In the summer of 2012 I ran the Genghis Khan Grassland Marathon in Inner Mongolia. It was my first marathon. I had trained really hard, but on race day all I really knew to expect was what I had read in the race prep materials from the marathon website. I had no idea if I would even be able to finish.
Mei started running 4 years ago, and has now finished 11 marathons
We started running around 7am and it was a beautiful, sunny morning. I ran through tall grass, past fluffy white sheep and little ponds that kept springing up along the path. They were the most idyllic grasslands that I had ever imagined – and there were only 150 other runners out there in the wide-open plains with me. There was nowhere else in the world I would have rather been that Sunday morning. It was an incredible experience – during the first half.
After 30km, the course started uphill. At that point every dreadful thought started coming into my mind and I hated it, I just hated the whole thing.
But after it was done, after I crossed that first finish line, I felt an incredible sense of achievement. And that sensation… it’s addictive.
It’s been no easy feat integrating training into a life that was already jam packed with running a company and being a mother of three. It’s taken years to finesse the right balance and there are a few key elements that it wouldn’t be possible without:
Designate your weekly running times
I’ve figured out now that you have to find the right place for running in your daily routine. For me, I have to train early in the morning otherwise it eats into my day. I get up at 5:30am, have a cup of coffee and start running at 6:15am. That way I can finish before 9. Some days I come into work having just run a half marathon and I love it. Even on cold, dark winter mornings, I love the quietness of the Beijing streets and seeing my own breath in the air, under dim city street lights.
Getting up early isn’t for everyone, but the key is to have a designated time slot you know belongs to running.
Get the support of your family
I had so much support from my family to make it through that very first race. My husband trained with me and my kids wrote up a list titled “Advice for Mommy” for me to take with me to the race. It was things like – “don’t drink too much water, there are no bathrooms along the way!”
They were there too for my PB (personal best) race when I first broke 4 hours. They were cheering me on at the finish line and that made a huge difference.
It’s really important that my husband is so supportive – he’s committed to making breakfast for the kids each day and gets them off to school. We work out our family schedule so that I can run. The marathons are normal to them now; it’s just something mommy does. They think I’m crazy though and if I see them as I’m heading out for a pre-sunrise run, they’ll tell me so.
Find your running community
Trainers can be very helpful for learning technique and boosting your skill, but it’s your running community that will really keep you going.
There are ten of us in my running team. We run together three times a week and it makes things less boring, and more competitive – which is fun. We report our running distances to each other every day too. This week I’m winning.
We’ve run all over the world together. We ran the Paris marathon together, and most recently we were in New York City.
Mei realizes she’s missed 20km by a hair, today.
It’s this team that will push you passed your own limits too. I remember running with Mark Swinton, the GM of Aman Indonesia. I had never run faster than 4 hours, but he turned to me at the start of the Beijing marathon a couple years ago and said “You look like you can do it. Come on, let’s do it today.” It takes a much stronger person to pace another person. He’s a better runner, so he paced me for the entire length of the marathon – always just a few steps ahead. Four hours is a big barrier in marathon running and that day I ran a 3:53.
Remember you’ll be happy you did it – that’s guaranteed
There are still mornings when I wake up and would rather stay in bed, but it never stops me anymore. With running, you know you will hit a high afterwards. You know you’ll be happy you did it – that’s guaranteed. It’s never hit and miss.
Join WildChina on the wildest marathons in the world:
North Korea Marathon: April 9-12, 2016