Interview with Rob Avery about his Great Wall of China marathon.
GS:You are living in Ningbo, China at the moment, can you tell us a bit about how you came to be there and what you are currently doing?
RA:I am currently studying at Nottingham University’s campus in Ningbo. I am very fortunate to have been awarded a scholarship from the Rotary Club. The scholarship supports me to study a Masters anywhere in the world. I chose China because I wanted to learn more about the country. Considering about 25% of the world’s population is Chinese and it is the second largest economy I feel it is important and interesting to find out more about what is going on over here.
GS:For people who have never been to Ningbo in China, can you introduce the city? What do you like about living there?
RA:Ningbo is a city on the east coast of China, about 2 hours south of Shanghai. It has a population larger than Berlin or and is developing fast! I like the city because the pace of life is a little slower than big cities like Shanghai. It still has all the western type of things you may want whilst providing a host of new exciting things to keep me exploring!
GS:You recently took part in the Great Wall of China Marathon, how did you hear about that?
A friend told me about the marathon and suggested it was impossible, so I thought I would give it a go!
GS:What was your training regime for the marathon like?
RA:The hardest part of the Great Wall Marathon is the gradient running as well as negotiating over 5000 steps on the wall. As Ningbo is a flat coastal city it didn’t really lend itself to a good environment to properly train, however, I made the most out of what I had. I ran usually 4 times a week I would always run through a park where there was a small mound of earth with statues on. There were about 20 steps which I used as my step training. There was one time when I simply ran up and down these steps for over an hour and a half. The locals must have thought I was mad but it was the only solution I could find to train for steps!
I also really enjoyed getting out of the city and exploring some of the rural areas. I found it fascinating how different the lifestyles of people are in just the space of a few miles. For example it was not uncommon to run past an ox and plough tilling the land but these fields would be less than a 5 min run from a posh business park with skyscrapers extravagant restaurants and luxury shops. It’s a bit sad to see the massive divide between rich and poor. However, if it wasn’t for my runs taking me through these areas I would have never had such a clear picture.
GS:Can you tell us about how the marathon went? Was it harder than you expected?
RA:As I lined up to start I began to feel really nervous. I didn’t know what to expect as I had never done such a challenging run over such rough terrain before. I was made even more nervous when I overheard some very athletic looking people saying “no, I’m doing the half marathon, you have to be mad to attempt the full one!” Fortunately, my Ningbo-style training paid off and I actually enjoyed the run. Considering I was in such a beautiful location and running on one of the most famous structures in the world it was not hard to enjoy myself!
GS:Were there many runners from countries other than China?
RA:The majority of the runners were from overseas, mainly the west.
GS:You managed to raise money for polio treatment can you tell us a bit about your experience with this disease in China?
RA:I became fully aware of polio when I went of a trip to Lanzhou (a city in western China) with the Rotary club of Shanghai. They were donating wheelchairs to people who had been crippled by this disease. It was clear to see that the individuals who received the chairs were delighted and that this gift would hopefully change their life just slightly. However, I believe prevention is much better than attempting to cure something. A vaccination only costs $1 so in my opinion it is possible to try to eradicate this disease so that the next generation of charities do not have to even consider donating wheelchairs to polio victims because there will be no such disease.
GS:What are you plans for future marathons and trips around China?
RA:I genuinely thought before the marathon that I would probably never run again because I believed this would be such a grueling experience. However, now I have completed it I feel inspired to continue running and maybe even attempt to take an hour off the 5 hour 30 min time I set on the Great Wall. I plan to live in China for a few more years at least so I have plenty of time to explore China more. I really want to visit Sichuan.