Sharon scales The Great Wall
By Will Jackson
AMATEUR long-distance runner Sharon Ryder last month accomplished a feat a few million Mongolians could not. She conquered the Great Wall of China.
Watched by her parents, David and Margaret Ryder, of Goonellabah, Sharon completed the notoriously tough Great Wall Marathon of China in four hours, 14 minutes and 58 seconds, coming second in the women??s division and 16th overall.
It was a massive achievement for the 34-year-old flight attendant and amateur long-distance runner, who grew up in Lismore but now lives in Brisbane.
Held in the province of Tianjin, the race is said to be one of the most beautiful marathons in the world, but also one of the most gruelling.
While it is the standard 42km length, it features 3800 often tricky steps and 7km on the wall itself.
The jagged steps are battering. Some are flat and slick, many are giant-size, and others are little more than pulverised rock made dangerous by no side walls on parts of the course.
The rest of the route winds away from the wall through ancient Chinese villages rarely seen by Westerners.
The first section covers approximately nine kilometres and takes the runners up to, across and down the Great Wall of China. This part of the course is marked by steep ascents and descents of up to 10 per cent and consists of thousands of steps.
Runners are advised to run slowly going up and down the mountain, as well as to walk when passing the steepest parts of The Great Wall.
Full marathoners complete this section of the course twice, whereas half marathoners only pass it once.
The second section of the course, which takes the runners through picturesque villages and rice fields, is done on flat asphalt and gravel roads.
Most runners manage to complete the course in five or six hours but, unlike most others of its kind, The Great Wall Marathon has a cut-off time of eight hours.
Sharon??s proud mum was ecstatic with her performance, even though her time was about an hour longer than her best effort.
??I??m still excited about it,?? Margaret said. ??I??ve been telling everyone I meet.
??She said beforehand that her goal was simply to finish the race.
??A lot of people don??t even manage that.??
Sharon was beaten to the finish line by Sara Winter, of New Zealand, who came fifth overall with a time of three hours 50 minutes and 21 seconds.
However, Sharon managed to beat almost all the ?? men ?V including two-time world marathon champion Abel Anton ?X who won London in 1998 in his personal-best time of 2:07:57, but finished 18th overall in last month??s race. ] ??I don??t think I will be back again. I think once is enough,?? an exhausted Anton told AP, doubling over briefly to catch his breath at the finish.
??It??s very hard, maybe the hardest I have done.?? Anton, who retired five years ago, experienced what most normal runners do on The Great Wall when he was forced to stop, fearing he might faint.
He was felled just after the 34km mark, where runners encounter The Great Wall for the second time.
??I was dizzy and had to stop about 15 minutes,?? he said. ??I think I was a bit dehydrated, it was tougher than I expected.??
David and Margaret, who live in Goonellabah, travelled to China to watch Sharon compete and were ??tickled pink?? to see her achieve a second placing.
It??s the best result she??s had so far.
??We??re still waiting for her to get her first place,?? Margaret said.
Of the 1200 runners who entered, about 450 ran the marathon, with the rest running the half-marathon and 5km and 10km courses.
Margaret said Sharon??s rather large trophy was now waiting for her at home.
??She??s still in China continuing her holiday,?? Margaret said. ?V With AP?q