Jeff Heuchert, Stratford Gazette
Just after reaching the 22 mile mark of her first marathon, Kim McDonald hit a wall – figuratively and literally.
Standing on the uneven steps of the Great Wall of China, with just over four miles to the finish line, McDonald was burnt out, but not in the way she had anticipated might happen.
“My legs felt great, my body felt great, but my brain wouldn’t let me go on,” says McDonald, noting she took every precaution to ensure her body didn’t tire towards the end of the race. “I had read about it, and had other marathon runners tell me about it ... but I didn’t think it would happen to me.”
With five hours already behind her, McDonald trudged forward slowly in the 32-degree heat, passing runners who had stopped to rest, receive medical treatment or, in the most severe cases, get carted away in the opposite direction.
McDonald, of Stratford, says it took her about an hour “to get my brain caught up with my body” before she was able to pick up her pace.
She crossed the finish line just over seven and a half hours after she began – good for 501st out of the over 700 runners from around the world who travelled to China to participate in what many consider to be one of the world’s most difficult marathons. Not bad for someone who had only ever run in charity events and around the neighbourhood with her border collie Spy.
“I thought I would never do a marathon,” says McDonald, who owns and operates Stratford Massage Therapy Clinic and whose passion for health and fitness is what got her involved in running. “But the more I thought about, if I was only going to do one marathon in my whole life, I was going to make it the hardest one that I could find.”
When they found out about her plans to try to conquer the Great Wall, people in the local running community contacted McDonald and offered to help her train. She says she was very appreciative of their support, and for the encouragement she got from her family and friends.
Held each year in May, the Great Wall Marathon, with its 5,164 steps that wind their way up – at times on such a slope that McDonald describes climbing them like “going up a ladder” – is no small feat even for the most experienced runner.
Having been asked countless times about her experience since returning, McDonald says the best she’s been able to come up with was that it was a “very human experience.”
“I don’t know if it was the international component or the fact I’m not competitive. But you’re all in the same boat. You’re all at the end and want to finish. It’s a collective feeling.”
While in China, McDonald visited some of the many famous tourist attractions, including the Forbidden City imperial palace, the Temple of Heaven and Tiananmen Square. She also visited her son Spencer, who’s currently living in Hainan teaching at an international Canadian school.
McDonald’s experience in China has motivated her to seek out more marathons in some of the world’s most exotic locales, and to set an ambitious goal for herself of running a marathon on each continent.
After competing in Toronto’s Waterfront Marathon in October, McDonald plans on running in the Solar Eclipse Marathon in Port Douglas, Australia. She also has aspirations of running in the Polar Circle Marathon in Greenland.
“After this,” adds McDonald of the Great Wall Marathon, “I feel like I could do anything.”