PARKERSBURG - Sharon Marks of Parkersburg is no stranger to running marathons. She has run in many 26.2-mile races in the United States.
But for the first time, on May 19, she ran in a marathon outside the United States - a race that tested her fortitude and helped her learn about another culture.
Marks, 54, a history teacher at Parkersburg High School, finished 123rd overall out of 900 runners, and 23rd among the woman, in the Great Wall Marathon in China. Her time was 5 hours 27 minutes.
Sharon Marks stands on the Great Wall of China in Tianjin Province two days before she ran in the Great Wall Marathon on May 19.
The Great Wall, built as a series of fortifications to keep invaders out of China, is thousands of miles long. The marathoners spent about six miles on the Great Wall. The rest of the course meandered through fields and the villages of Xiaying and Duanzhuang.
Marks said the first 20 miles of the Great Wall Marathon were typical of any marathon. The running got tougher in the final six miles with a second climb of the wall's uneven steps followed by a long downhill stretch to a flat area.
"The flat spot hurt my legs," Marks said Wednesday. "With less than a mile to go, my legs were hurting, cramping."
- Sharon Marks took a 13-hour flight to reach China for the Great Wall Marathon.
- China is 12 hours ahead, time wise, of the Eastern U.S.
- Marks is president of the River City Runners and Walkers Club.
- Marks serves as director of The News and Sentinel Two-Mile Race, set for Aug. 18.
The Great Wall Marathon has 5,164 steps. They lead to and from the wall's towers.
She described running on what was little more than a "goat path" to reach the Great Wall.
The marathon began on a humid day with temperatures climbing into the low 90s.
Marks, who made the trip alone, said she spent three days at the Great Wall and several days touring Beijing, which was three hours away.
She visited the Summer Palace royal park in China, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Qing Tombs, a silk factory, a pearl factory, a village school and the Panda Bears.
She decided not to run in Beijing because of the air pollution.
She found the Chinese people to be friendly and willing to help Americans. Language was not a barrier, Marks said.
Marks wore an American flag on her back during the race.
"The Chinese kids would yell, 'American lady,' and gave me flowers or a high five," Marks said.
She had her picture taken many times and was asked to hold babies.
About 500 Americans but few residents of China ran in the marathon, Marks said.
She trained for the Great Wall Marathon by running the Quincy Hill steps in Parkersburg. Running in the Chinese fields was not a problem for Marks because she runs at Mountwood Park.
The mountainous terrain around the Great Wall reminded her of West Virginia.
She saw wealth and poverty in China but no despair, she said.
"I had a great time," Marks said. "It was a blast."
Things she didn't like about China were the lack of western toilets, lukewarm food and no ice.
Marks' goal is to run in a race in another continent, possibly in Africa.