10 things I did in 2017

1. I ran six marathons on six continents: São Paulo, Copenhagen, Gold Coast, Mexico City, Casablanca, Bangkok; with an average finish time of 3:48:34 (New PR 3:33:57).

2. I made a photography portfolio on my experience of ten years in the US, then made a pop-up show to share it with my friends. I also finally made my photography website live.

3. I became a Google.Org ambassador, worked all year round to engage YouTube employees with non-profits and led the global volunteering month and giving week campaigns at YouTube.

4. I continued to learn Italian and finished all intermediate level classes, while kept improving my French and learned a little bit Arabic.

5. I worked on interesting and impactful projects at YouTube. Once during a presentation, I argued with an SVP in front of three VPs to defend my work.

6. I went to four new countries (Brazil, Australia, Morocco, Thailand) and finally set my foot on all six continents.

7. I hosted 29 couchsurfers at home and have made lots of new friends through traveling.

8. I fell in love with pasta and have been really enjoying cooking for myself and for my friends.

9. I have been practicing letting go of possessions, and tried to live a simpler life.

10. I turned 32, and after ten years in the US, I feel reborn.

M8: Bangkok Marathon

Date: November 19, 2017, 2:00am
Time: 3:53:50 (Pace: 8’54)
Shoes: Nike Flyknit Streak 6, Boston Yellow
Overall Review: 4/5

Registration 4/5
Online registration at the official website. Price in 2017 for non-citizen is $70.

Expo 5/5

The expo was held at the second floor of Makkasan station. Although it is a little bit outside the city center, it is actually extremely convenient for travelers coming from the airport, since Makkasan Station is on the Airport light rail and a major transfer station.
There are plenty of exhibitors at the expo, which is nicely organized in an air-conditioned space, even with some game space for kids. One thing that makes the expo special is the “bib check”, a little device to make sure that the chip attached to your bib works as design. I know it’s probably unnecessary but it’s very reassuring.

Runner’s packet include a runner’s t-shirt (a tank actually, due to the extreme hot weather), a cooling spray, traveler size shampoo and toothpaste, and some pain relief tapes, all in a blue recycle bag.

Race Day Organization 4/5

The entire event is very well organized from the beginning to the end. At the starting line, there are bag drop area and ample toilets, the directions are clear and the warm up hosts are professional. It’s especially appreciated because the race starts at 2am and everyone needs a little bit cheering.

Along the course, there were more than enough water stations, and there is an energy station at the full marathon turn around point to give out energy products. I took two little packets and consumed them shortly after.

My only complain is the mileage signs. They are wrong by a lot (as much as 5K) between 25K and 40K. It’s not a big deal since I am running with a sports watch but it’s a little bit distracting. Because Half and 10K races are held on the same route with just different turn-arond point, I also used the turn-around points of the other two races to confirm official mileage.

Course : Difficulty 2/5 (hard)

The heat is unbearable, making it the most challenging course I have run. The race starts at 2am to avoid heat but it was still 28C at the start line, which means everyone was sweating a little bit just by standing still waiting. I am drenched in sweat at mile 3, and finished the race with my shoes completely soaked in sweat. That said, I didn’t feel dehydrated or heat-struck thanks to the night run and breeze. The temperature might drop a degree or two after 4pm, the latter half of the race, until just before sunset. On the plus side, the course is mostly flat except for going up and down the highway bridges a couple of times.

Course : View 1/5
Let’s just say you don’t see much running at night. The majority of the course is off city center, and on a highway bridge so you really don’t see anything at all, except fellow runners and volunteers. The only segment worth mentioning is to run over the Rama VIII bridge, it is a gorgeous architecture even though we can only see from on the bridge at night.

Spectators 1/5
Both the midnight start time and the remote location of the course mean there were almost no spectators.

Medal and Swags 4/5

The medal looks fine, silver and thick, maybe a little bit too busy and doesn’t look very premium.

The after race swag bag includes yet another t-shirt, which is only for marathon finishers. It is basically a short-sleeve version of the tank top running shirt. There are also some muscle milk and snacks in the swag bag. This bag is strict one per runner, but there are also people giving out all sorts of drinks and food at the finishline and they are very flexible so I took home a whole bunch of Gatorade and snacks.

M7: Casablanca Marathon

Date: October 29, 2017, 7:30am
Time: 3:33:57 (Pace: 8’09)
Shoes: Nike Flyknit Streak 6, Boston Yellow
Overall Review: 2/5

Registration 4/5
Online registration through the official website WeCasablanca, and it’s pretty cheap ($35). The only thing that bothered me was that the registration and the payment are two separate steps. Also, I didn’t get any follow up after the initial payment confirmation.

Expo 2/5
The Expo is non-existant. It was literally a big tent with bib packet pick-up and last-minute registration booths. It was quite chaotic, with tons of people trying to sign up the day before the race. And even though I pre-registered online, my entry eventually showed up as “late entry” without my name in the official results. It is, however, conveniently located at the start line of the race next day.

The runner’s t-shirt was given out with the bib. The fabric doesn’t feel good for running, I won’t wear it for running, and it’s too tight for me as well. No size choice was given at the time I picked it up. There weren’t any other swags.

Race Day Organization 1/5

It was a mess.

1. There was no bag drop! I am lucky that I booked my airbnb really close to the start line and have been warned by a local that there might be no bag drop at the race. So after I went out and confirmed it on the race day, I went back to my airbnb and left eveything at home. At the finishline I saw an Ukrainian guy ran the whole race with his backpack, what a poor guy!
2. To my disfortune, I often drink too much before the race and need to use a toilette, but apparently that’s not in the consideration of the organizer. I found a restaurant that opens early around mile 8 and had myself relieved.
3. While streets were initially blocked, it only lasted a couple hours or so, “slower” runners (like me!) will run with live traffic in the 2nd half of the race and even run in the wrong direction on a one-way street. To counter that, in the last few miles as I was running against live traffic on a one-way street, a volunteer on a motocycle led my way and cleared the road for me. I totally felt like an elite runner, and it was really cool. To catch up with the motocycle and not slow down in front of the people on the street was a key reason I kept my pace in the toughest miles of the race.
4. While the course is supposed to close at 5 hours, the organizer have removed finish line equipments well before the deadline.
5. On the plus side, the volunteers are nice. When water stations became scarce in the later part of the race, they were giving out water bottles to runner.

Course : Difficulty 2/5

The course is relatively flat, except for a few tunnels in the mid/late part. But the real difficulty of this course is that:
1. The course direction isn’t very clear. Runners are supposed to follow arrows, but a couple of times in the race one will ran pass the same intersection twice and depending on how far into the race runners will follow different arrows / take different turns. The volunteers are quite good in keeping runners on the right track.
2. As I pointed out above, street block is lifted early enough to affect many runners in the second half of the race. It was absolutely disruptive and dangerous.

Course : View 3/5
There are a few segments that I enjoyed: running towards the majestic Hassin II mosque was very rewarding (although you ran into the tunnel in front of it before reaching the mosque); ran along the beautiful beach (twice!) at the east side of the city; runners also get to pass the United Nation square, although the course does not allow you to go through its full length. Otherwise, the course is a combination of residential areas and business districts.

Spectators 1/5

No, they didn’t exist. Well, I mean, there were occasionally people cheering for runners, but I highly doubt they were there on purpose, more than just hanging out in the street as they always do. But they are nice. Approaching the end of the race, going through Blvd. de la Corniche, pedestrians enjoying their stroll and brunch were more often than not confused why there are random people running against the traffic.

Medal and Swags 0/5

Let me just put a big zero here. Absolute disappointment. I finished the race in a respectful 3:34 and I DIDN’T get a medal. Well I got a 10K medal because the organizer didn’t have marathon medals (anymore). Many runners, especially international runners, lingered with indignation at the finishing line trying to argue with the organizers but to little avail. I don’t know if the race ran out of medals (but there were only 120 marathon finishers!), or they didn’t even make any. In any case, it was really disappointing given this is the already the 10th year of this race.

Every finisher gets a bag of two bottles of water and some snacks. The distribution is rather strict to one bag per finisher.

M6: Mexico City Marathon

Date: August 27, 2017, 7:00am
Time: 4:04:38 (Pace: 9’12)
Shoes: Nike Flyknit Streak 6, Boston Yellow
Overall Review: 3/5

Registration 4/5
Online registration through active.com, but the official website is hard to find through Google search. $80 registration fee isn’t too bad but a steep hike from 650 MEX ($36) for domestic runners.

Expo 3/5
The expo was held at sports city (Ciudad Deportiva, not far from the airport, but I don’t see an easy way to get there by public transportation). The expo is easy to attend by metro and is of very decent size. Getting race packet is easy, and the volunteer who helped me was very nice.

The runner’s t-shirt was distributed at the expo. It’s sponsored by Adidas, but the fabric feels coarse and unbreathable. I won’t wear it for running. Race packet also includes a pain relief gel, a small bag of energy beans (which I ate during the race), a local magazine, an event guild.

Race Day Organization 2/5
Oh my, where should I start?
1. There is no information in English. Absolutely zero. Nothing on the website, nothing at the expo, nothing on the race guide. It took me half an hour on race day to figure out where is the bag drop area (it’s on the east side preparation area on Pino Suárez).
2. There are way too many people running the race, so many that even when I crossed finish line, I was still rubbing shoulders with other runners. It also turned out that over 5000 runners of the 35K runners were disqualified after the race due to course cutting and other cheating behaviors. Well, that explains a lot.
3. The race is a point-to-point race and to get back to the city center, there is some commuter bus service but there is no sign or information about the commuter bus. I waited in a LONG ling for over half an hour, only to realize that the commuter bus simply takes runners to the nearest metro station, which is just 20 mins walking distance away. So I quitted the line and walked to metro.

Course : Difficulty 2/5
I was fully unaware of the elevation of Mexico City until a month before the race. Holy cow, Mexico City is 2250m above sea level. Since I train at sea level all year round, I had no idea how it would feel to run on such high altitude. Moreover. when I checked out the course elevation map, I also notice that there is about 100m net elevation gain especially a gradual but constant uphill in the last 10K. My race plan was to run at a 30 seconds slower pace than my target pace had it been at sea level and it worked pretty well, there wasn’t too much suffering from the high elevation other than the usual fatigue.

Course : View 4/5
This is a well designed course. The majority of the course is on two main streets of Mexico City, Paseo de la Reforma and Av. Insurgentes Sur, with numerous monuments on both main streets, and it takes the runners to run through the iconic Bosque de Chapultepec, pass by Museo Nacional de Antropologí and through the very trendy neighborhood la condesa. It’s not jaw-droppingly beautiful but it shows the sincerity of the race organizer.

Spectators 3/5
I always have some problem with super enthusiastic spectators, especially when I am struggling and all they do is to chanting loudly and making unpleasant noise. It’s kind of like that with the Mexicans, although this time around I do enjoy how enthusiastic they are all the way, especially the last 10K. The only problem is that, they are so enthusiastic that many of them are standing by the two sides of the course and handing out home-made fruits or water bags, making the already crowded course even more so. Imagine you choose to run through the sides to pass fellow runners but then you have to fight over thousands of hands sticking right in front your face.

Medal and Swags 3/5
While I like the irregular shape of the finisher medal, and its iron color engraved with running tracks, I am quite disappointed when I realized that the letter C of this year’s medal is the 5th part of a six year series during which runners will be able to collect the entire word MEXICO. It makes me feel incomplete, that’s all.

There are water bottles and gatorades at the finish line, but not much food supplies and other benefits. I guess it’s hard to feed 35K runners all at once.

10 things I did in 2016

1. I passed DELF (Diploma of Study in the French Language) exam at B1 level.

2. I have been learning Italian for a year, it is really fun.

3. I went to 7 new countries this year (Malta, Mexico, Iceland, Ireland, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania).

4. I had three wonderful trips in Europe, highlighted by solo camping by a waterfall in Iceland, an unforgettable night drinking with strangers in Bulgaria, and connecting two friends in Hamburg and bar hopping with them.

5. I have been running all year, finished my first marathon in Stockholm (PR 3:39) and did it again in San Francisco, and ran a sub 7’00 half marathon (PR 1:31).

6. I hosted 21 couchsurfers this year, despite a long break; and made some great friends while staying in hostels in Europe.

7. I transferred to YouTube and it has been awesome in almost every single way.

8. I further stepped up in Googlers Give initiatives, led a much larger campaign at YouTube and sponsored two organizations during Giving Week.

9. I finally moved to San Francisco and life is fantastic here.

10. I turned 31, and I feel empowered.

10 things I did in 2015

1. I finished my goal of visiting all 50 states, also made it to Puerto Rico and had an amazing camping trip in Alaska.

2. I delivered a wedding speech in French, in France, in front of 100+ French guests.

3. I built a photography portfolio through the continuing study class at Stanford.

4. I had two wonderful trips in Europe, hosted by the family and friends of some of my best friends and made many new friends.

5. I ran San Francisco half marathon again and improved my best time to 1:41.

6. I hosted 54 couchsurfers at home and many of them became good friends of mine.

7. I had a promotion at work. I worked hard to get it so this is a toast to the hard work.

8. I am heavily involved in both GoogleServe and GiveWeek this year.

9. I had a couple of spontaneous trips including one to Athens, GA to surprise a friend at his party. And it’s totally worth it.

10. I turned 30, and I feel great. Both physically and mentally. I’ve never been so happy in my life.