“It was way more difficult than my first Great Wall run. There were many reasons for this. Importantly, being 12 years older than I was for the first run in 2006, age was not on my side. Then there was the matter of pace: that first run averaged 42km a day, while the pace on the second run was considerably faster – a massive 60km a day. Direction also played a role: the first run began on the north-west plains of the Gobi Desert, which gave us about two months of steady running to get our bodies strong and into the routine of daily big distance by the time we hit the rugged demands of the mountains.
But by far the biggest difference between the two events was that this time we started at the ocean and went straight up into icy cold mountains, reaching altitudes of over 2 500m, with temperatures dropping to -17C. Our bodies had no time to acclimatise to the freezing conditions, build fitness, or become accustomed to the punishing daily distances we needed to cover.
I clearly remember the day I returned to the Great Wall to begin my second run. Standing on the beach at Shanhaiguan on a freezing cold April morning in 2018 with my running partner Andy Stuart and an icy easterly wind blowing in off the ocean, we were poised to make history. I was filled with a multitude of emotions as the bristling cold wind whipped at my running gear. I felt a deep chill within me.
My body shuddered and my skin prickled with goose bumps as we made the first of what would, over three months, amount to more than four and a half million steps. In that moment, our inner dragon was unleashed, and the wall became ours for the running.”