By: Tamara Khoury
A year and a half ago this trip was just a thought, a daydream over lunch and nothing more. The thought of going to China kept lingering around up until I sat down and sent an e-mail to my family with all the details. I thought, what’s the worst that could happen, I go alone? As much as I didn’t want to, I was still fine with that option too. It wasn’t long before my father accepted the challenge to take on The Great Wall of China Marathon, one of the most difficult marathons in the world. So I figured, why not step it up and do something slightly different? This was about 6 months after we both crossed the finish line at the Rock n’ Roll Madrid Marathon, we were semi prepared but had plenty of time to train for the big challenge ahead.
To start, trail running is not a typical run around the city it’s a lot more challenging (not to say that road runs aren’t challenging, trail running is a totally different terrain). I spent several months training and having ran a marathon before, I knew what to expect at the time I started but, there were a few surprises along the way. To start, I thought running; on any surface, required the same training. Wrong, so wrong.
For months to follow, I was in for a big wakeup call. I spent the majority of my first few months dedicating my weekends to trail running in the UAE and Omani mountains – when the weather permitted, of course – a totally unfamiliar terrain. I had to learn how to program my mind and body to cope with the heat, running with the added weight of a water pack and most of all dealing with aches and pains in places I never knew existed. Understanding when my body needed rest and, most importantly, planning. Since most of the time I was training, I really needed time to plan outings and asses how that night would affect the next day’s training. It was a challenging, but worth every minute.
After 6 months of training, my father and I finally made it to China. We were put into a tour group of around 30 people from all over the world, the majority of people who travelled from the US, UK, South Africa and Australia and we spent the next 6 days together touring Beijing. As soon as we landed, we went to the Great Wall to inspect the route – the most important part of the trip. A vital part of inspection day was distance, the difficulty of the course was repeated and the organisers urged everyone to adjust their distance if they felt the need. I was worried. The majority of the participants who signed up for the challenge completed several triathlons, duathlons, ultra-marathons, marathons and the list goes on. To say that I was intimidated by their endurance superpowers was an understatement.
Once I saw the route, my confidence vanished. I trained for a full marathon and that’s what I intended to do, but I couldn’t see myself running that terrain, at that specific elevation and at the pace I wanted. It was the first time I felt that everything I trained for had gone to waste. I spent the remaining 2 days prior to the marathon occupied by numbers, 42 and 21. I bounced back and forth between the two and couldn’t seem to pick. One night over dinner, I let a random Italian guy sitting next to me decide for me. I held two pieces of a napkin I ripped in half and wrote: ‘half’ and ‘full’ folded them and placed both behind my back – silly, I know, but my indecisiveness had reached that point. I tapped his shoulder and asked him to pick an arm, so he smiled and picked the right and to my semi relief I opened the ‘half’ and so, I stuck with that.
I decided that since I dropped out of the full marathon, I’d push myself to the limit, run the 5,164 steps and sprint the rest of the trail with a set time in mind. Out of 1,500 international half marathoners I finished in 2hrs 42minutes ranking 8th in my age group and 56th overall.
I cried because, for the first time my knees had locked and I couldn’t walk past the finish line and that meant sitting in the middle of thousands of people trying to find my dad when I desperately needed his medical help. It wasn’t long before we found each other and all I could see was my father smile. My pain eventually disappeared. My father After having completed his first 8.5km trail run he super happy to say the least; he was in awe of what had happened.
Looking back, the entire journey required a great deal of effort and disciple, waking up at 4am on a Friday to run and climb most of the mountains in the UAE and Oman for many months, planning daily activities, applying a new nutrition plan and sticking to the process on good days and most importantly, on not-so-good days. It was truly a sense of personal accomplishment doing something I am so passionate about in a foreign country and on one of the world wonders is still an indescribable feeling.
We all know that we have this one life to live; you might as well drop the things that make you content and start doing things that make you happy. As cliché as that sounds it holds so much truth.
Tamara Khoury is a fitness enthusiast in Dubai, who has been running marathons since 2012. She ran marathons in Spain, Jordan, Lebanon in addition to, cycling across the Netherlands. She is currently qualified under the International Sports Science Association (ISSA) and is studying to become a certified Stott Pilates Instructor and a REPs certified personal trainer. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook! @liverightdxb