Davis conquers the Great Wall

Published 9:52 pm Friday, June 2, 2017

Suffolk resident Lisa Davis is no stranger to difficult marathons. So how did she prepare for 26.2 miles in China, with grueling heat and an uphill climb up the Great Wall in May?

By running in the Flying Pirate Half Marathon in Outer Banks, N.C., on April 23. This was after running in the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon in Roanoke, proclaimed as one of America’s toughest road races, the day before. In fact, she ran that 26.2-mile route in Roanoke twice that day, back-to-back.

Her next race, a 24-hour run and walk at Sandy Bottom Nature Park for cancer fundraising on April 29, kept her moving for 77 miles and left her feet swollen and blistered.

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But Davis was ready still ready for her big race abroad.

“I just like to run,” Davis said.

With those races behind her and blister patches on her feet, Davis flew to China for the Great Wall Marathon in May. Thousands of runners have come from over 60 nations since 1999 to run marathons, half-marathons and 8.5-kilometer “fun runs” through villages and on the Great Wall.

Davis was one of 619 runners for the marathon. She was in the fourth grouping from the start and finish line in Yin Yang square, a group of about 60 runners. Her group started running at about 8 a.m. local time.

The race began with a three-mile run uphill to the east entrance of The Great Wall. Runners then faced another two miles traversing the wall, and when the sun was highest in the sky at noon, many began to feel the heat.

Davis said the temperature rose to about 104 degrees.

“Every minute, it was getting hotter and hotter,” she said.

After five miles, she descended from the wall and began to run through the local villages. There were blacktops radiating heat, crowds of people taking pictures and reaching for high-fives, and cars to keep an eye on.

The race allows runners to finish the race early by turning off to a shorter route, and approximately 60 runners did not finish the race by the eight-hour cut off time. Davis said part of the insanity was having to cross the finish line multiple times as part of the full marathon.

“It’s mentally brutal,” she said.

It was another 16 miles of these village obstacles and changing elevations before she returned to the wall for her final ascent and last five miles. At the base of the Great Wall, facing 2,582 steps upward and forward, she felt awe.

“You don’t realize the totality of the problem until you’re at the bottom of the stairs looking up,” she said.

By the end of her ascent, she had a water bottle in one hand and a rag in the other to fight the heat.

Then she began to descend the final three miles to the finish line, to which she sprinted, passing runners who had sped past her earlier.

She said at that point the rest was gravity.

“I didn’t have to do much except not fall on my face,” she said.

Her net race time at the finish line on May 20 was seven hours, four minutes and 29 seconds, while her gross finish time was seven hours, five minutes and 43 seconds, according to the race results.

She enjoyed the rest of the day with her husband William Perez and her 18-year-old daughter Lauren Davis, who traveled with her and ran the 8.5-km route. She also celebrated with other members of the National Black Marathoners Association.

For this seasoned runner, the blistering, exhausting and visually spectacular race on one of the great wonders of the world simply fed her habit.

“It’s like my drug of choice,” Davis said. “I’m literally addicted to running.”