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Running Onto a Wall: Lebanon Woman Headed to Great Wall Marathon

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/11/2018 11:36:16 PM
Modified: 11/11/2018 11:36:17 PM

Lebanon — Jill Zambon is used to a challenge.

She’s been an athlete since she can remember, playing soccer through her high school years before joining the United States Navy, as a reservist at first before studying for her undergraduate degree at Norwich University. A Lebanon resident and Bradford, Vt., native, Zambon, 31, has taken on marathon running in recent years, an extension of her love for physical fitness. The effect, she said, has been contagious.

Her next race, however, might be her most difficult. Zambon, with her cousin, Emily Allen, have registered to run The Great Wall Marathon in China, a 26.2-mile race that stretches partially along the ancient structure.

As part of their training and preparation, Zambon and Allen are using the race to help raise funds for two charities: New Beginnings Without Violence and Abuse in Laconia, N.H., which provides service and support to victims of survivors of domestic violence, and Resolve, an association that helps empower people struggling with infertility.

The women hope to raise $10,000 for each organization before the marathon in May.

“There’s so much work with training, planning the trip and everything, I figured we might as well use it to leverage some fundraising,” Zambon said over the phone on Friday.

Zambon grew up in Bradford and graduated from Blue Mountain Union High School in Wells River, Vt., before joining the Navy. A single mom, she now works remotely for Fresenius Medical Care as a program manager and is working on earning a doctorate degree in organizational leadership, with a focus on healthcare, from Grand Canyon University. Zambon said she is on track to graduate in December.

Running, she said, has turned into her therapeutic escape.

“I’ve stuck with it. Running has become my meditation,” Zambon said. “I’m a single mom; I’m with my daughter all the time. Running time is my me time.”

Zambon started running marathons three years ago and said she tries to do at least one or two a year. She saw a post on the Great Wall Marathon pop up on her Facebook feed about a month ago and asked Allen if “she was crazy enough to do it with me.”

Allen said yes. The pair booked their flights two days later.

The China race, part of Albatros Aventure Marathons — which runs five destination marathons throughout the year, including events in Jordan, Greenland, South Africa and Myanmar — was founded in 1999 and has built a reputation as one of the world’s toughest marathons. The race features 5,164 steps along the top of the Great Wall, making parts of the race feel more like a stair-climbing machine and less like a traditional marathon.

“Some of the stairs are broken,” Zambon said.

That challenge has also changed her preparation.

“A lot of cross-training and distance running to get ready for the stairs thing,” she said. “My plan is to just do a long run and then go super cold into a stair climber — the CCBA, outside, some stairs in the Dartmouth parking garage. I’ll find stairs and run hills.”

Running in exotic marathons isn’t anything Zambon expected to be doing when she first started running competitively three years ago. But the community of runners she’s encountered has helped cultivate her love for the sport, as much as the physical fitness involved in it.

“It’s a common language,” she said. “It brings all sorts of people together.”

Once this is done, Zambon might move on to her next challenge.

“My new favorite thing is to never say never,” she said. “I said, ‘I’m never going to run a marathon’ when I first started off, running half marathons. I used to say, ‘Who’d want to run a full marathon?’ Now I’m doing it.

“Next, I want to say my plan is to sort of hang up the running shoes. Maybe I’ll do some biking.”

Anyone interested in donating can visit the pair’s Facebook page at

Josh Weinreb can be reached at or 603-727-3306.

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