me up with what upper body strength I had. I had to stop and stand for a bit to catch my breath. I had to sit and catch my breath. The sun was incredibly hot at this point, so it was not fun. We passed through a shaded area where vendors were selling water, beer, cokes, bananas, dried fruits and watermelon. He yelled out “beer?” And we said NO WAY! But I eyed the watermelon and almost paid for some.

This part took a long time. I have no idea how long it took me compared to the first climb. I do have to say that even though it was treacherous and the hardest thing I have ever done, I NEVER said I wasn’t going to make it or got any negative thoughts in my head. Not sure how that happened, but it’s very easy to do on a regular flat marathon if you are having a bad day, so I was proud of myself. I just kept saying to “take it easy, breathe, get your heartrate down, stop in the shade, just get through this.” I did say to myself at one point, “Remember what the stairs said – There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.” This helped me a lot. I was ON MY HANDS AND KNEES climbing the stairs. I didn’t care how long it took me, I was going to climb each and every stair and get to the finish.

A funny thing that happened on one of the areas of the wall was a guy farted really loud and we all laughed. He laughed and apologized and said he didn’t realize it was going to be that big, but it cut through the seriousness and rawness of the climb.

I got to a point in the highest part of the second wall climb where I realized I needed some fuel. I was sick of gels and things I had on me, so out of desperation, I passed the photographer sitting on the stairs and turned back around and asked if he had some fuel. I realized he probably didn’t know what I meant by “fuel”, so I asked if he had something to eat with him. He said he thought he had a melted Snickers bar. And after taking a few more shots of runners he grabbed into his bag and handed me the candy bar. It was definitely melted but oh so good! I asked if he wanted half back and he said no and I thanked him and kept going! That bar saved me. I needed some calories bad at that point.

After this highest point, and sitting in the shady areas of the towers along the way, it’s all downhill from there to the finish. You would think I could just run slowly down the hill, but it was still hard. I did stop a few times. It was hot as hell at this point also. I then put on my headphones and listened to some music for the first time during the race. I needed to zone out a bit. And then finally we enter the square again and they called our names. I was FINISHED! I cried a little. That was insanely crazy. It felt good to be done.IMG_3517

After I gathered my things and got my lunch, I sat with some of our group. Everyone did amazingly well! It was a tough race and everyone finished. After I ate, I went to the massage tent. We were treated to a 20 minute massage! My legs were tight but it was so nice to have that after. And I think my guy gave me at least 30-40 mins. I was there much longer than 20 minutes. Once we had time to relax and eat, we got on busses back to the hotel. It was a long drive back. We were able to stop at a rest stop to pee and get snacks, but right before this, one of the gals in our group had to go to the bathroom really bad and the driver wouldn’t stop. We tried to communicate with him that she was going to pee her pants but he didn’t care. Because of traffic and hotels stops, our group didn’t get back til 4 hours later. Ugh. Long day for sure since we had been up since 2:30am.


baby pizza

Once we got back and took quick showers a few of us in our group decided to go to Pizza Hut for dinner. I ordered a salad, refreshing lime/tea drink and a personal size pizza. But we laughed because it was the smallest pizza ever. Ha!

Not sure how many people didn’t finish the race. Unfortunately, I am sure there were plenty due to exhaustion and the heat. I did hear that behind me there were people turning around after starting the second climb. I also heard that stretchers were being pulled up to the wall to get people. I heard that someone had a blood vessel burst in his calf and was screaming in agony and you could hear it way up the wall. I am so glad I made it out alive and well.

This, by far, was the hardest race I have ever done. But it was a great challenge and so surreal to be able to be on the freakin’ Great Wall of China during a marathon. Like really? How does this happen? As I sit here and write this I can’t believe I was in the middle of China running a marathon on one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and something that is over 13,000 feet long.


Yin Yang Square


The next day there was a celebration dinner at a convention center near with lots of food and drinks and it was nice to gather with everyone for a night out. They announced how many runners came from each country. The US had over 500 and was the top country by far. It was very organized and the group that puts this on Albatros Adventure Marathons, does an amazing job! Maybe I will even do one of their other 4 races…

Bucket list = Checked!



New beginnings

Let the year begin…

It’s Feb 1 and we are already one month into 2017. I feel like I have a better handle on this year than last. Thank goodness! It took me six weeks to start running again, but on Jan 15, I finally did it and got my butt out and started my training for the Great Wall Marathon! I feel good -  my body feels really good. It just feels awesome to have a plan and have the motivation to want to run.

I took the six weeks off without hesitation. I didn’t even count the weeks, honestly. I took my mandatory three weeks off after the CIM in December, but then I was busy going to Paris, with the holidays and going on a roadtrip to Arizona and L.A. and back, and just vegging out for a bit. I also needed to gain back some weight. I actually feel like my body is almost where it should be.

Last year, I didn’t have a plan and I was going out of my mind. But this year I feel a bit more relaxed about it all. I have the Great Wall Marathon in May to look forward to and I am so excited! There is still a lot to be done between now and then, but it will all get done.

1) Training – I’m already on Week 3! But I do need to get lots and lots of stair climbing into the mix of it all
2) Flight – still need to book that but already have an idea of cost
3) Visa – need to get that done and sent off by mid-March
4) Stay positive and motivated!

I will be moving into a new house at the end of this month and I am looking forward to this. Lots of changes ahead. I am in the middle of writing a book (which is going to be a very interesting process!). I do also have other things on my mind that I may want to challenge myself with later this year. This could be an ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ kind of year. I’ll keep you posted!

Keep being you – keep being AWESOME!