A guest post by Debbie Lang
The Great Wall of China would make the most amazing cycle path – if it wasn’t for the thousands of steps and crazily steep gradients. So in May I did the only sensible thing and joined two and a half thousand people to run a half marathon along it.
Bright neon signs welcomed the “athletes from around the world” as local people spent all night hauling boxes of bottled water up the wall on their backs to ensure our hydration. After running over 5,000 steps in 30o heat, their feat of endurance was appreciated as much as the experience itself.
The ‘Wall’ portion of the race lived up to its billing as one of the toughest yet remarkable things I will ever do. But the unexpected gem in the adventure came as the route went through a local village. It was obvious that bicycles rule the road as people on bikes swarmed around us.
Kids were holding out their hands for high-fives, and groups of older women were cheering with more energy than some of the runners; but it was the people on their electric bikes that captured my imagination. The cornucopia of bicycles in the village was obviously so normal – and in stark contrast to the unnatural sight of packs of foreigners running a race!
My initial anxiety of riding in such chaotic conditions soon gave way to exhilaration as I realised that the vehicles of all shapes and sizes that were whizzing around me were fully aware of my presence and expected me to be there.
Tandems, tridems and electric bikes with their own built-in sun shelters were the norm. My favourite moment was being overtaken by a tridem. A distinguished looking gentleman was up front while two impeccably dressed women in the seats behind chatted away with their handbags slung over their shoulders. They were completely unperturbed by the trucks, buses, speeding cars, motorbikes, scooters and loose animals, as they pedalled into town.
For me it was an eye-popping sight, but here, it was simply the everyday.