Summer runs

(playing catch up, finally finishing posting from the past)

After the Great Wall marathon, I followed my standard routine- spent a few weeks eating whatever I want, gaining too much weight and taking it easy jogging. When the family left Beijing for the summer, end of June, I was ready to jump back on the training schedule and start the focus on the next marathon.

I decided to run the Beijing Marathon in mid September. Local race so no travel required and more importantly, nice and FLAT!! Also, the route started near Tienanmen square, headed East and finished outside the Bird Nest. Great way to see some sights from parts of the city I didn’t know too well.

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West Chang’an Ave Bejing

At the time, my only concern was that mid September may be too hot and of course, the air quality was a big fat risk. Had 14 weeks to train, one would think that should be plenty of time to train for another BQ attempt.

The family summer tour of 2016 would take us to Western MA, NJ coast, NC and Seattle. Nice mix of running terrain. Running in western MA is incredibly scenic, normally low car traffic but you’ll learn quick that the bugs will find you, it’s humid and sadly, the rolling hills can get steep! I tried to wake up and run early before the summer temperatures climbed and the bugs came out but it was ‘holiday’ so too tempting to sleep in.

The first few weeks of training went really well, my mileage went from about 19 to 45 in about three weeks. I felt strong and really good about my chances to get in the training required for my 3rd BQ. And what a wonderful change of environment, running down desolate, country roads vs the streets of Beijing.

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Somewhere in W MA. photo from

One note about the windy, country roads of western MA is that they do not repave them very often so the winter cracks are so numerous, tough to avoid stepping on. Mid July, after an easy hour run, noticed my right foot didn’t feel “right”. Did I step on a crack and roll the ankle? Didn’t recall but ugh! How often, when I ramp up miles, some sort of minor injury presents itself….? Then the debate starts- rest it (for how long) or just ignore it…?

Didn’t sprain it but had minor pain right above the ankle. Never had this type of injury before but figured it was an over-use injury. Likely ramped up the miles too fast. After a few rest days off, felt better then ran 13 mile LR. Mistake. Pain returned and the next two weeks, only ran twice. Just lost 4 quality LR I couldn’t make up so goodbye BQ attempt. Regardless no BQ attempt, I ‘should’ be able to run and enjoy the Beijing Marathon.

By the time we hit Seattle, I was training again and spirits rose. Able to run in a few of my favorite locals; our Ballard hood, along the Burke-Gilman trail, Lake Union Loop and best of all, Discovery park.

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Ballard, WA USA

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Burk Gilman Trail, near Fremont Bridge, Seattle

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6 mile loop around Lake Union, Seattle

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Looking west to the Olympic Mts from Discovery Park

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Great Wall marathon race report

Last Saturday, I ran or actually jogged/walked and crawled the Great Wall Marathon. As expected, this course was like no other I’ve attempted.

One of my all-time longest days. Needed to be on a chartered bus by 3:30am  Saturday morning to ride to the wall. To avoid looking for a cab at 2:30am, from our apartment to the bus pick up, I booked a room, at a local hotel that was a pick up location. The Beijing International Hotel, was one of the first 4 star hotels built in the city back in the 70s.

Normally, I do not sleep well or even very much the night before any marathon, too many nerves and painful memories of knowing what lies ahead. And this race’s extra challenging course meant extra nerves. I may have slept 2-3 hours, up at 1:45am. Ate my standard pre-race meal of yogurt, PB&J bagel, banana, OJ, water and granola. Bit after 3, checked out of my room and walked outside to look for the bus.

Like the inspection day tour, again, no one really knew ‘the plan.’ About a dozen folks all standing around in the parking lot, near the chartered buses. Not sure which bus to get on and no one available to ask this basic question. About 3:25am, someone with the “company” appeared and shouted instructions. We sleepily staggered on to buses and within 5 minutes drove off. 3:30am departure, right on time. I was impressed.

This time my bus full of ‘orphans’ those not with the full tour, was full. Most people tried to get some sleep for our 2+ hour drive. Two days earlier, the inspection day was a very warm, lows upper 60 to high upper 80s. It did not occur to me to check the weather forecast.


Arrival at the wall.

Upon arrival, we walked off bus and it was still dark and COLD. Did have a long sleeve shirt but no jacket or sweatshirt. Many folks off the buses only wore their racing suit. Shivering, we walked to Yin and Yang square. Soon, they would not be cold.

An odd but familiar sound greeted us as we walked toward the main square. A local band was playing and not just you typical Chinese music before a marathon at 6am but Western, “Christmas” tunes. Yes Christmas tunes. I stopped for a few minutes and watched several hundred others do what I was doing, taking a photo of this band.


And the band played Christmas tunes


We arrived about 6am, with an hour and half to kill before my first wave 7:30 start. After a quick dash to the (few and far between) bathroom, I felt much better. That is task #1. About 2000 people would run today and the company provided about a dozen bathroom facilities. They need to talk to the California International Marathon (CIM) about how many porta-potties you need. The bathroom line started long and stayed long right up to the first wave.

I tried to calm my nerves, paced around the square, lightly stretched. When they called for the first wave, I waited about five minutes, then walked to the very back of the growing mass. The wave stood in front of a temporary stage that held about 8 men, all dressed in matching dark grey business suites. Seven were Chinese and one non-Chinese. The Chinese were all local government (town, county, regional, etc) officials. And one by one they each spoke about 2 minutes to the crowd. And all said nearly the same thing, “welcome our friends, we are happy you are here. You will find our town/county, etc very welcoming and a happy place.” The last to speak was an Aussie, from the main sponsoring company. As you may guess, we were itching to get started so no one paid much attention to the speeches.

This race was not about pushing my limits, setting a BQ or PR, it was only about trying to finish and enjoy the day. Although, I did set 4:45 as my stretch goal and sub 5 as the target finish time.

One of the guys in a suit fired the starters pistol and we slowly filed out of the square onto the street. Yes, still nervous but relieved to finally get moving. I borrowed this description of the first section of the course from the website:

The Great Wall Marathon starts from the Yin and Yang square in the old Huangyaguan fortress. Immediately reaching the Jinwei Highway the route leads south for 1km, before turning left on to the Changcheng Highway. You are now on the road leading to the Great Wall entrance and have a 4km uphill climb. After 5km you meet the first of many steps and the next 3km are run on the Great Wall of China itself, including 1km around the magnificent fortress walls. Just before the 7km mark you face a 700m long section with a steep descent on the infamous “Goat Track”.

The first km was an easy, flat, section of road that allowed me to shake off some of the butterflies in my stomach and then we turned left. A 4km climb, I knew I needed to ease into it so decided keep the pace around 9-9:30 per mile.

First 3 miles were:

  • 9:39
  • 9:33
  • 10:15

Although I started in the very back, jogging up the hill, I passed a surprisingly large number of people. And very surprised to notice more than a few were already breathing heavy. Those folks were in for a LONG day.

The descent of the “Goat Track” is the insanely steep section you often see in photos. How steep? Carefully and often gingerly (do not roll an ankle) maneuvering over broken and loose stones, while going down, my next two miles posted 20:31 and 18:33. I was in no hurry to go down. The Goat track took us down, back to the start and after just 5 miles, I knew it would be a really long and challenging day.

We looped around the square and back out to the highway. The day’s weather begun pleasantly cold, while the sun stayed behind the surrounding ridges. But now, the sun was up, over the ridge, the temperature was climbing fast. I think it was about this time I took my first sponge “soak”. The water stations contained bottled water but also one or two large buckets full of water and sponges. The runners could grab a wet sponge and squeeze it over your neck and or head. Felt heavenly and I think I did this at nearly every water stop. This is likely the only reason I did not over heat.

Running down the side of the highway, I picked up the pace, back to around 9min miles. Between miles 6-13, fastest was 8:54 to slowest 9:44. As my body warmed up, kept reminding myself to keep it easy and loose. Flat, no shade, hot and on the side of the main road, two lane highway. Not ideal. No roads were closed for the race.

Turned off main road on to smaller, country roads. this section held the most spectators. Small groups of families, mostly small children with the mother or grandparents. Not too many younger males around. I wonder if these males were migrants workers, off in Beijing or another city…

Many runners clearly enjoyed the cheering crowds and kids hoping to give a high-five. Passing many small farms, we climbed again around mile 14 and another hill at mile 17. Ugh, these hills were unexpectedly tough. Slow, steady, nearly unending climbs. At least the scenery and views were fantastic. Looped around and headed back toward the start, I began to think about what lay ahead. The climb “up”to get to and then go up the Goat track.

By the time I began to go up toward the wall, my body was cooked, literally. Didn’t hit the wall (shock) but the usual suspects ached; hips, thighs, calves. I could only focus on keep moving forward. As I shifted from a shuffle to a walk, threw out any pipe dream of the sub 5 hrs, I just wanted to finish. Running and jogging no more, I was just walking and trying not to look up to see how steep it was. Mile 22 took me TWENTY-THREE minutes. And wasn’t even at the Goat track yet. The ascend up Goat track was 2100 feet!


Looking down the Goat track. When I walked/crawled up this section, just picture more bodies seated, not moving.

People or should I write ‘bodies’ were all over this ascent. And remember I started in the first wave so the majority of runners were still behind me. People leaning on the side, people seated on steps with heads hung low, people clinging to the tiny shadows of shade in hopes of cooling down. I just tried to keep moving.

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Going up the Goat track was inside mile 23. How slow did I complete mile 23… 37:17!!

I have little memory of this mile. I wonder if I laid down and took a 20 minute nap?

Once off the wall, we retraced the initial 5 km climb (going down this time) back to the village and the finish line. My thighs, calf, feet, ankles were spent by now. The downhill gave my weight some momentum to move forward faster and I picked up the pace. A small stream of runners joined me as we headed down and could easily see the ‘discomfort’ in the faces as they tried in vain to just get through these last few miles. The end was in sight.

Very pleased with my last three miles:

  • 11:05
  • 10:13
  • miles 26 at 9:45!

Entered the square for the last time and the enthusiastic crowd greeted each runner with a much appreciated cheer. Done!!

I was thrilled with 5:18 finish, my all time slowest marathon time.

Looking back on the race, what went well or things I did right:

  • I drank enough. Such a tough course and hot temps, drinking enough is never easy but an absolute must do. Ended up very dehydrated but avoided hitting the wall.
  • Threw target finish time out the window. Started and stayed slow, manageable pace.
  • Kept moving. Didn’t walk until mile 22.
  • Training went well, logged 5 jogs 18 miles or more. Had the stamina to survive.
  • Always thrilled when do not have any black toenails.

Few opportunities for improvement:

  • There is a local hotel within walking distance from the start line. Next time, sleep an extra two hours and walk to the starting line.
  • More training run with inclines, stairs, etc.
  • Condition body to be comfortable running in the heat.
  • Bring more GU.

Would I run this one again? I can highly recommend it but not sure I’ll run it again….Although I am tempted to get under 5 hours.


It is not about the race but the well earned post race meal.

Mission accomplished, Bacon cheeseburger, onion rings and cold beverage at Great Leap Brewery, Sanlitun, Beijing, China

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Tomorrow is The Great Wall marathon

(this was written few days ago)

Tomorrow is the Great Wall marathon, ready of not. Yesterday, I did the race ‘inspection’ tour. Jumped on a bus at 6:30am for 2+hr ride NE to the wall with about 500 other folks.

Most of the people running are on a package tour from everywhere but China. They are in town for 5-10 days and this race is the end of their visit. Only saw a few locals (Chinese). But, I road on the bus with those other ‘locals’, who were not on tours. Most lived in China or SE Asia as expats. We referred to ourselves as “the orphans” since we had no one telling us which bus to get on, herding us around, giving us water or shouting instructions at us.


Yin and Yang Square. Race Center

On our bus were Americans, German, Dutch, Mexican, French, and Austrian. We arrived at the race central, Yin and Yang square in the old Huangyaguan fortress, Great Wall, Tianjin province. It was about 9:30am and several vendors had food, snacks and tourist trinkets out for sale. I noticed more than a handful of folks buy and pop open a cold beer.

That activity kinda sums up the first of the two kinds of runners I noticed this day. This first group was here for the experience, visit china and enjoy themselves. If they wanted a beer with breakfast, by god they had one. Many in this group didn’t have the typical ‘runner’s body. Likely they planned to participate in the fun run or walk a significant part of the half marathon. Didn’t expect to see them in the full marathon.

The second group were the more serious runners. Not all uber fit and trim but many were and most had completed numerous marathons before and were not going to be drinking beer for breakfast. I spoke with several who were in the mist of running a marathon on each continent. One woman from Minnesota would complete this milestone tomorrow.  These runners could still have a good time but the number one reason they were here was to run.

On the website, this ‘inspection’ day is described a chance to come to the wall, check things out, hear the race director discuss the course, the logistics, talk to other runners and actually walk a small part of the course. This sounded all good to me, so I paid some amount of yuan for a ticket to do this. As we runners sat in the increasing warm sunshine, listening to race director describe the few kilometers of the course we would soon walk, my stomach sank. We would be driven up to the wall (out of sight, over a ridge) and walk back to this square. We would walk down ‘the goat track’, the steepest section of the entire route, just two days before the actual race.

I quickly debated if I wanted to walk this or just stay in the square and maybe have a beer? The reasons to walk it:

  1. Be on the wall, get a feel for it
  2. Talk to other runners, be social
  3. enjoy the stunning views from the wall

Reasons not to walk it:

  1. It was HOT, getting hotter.
  2. How long would I be out in this hot sun? I could only guess
  3. They would give us one 8oz bottle of water to carry
  4. The wall is insanely steep in sections so walking down is tricky
  5. many stone steps are cracked, missing or slick
  6. If I turned/twisted my ankle today…

I decided go, when in Rome….

About 90% of the other runners also decided to walk it so we walked back onto the buses and drove the first few kilometers of the actual race course, to another part of the wall and climbed up on to THE WALL.

Even going at a very leisurely pace, walking is not so easy. No part of the wall is level of flat, it just rolls, going up or going down. Did I mention it was a hot day? Think I downed my little 8oz bottle of water within 10 minutes. I did have another in my backpack and estimated this walk would take about an hour. Then we hit the ‘first’ bottleneck. The wall narrows or steeply descents and the people’s pace is a crawl.


Looking east.


About 30 minutes we arrived a the top of the ‘goat track.’ My knees and ankles were already getting sore. Why was I subjecting my body to this, just two days before the race? This isn’t exactly a ‘rest day.’ The back of my neck felt sunburned. Oh yeah, I don’t have any sunscreen.


This is not the steep part

An hour and half after we left the square, I walked back into it. Too late now to kick myself for making a poor choice but here I was, exhausted, hot, and definitely dehydrated. Saturday morning would arrive quickly and I really, really hope these sore, tired, heavy legs can recover before the start of the race.

Likely, the most important take away from the inspection tour was do not do the inspection tour next time. Actually, it was to realize how much energy I’d expend on the wall, even if I walked it. And, the weather calls for another HOT day tomorrow. Mid 60s to low 80s during the race. So, I gotta go slow, really slow on the course not on the wall. Initially, I was thinking jog 9min miles for the non wall sections, now I’m thinking 10 minute miles. And drink a river of water, pour water over my head often, to help fight off dehydration and heat exhaustion.

Time to stay off my feet, carbo load and drink water. See you on the wall.


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Great Wall marathon training

IMG_0839Just ten days until the Great Wall Marathon. I am half way through “the taper.” No madness yet. Today’s run was a tough one, likely my last tough one. A 20min easy warm up, 10x1min ‘fast’ with 2min recovery and ending with 20min easy. The air was crap so ran on the treadmill. Incline average about 4%.

Overall, the training has gone pretty well. And I am healthy, never a given at this stage of the training cycle. Already have my race packet (number, runner’s guide book, etc). This race has bib numbers on your back too, strange….Am I ready?

I really have no idea since this marathon is like no other. Been watching several YouTube videos recently about the race and they are extremely helpful. Full of views of the course and commentary.  A few are professionally done by the corp who organizes the race and several others were made by regular runners and their selfie-stick.

Regardless who made the video, all say the same thing, “this marathon will very likely be the hardest marathon you EVER run.” Ugh.

So, what does that mean? First, it means I am going to hurt, a lot. Steep climbs and downhills on stone are going to fry my hips, quads, hamstring, IT band, knees and the other muscles just above the knee. I’ve tried to mitigated the impact by running some stairs and inclines on the treadmill. But, I sadly think I failed to include these into my training early enough. And I never found a set of stairs inside a building to run.


I settled using several pedestrian bridge overpasses around the city but they are not very steep. Remember, Beijing is pancake flat. Guess running 10-20 sets here is better than nothing but next time find 5-10 flights of stairs.

Next, running this marathon means my finish time is irrelevant. The hills and descents are steep, so I “should” walk them. The flat sections I really shouldn’t ‘run’, but slow jog to conserve energy for the climbs. If I target a negative split, that may help me actually go slow, at least in the first half.

I hope this doesn’t happen in the first wave.

Oh, I fortunately did land in the first wave of runners. Think there are four waves, based upon previous marathon finishing times. This should help, since there are several tricky spots where we will congest, slow down and even come to a complete stop. Although I’m in the first wave, I will target to begin in the back of this wave.

Lastly, this means I must run smart. I’ve already mentioned trying to run a negative split, starting in the back of the firs wave, these are strategies to help keep the pace (and expectations) down. If I go out too fast I will hit that great “wall” hard and have to crawl the last miles, I mean kilometers.

On the plus side, my training has gone well. Completed 2 or 3  18 milers and three 20 mile long runs. Not much speed work this time but I feel I logged the miles to be in pretty good shape. At least with my basic endurance.

I was very lucky that I completed all but one LR (18) outside.


The air quality index (AQI) forecast is pretty reliable, so a few times, I moved the day of my LR to a better AQI day to allow me to run outside. More than 2 hrs on a treadmill is a royal pain. And for regular runs, I think I only had to run with a mask a few times. Normally, on bad air days, I’d jog down the road to the gym.

So, I’ll try to write next Thursday night, after I tour the course with a few thousand others. 2500 is the cap for the marathon,plus half and fun run. Keep your fingers crossed for cool temperatures on 21May. It was in the 80s last year and I don’t even want to think about that.

Focus on the positives…. It will be a stunningly scenic course.

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Jogging in Beijing- my start

The plane landed, we somehow survived moving NINE bags through the airport, met a co-worker who drove us into Beijing. We arrived!

Two days later, moved into the apartment. This isn’t just “talk” anymore, we moved to Beijing. How will this impact our running and trying to earn another BQ that actually gets me into the race…

I think it took a few days before my first jog. Luckily, the air quality was good enough that no mask was needed. But, how messed up to even have to consider, “do I need to wear my mask today?” That is now our new reality and we made the decision to learn to manage it.  I am not Mark Zuckerburg, when needed, I will wear a mask or jog inside a gym.

Mr. FB’s controversial jog. Air Quality Index was about 200. Below 50 is considered healthy.

Our apartment is located between the  3rd and 4th ring road, in the Embassy area. One of the largest parks in the city, Chaoyang Park, is just a few blocks away. When the air allows, there is a nice jogging path (see top photo) that meanders about 3 miles inside the park.

For me, the larger concern isn’t where to jog but dealing with the running surface. If outside a park, you should jog on the sidewalk or bike path, for safety reasons. Cars here really play by their own rules. They do not yield to anyone (bikes, walkers, parent pushing stroller, red lights) but larger cars or trucks. Unfortunately, the bike paths often are too crowded with scooters, bikes and yes, cars. So, that leaves the sidewalks. Sadly, most sidewalks are cement blocks. And my feet and legs really feel it. Not ideal, but I’ll deal with it.

Back to Chaoyang park. I have luckily found a dirt trail. On the east side of the park, just outside the gate is about 2 km long and 40 meters wide strip of earth. The park fence borders one side and a major road boarders the other side. It is kinda no man’s land, not many people likely use this space, although there is a sidewalk. Although its loud, (so close to highway) this soft dirt, when the ground isn’t frozen, is a blessing. Running on dirt is so much easier on these approaching 50 knees.


My secret trail

The loop around the perimeter of the park is about 5 miles. So, for the few LR I’ve already completed, I ran a few of these loops. Also, ran a few loops and also ran inside the park. Inside the park has the benefit of public toilets and vending machines with bottled water.

Besides the challenge of the running surface, the other major issue for me jogging in Beijing (so far) has been the weather. Cold temperatures aren’t really the problem. I can run in 20’s-30’s (F) no big problem. Use a few layers, hat and gloves. Temps in the teens, treadmill time. The problem for me is the cold plus the COLD wind from the north. OH MY GOD! Growing up in the south and last 25 years in Seattle, I have zero tolerance for that kind of cold. For the first time ever, few weeks ago I stopped a LR, due to frozen fingers from this wind.

Luckily, now late March, and temps in the 50s-60s (F), I’m pretty certain I will not see those conditions again til November.

Lastly, I didn’t expect to see too many other joggers. At least not in the winter times. But, I’ve seen more than a few. There is a large ex-pat community near the park, so at 10am, it’s not uncommon to see a few ‘trailing spouses’ (ex-pats who moved for spouse’s job and they don’t work), like myself, in and around the park jogging. At lunch time or the weekends, the jogger sightings jump. I need to tap into a running group to be social and help me train for my next marathon. Yup, I am signed up for the Great Wall marathon.

More on that next time.

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Move to Beijing

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At the moment, the family is sitting on a Delta B767-300ER, on the tarmac at SeaTac airport waiting to fly, not visiting but to move, to Beijing. Yes, Beijing, China. How did this happen….? Good question.

Don’t think I have mentioned how this whole ‘move to China’ thang began.

We are moving for a new opportunity for my wife with a large NGO, based in Seattle. The assignment should last between 18-24 months. I believe she first mentioned this potential opportunity way back in early Spring 2015. Initially, we both took the attitude, “I’m not sure we really want to move to China but let’s learn more about this.” Within a few weeks a few informational interviews started.

I do clearly remember the night she stated, ‘if’ I’m going to continue to move forward with this, we need to make some level of commitment. This ‘idea’ of moving to China evolved into we need to think in terms of, will we accept moving to China.” The real interview process began and then, the after the job offer arrived, the company offered to fly the entire family for a week’s visit in August, to help us make a tough decision.

Our August visit to Beijing far surpassed expectations. To be perfectly honest, we had few or low expectations. We’d traveled once before, playing tourist for a few days before we adopted the boy, back in 2010. Back then, we were so fixated on the upcoming adoption that we didn’t really let life in Beijing soak in.

This time, the attitude and vibe was completely different. Could we live here, would we want to? Doesn’t Beijing have the worst air pollution in the world? The week of our visit, crystal clear, blue skies and temps in the 80s. Yes, humid but no trouble for just a week. Naturally, the government helped create those Carolina blue skies by removing half the cars off the streets due to their hosting the World Track and Field championships, the same week of our visit.

We spent the week touring three private international schools and LOTS of apartments. All the schools impressed but the apartments did not. Way overpriced, and the low quality was surprising. Making you pay London or NYC prices but what you get does not meet expectations.

What the apartments lacked, the food made up with it. WE LOVED EVERYTHING WE ATE. The breakfast brunch buffet at the Westin, never grew wearing of. The dumplings, noodles, yogurt, amazing fruit, did I mention the dumplings?

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this trip was the boy’s reaction. He seemed to have a connection or peace about being there. Me, the mass of humanity (22 million residents), could be overwhelming. Not for him. He is Chinese after all and being surrounded by people who looked like him must have been comforting, on some level. And of course, he too loved the food.

He wasn’t shy or freaked out when we toured schools and the first grade teachers invited him to sit with the class. (The school year began the week before.) The kid has been through a lot and can just roll with whatever life presents. Wish I was more like that.

On the flight home, we de-briefed the pluses and minus of this unique opportunity:


  1. what an opportunity for the boy to connect with his culture, and learn Mandarin
  2. The food
  3. The job is a promotion, a challenge, and she’d likely learn a ton.
  4. Met two amazingly nice American families who live in Beijing
  5. Could travel around a part of the world we’ve never experienced.
  6. The boy could attend an elite international school with classmates from all over the world.
  7. Huge community of expats.
  8. Thai Beaches
  9. Thai food
  10. Did I mention Thailand?
  11. Marathon training and running in China/SE Asia.


  1. The air pollution
  2. The traffic
  3. The air pollution
  4. Studying Mandarin will be much harder than Dutch.
  5. Gotta learn to love running on treadmill
  6. LONG way from friends and family

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What would be your decision?

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My next marathon…..?

This photo is fantastic, the misery, the agony. Not sure the total elevation gain but likely 4-5,000 ft. Do I really want to subject myself to this kind of pain…..?

May 2016, The Great Wall marathon.

Bet I’d really regret it if I skipped this one. If you were living in Beijing would you run this?

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