Friday, May 25, 2018

Behind The Glitz of a Dream Marathon Race

This is a follow up to The Great Wall Marathon Adventure which summarizes the whole trip.

Jessi and I just came back from a trip of a lifetime: running a marathon on the Great Wall in Huangyaguan China. The course is on The Wall (I feel compelled to capitalize it) for ~7 miles. The rest is run in the surrounding city. It's good that the entire race isn't on The Wall because... well... The Wall is brutal and probably couldn't be run for 26.2 miles.

You start by running 3 miles almost straight up a hill. Then ~3.5 miles on The Wall (2,582 stairs, the equivalent of 47 stories). Then around town for 13 miles. Then, if you finish all that in under 6 hours (remember this time, it's important), you get to go back on The Wall for another 2,582 stairs, and back down the hill you started on. You have 8 hours total. Here's what the elevation looks like (click on it to see a larger version... but I think you get the point):

This was my first marathon and Jessi's second. It's how we celebrated 10 years of marriage (technically in July, but we can't control when the event happens). My sister, Lisa, and her boyfriend, Jason, also joined us.

The pictures look awesome, and the experience was fantastic. It was truly a dream trip. But like any great success, this was a long time in the making and included a lot of hardship. Too often we only learn about the result, but I think it's valuable to also share what it took to finish.

At the starting line with Jiggle Bells playing in the background.
To start, we spent MONTHS training. Two weekdays I would run. Then Saturday morning I would do a long run before the family woke up. I learned to run with a lamp, and the places to avoid before the sun came up. Jessi ran during nap time and Sunday after church. We didn't have to run in snow, but in a lot of rain. As distances increased, so did the time. It wasn't easy to juggle schedules. We only ran twice together before the race.

Then in January, I hurt my knee. I went from running 20 miles in 3.5 hours to limping in pain after 3 miles. It was frustrating to have to completely stop running. I went from "ahead of schedule" to "doubtful to finish". The recommendation is to stop running for 8 weeks (!) and let your body heal.

I really had to trust the advice and cross trained for the 8 weeks. I learned I dislike swimming laps, but I woke up early 2 days a week and swam laps. After swimming, my nose would run the rest of the morning (something in the water?). Man, I really wanted to run instead. It was tough. With additional strength & flexibility training, lots of reading (I recommend "Your Best Stride") on my injury, and help from doctors at Corvallis Sport & Spine, I was able to get back to 20 miles in 4.5 hours... on flat ground with zero stairs.

I kept forgetting my goggles in the locker room. So I took a picture to show the staff ("These ones...again").

I felt mostly back on track confident I could finish in 8 hrs despite the hills & stairs with minimal knee pain.

Then, as we left on the trip Jessi got sick and didn't improve at all leading up to race day.

As a result, when we started up the first hill Jessi couldn't breath. Think asthma attack level of not breathing. I knew the run would be tough because she was sick, but this was bad.

We barely made it to mile 13, stopping regularly, and Jessi furious that she was struggling so much. We talked to a medic, and after hearing her symptoms told Jessi she was done: get in the ambulance to go to a local hospital for oxygen.

Predictably, Jessi was furious. "I didn't train for 8 months, push my kids around in a stroller, and come to China to stop half way!" The medic was polite, but firm. He told me I could carry on and still finish.

Leave my wife to fend for herself in some random hospital on the other side of the world?

Yeah, right.

We negotiated with him and determined we could keep going, as long as we went slow and stopped trying to reach the gate to the wall in 6 hours. After all, what’s the difference b/n stopping now and being picked up later? At least if we kept going, again much slower, we could enjoy more of the country side.

Then something amazing happened. We actually started having fun! By deciding to walk, Jessi calmed down, got out of her own head, and relaxed. We held hands and treated it like being on a relaxing date... up a spiraling hill that never seemed to end. (Yeah, that's the third peak in the elevation looked much smaller on the map.)

A hill in the middle of the run. We'll get as high as the hill in the background on the right
We were able to let go of the expectations of finishing and simply enjoy being together in China. We talked, we joked, and we bonded. We were of course disappointed, but recognized some things were out of our control (like getting sick). It's a great life lesson we want to share with our kids: when your life revolves around Christ, you can be joyful in tough situations because life is bigger than a race/achievements.

Eventually Jessi felt better, and we were headed down hill, so we started jogging again. We got 5K away from The Wall's gate and an official let us know we had 40 mins to get to the gate. We could make it!

This is when the training paid off. We walk/jogged and entered the gate to The Wall with 5 minutes to spare. So close!

Then the really hard part: those remaining stairs. Jessi powered on like a champ. At this point, I was happy to spend more time on The Wall and even thought it might be nice to have the bus pick us up at the top so we didn't have to go down the hill (my knee was starting to hurt at this point). We completely ignored the clock and just made progress one step at a time.

These stairs are brutal. We passed one guy who was laid out and waiting for the medic team to get him. We passed a lady screaming in pain as she was lifted onto a stretcher. It was surreal.

We got to the top of the hill and checked the clock. If we jogged down most of it, we could actually finish. Thankfully, down hill didn't seem to tax Jessi's breathing, so we went for it.

Here's a video of us near top, and my favorite part of the course. These stairs are the first thing I saw when researching this race, and what compelled me to suggest we do it.

We finished with 10 minutes to spare: 7 hours and 50 minutes.

It was both a physical and mental challenge and 3 observations:

1) I’m thrilled we finished. But not finishing would have also been great because life isn't about the achievement. It's about living each day and moment to the best of your God given ability, no matter what the circumstances. We did that, and celebrate that, not finishing or the medal.

2) I was the last male to finish with a time. On the way down the hill, we passed a couple other guys. I don't know if they also got to finish or got picked up, but it's sobering to think some people didn't get to finish despite going so far. One guy in particular had a great attitude and cheered us on as we passed him (we cheered back). I want to have his same attitude when facing challenges.

3) Slowing down and letting go of the result saved us. Had we kept pushing, we probably would have ended up in the hospital. At the very least, we wouldn't have enjoyed the event as much.

We probably won't run another marathon for various reasons (my knee injury & the training commitment to start), but we're glad we did it. It was a tough challenge that taught us a lesson about pursing a dream and being OK with letting it go.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Great Wall Marathon Adventure

To celebrate 10 years of marriage, Jessi and I, along with my sister and her boyfriend, went to Beijing, China to run a Marathon on The Great Wall.

The race was put on by an organization called Albatross Adventures and included 6 days, with a couple of tours like Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

It truly was a trip of a lifetime. Here were the highlights:

Day 0
We started the trip by dropping off the kids with my parents. It was great getting to spend Mother's Day with the whole family. Thank you so much to my parents and Aunt who watched the kids all week.

Day 1
We arrived and were free to explore the city. We rode the subway around and marveled at how many people there were. We packed those subway cars like sardines.

Unfortunately, Jessi got sick and I decided to head out at 1:30am to find a pharmacy. I couldn’t find the place the hotel recommended, so I walked to another location (btw, the iPhone X & iPhone 8 on whatever carrier AT&T partners with, allowed full access to Facebook & Google. Perhaps an upgraded SIM card?). Anyways, I rang the bell and a grumpy looking man came out. I held up my request using Google Translate. He looked at me, said "Bù" (which I knew meant "no"), turned around and walked away.

Are you kidding me?

I stood in shock for a bit. I was happy I learned a handful of words, like "no", so I could fully appreciate the moment. But really? I opened my maps app and walked to another place.

This time a lady was willing to help me. We used Google Translate to communicate, and it was magical. I'm so impressed with that technology. Using the camera to translate the text on the box was magical as well. The future is now.

Day 2
We inspected the wall. Here are some photos:

Day 3
We visited a market and the Qing Dynasty Tombs. The setting was beautiful.

Day 4
Race day. Here are some pictures. I have much more to say about the actual race later. Lisa and Jason completed the half marathon. It was Jason's first, and Lisa's tenth.

Perhaps the funniest part was the song selections of the band.

Day 5
We visited Tiananmen Square & the Forbidden City, but I was most impressed by two smaller shops. The first was a silk factory. They showed us the process from silk worms eating leaves to stretching the silk into a comforter. It was true craftsmanship. It's inspiring to learn about a business that's doing excellent work.

We also visited a tea shop and learned about different types of tea and how to make a couple of them. Again, it was a perfect example of passion and excellence intersecting.

In both places they also had professional sales people. They were knowledgeable, but not pushy. It was like they understood that they got to live their passion by creating, AND proudly selling, an excellent product.

I was in the middle of reading "Meaningful Work", which contributed to my wonder.

Day 6
I was impressed with China Southern Air. The food was good and the entertainment options were plentiful.

It was a great trip and I'm glad Lisa & Jason could join us. If you run marathons and want to see China, this is definitely worth it.

Update: I promised to say more about the actual race. Here it is: Behind The Glitz of a Dream Marathon Race.

Friday, January 05, 2018

2018 Goals: Focus

Last year I read a fantastic book called "The ONE Thing" by Gary Keller. The principle is that we, as humans, are bad multi-taskers. So, to create truly impactful results, we need to focus. Focus on one thing. It's not that there's anything wrong with being a jack-of-all-trades, but you shouldn't try to do everything all at once. Otherwise you'll spend too much mental energy switching tasks and never get into deeper thought and find creative solutions. This rings true for me. Some of my best solutions came after debating a problem for hours. I don't do that enough today.

So what should you be focusing on? What is worth spending copious amounts of time on? To figure that out, Keller offers a question:

What's the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it
everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

It's pretty powerful and works on so many levels. Here's how that works: What's the ONE Thing _______ I can do such that...

  • ONE Thing this year
  • ONE Thing this month
  • ONE Thing today
  • ONE Thing right now
  • ONE Thing with my family
  • ONE Thing with my job
  • ONE Thing with my finances

So, you can have multiple focus areas (family & job being the two most common), but you're only doing one of them at a time. Once you answer the question, remove distractions and work on it.

After I read the book, I set up a Friday afternoon meeting with myself to ask this question and plan out the following week. I created placeholders each week to work on my one thing (so I don't schedule over it), and during my personal Friday meeting I replace the placeholders with the actual one thing I'm working on. Finally, at bedtime I review my schedule for the next day so I'm ready to go when I wake up.

I'll be honest... I do that 6 out of 8 weeks... It's not a ritual yet...

That's a HUGE preamble to announcing my 2018 goals.

This year, I have two goals. Two goals, that if accomplished will make everything else easier or unnecessary. One is fun, the other is incredibly difficult.

#2 Learn Bass Guitar

This might come as a surprise to some, but I was once a music nerd. I played saxophone (of all sizes) through college. I played in big bands, a small improv group, and in quartets. I spent a year learning cello, and guitar for fun, played in a church bell choir, and volunteered with a middle school band. I also composed/directed a waltz in middle school, then wrote/performed a song in college.

Like sports, there's learned skills, accomplishment, technical challenges, and moments of unrehearsed brilliance. I genuinely love it.

Today, the closest I get to music is pushing the arrow button on a keyboard to advance to the next slide while singing during Sunday morning worship. The feelings are surprising similar (skills, accomplishment, technical challenges), but I long to get more directly involved in creating music again. I also think it'll be an opportunity to better explore a different form of worship.

So I'm going to learn bass guitar this year. Why bass guitar?

  1. I can practice at any time of the day and not wake up a sleeping family or scare the dog.
  2. Bass guitars are welcome in church worship, so I'll have a reason to play.
  3. There's something inherently cool about bass guitar (My brain's limbic system can't articulate it).
  4. Plus, it's the possible start of a family band where Jessi plays piano and the kids play something like the drums and guitar. :)

Defining success is simple: playing with the worship team once this year. That'll mean I learned bass well enough. I feel like learning 10 songs (and the scales/notes/rhythms that go with them) will be enough of a baseline to ask to play on Sunday morning.

I applied some Christmas gift cards to a new bass and it'll be here in a week. I'm going to spend January finding a time to practice, researching lessons, getting advice from other players,  and identifying 10 songs I want to learn. Then I'll learn the songs with an aim of playing on a worship team near the end of the year.

#1 Launch Majordomo Nationwide

Settle in for a genesis story.

I invest in real estate. Through that experience, I learned a couple things and decided to share my knowledge. I started up a website and started writing for it. The idea was simple: write helpful posts to bring people to the site. Create downloadable content in return for people's email. Ask landlords from the email list what their biggest problems are. Create digital products (software, online classes, etc) that fix that problem. Sell the product. I could make a business that helped people while earning some income.

Well, I got to the research stage of this plan and got the shock of my life. I was expecting people to say bookkeeping (which is the first position small businesses hire), or talk about dealing with irresponsible tenants.

Nope. It turns out that landlords invest in real estate for something called "passive income" and there's one thing that's the exact opposite of passive: property maintenance. The #1 reason landlords hire property managers isn't because of tenants or bookkeeping, it's because they don't want to deal with the maintenance.

And guess what, it's not just landlords. Nobody buys a home so they can do home maintenance. They buy because of location, size, location, cost, and location. They get excited about initial projects and future improvements, but people don't like the regular maintenance. Many people simply don't have time because of other priorities like family, jobs, and hobbies (which makes sense). And even if they had the time, they're unsure of what to do and when to do it. This results in items decaying over time, which leads to increased stress, loss of pride of their home, and real value lost in their property.

This is a problem worth solving.

For the past year, I've been working with a friend to solve this problem. We prototyped different solutions... scrapped them... did more brainstorming and testing... and we think we cracked it. We've moved into development and plan to release a beta version of the software this spring. Assuming the beta goes well, we want to open it up nationally by the end of the year. The data we're using to make this work isn't free, which means we'll need to secure funding to go nationwide (the plan is for it to be free for users).

So there's a lot wrapped up in this one goal: manage the development team to launch the beta and initial product on time. Get a meaningful amount of beta testers through content marketing and visiting home shows. Secure funding to launch the product. So much to do! We have tools, tactics and processes laid out to get there, and it'll take focusing on this single goal to get it all done. This is where the Friday meeting will be critical.

Saying No

So normally I have 7-8 goals each year. And this year it's only two. That implies saying no to lots of things. For example, I'm saying no to purchasing another investment property this year (the current market helps make that an easy decision). In fact, I'm moving a lot of the regular monthly tasks I complete off my plate. I'm also not playing any sports, signing up for evening activities, or tackling any large house projects.

Having said that, we still have fun things planned: Jessi and I are going to run a marathon along the Great Wall in Beijing, we're going to plant a garden in our front yard, I have some great books I'd like to read, and our kids keep growing and learning.

But my primary focus this year is launching Majordomo nationwide.