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On the run: EF staff marathoners exploring the world 26.2 miles at a time

Here at EF Education First, people are a lot more than their day jobs. Whether it’s cycling for a cause, pumping iron in our fitness studio, or setting the record for the fastest self-supported Appalachian trail run, EFers care deeply about wellness and life beyond the office. Running is certainly no exception.

With offices that dot some of their cities’ best running paths (Boston’s Charles River Esplanade, London’s Battersea Park and Hong Kong’s Stubbs Road to name a few) it’s not uncommon to see employees head out for a jog during their lunch break or train together for EF events—like the Backyard Run, a 12-hour overnight team race that took place outside Boston—and other sporting events around the world.

So it comes as no surprise, that many EF staff worldwide have trained for and run a marathon, with quite a few having participated in two or more. In honor of the Boston Marathon and the London Marathon (both happening this month), we chatted with a few marathoners from EF offices around the world. Here’s what they had to say about how, and why, they do what they do.

Ming marathon

Ming

Your role at EF: Chief Culture Officer

EF office: Hong Kong

Marathons you’ve run: 67 and counting, including (most recently) Rotterdam, China Coast and Brooklyn

Favorite running route in your city: Bowen Road

Favorite running song/playlist: I prefer podcasts such as “Slow Burn Season 2” and “Ear Hustle.”

Pre/post-run snack: Crunchy peanut butter on wheat toast before, Cool Ranch Doritos after

If you could go on a run anywhere in the world, where would you go?

The town of Antibes in the South of France, along the Mediterranean

When and why did you start running?

I started very casually in the ninth grade, just for fun.

What does your marathon training consist of?

Daily 5-mile runs in the morning before work and then longer 8- or 10-milers on the weekends with friends.

In what ways has marathon running pushed you beyond your comfort zone?

It has definitely demonstrated a certain level of obsessiveness!

What have you learned from your marathon experience and training?

That anyone is capable of running a marathon as it’s just as much mental as it is physical. Also, that running gear matters. Cushioning is key to having any longevity in a pounding endurance sport like marathon running. Invest in a good pair of running socks and buy a pair of running shoes that work for you.

What has been your favorite marathon moment to date?

My most memorable was probably my first marathon, which was the Boston Marathon during college. And the Singapore Marathon, which was supremely hot (it’s on the Equator!).

Hugo marathon

Hugo

Your role at EF: Managing Director of Olympic Affairs

EF office: Seoul

Marathons you’ve run: The Amazing Maasai (Kenya), Sunrise to Sunset (Mongolia), Le Marathon du Médoc (France), Two Oceans (South Africa), Midnight Sun (Norway), Bagan Temple (Burma)

Favorite running route in your city: Running by the Han river in Seoul. You can go for miles with no traffic interruptions.

Favorite running song/playlist: I prefer to have my music on shuffle as it makes my running experience a little more unpredictable. And, yes, I do run to the beat!

Pre/post-run snack: Coffee and a peanut butter sandwich or oat bar before, coconut water and salted nuts after

If you could go on a run anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Running has become my excuse to travel, so next on my list is the Jordan Desert Run and Costa Rica Trail Run.

When and why did you start running?

Back in 2012 I was not happy with my rather sedentary lifestyle. I wanted to travel to Kenya and a former EF colleague mentioned a charity race that she was co-organizing. I committed to the half marathon (as I’d never run before) and trained hard for that. At the end of my half marathon, they told me I could keep going and complete the full marathon if I wished. And that’s what I did!

What does your marathon training consist of?

I’m not the most disciplined marathon runner, but I do keep an eye on my pace and how my body is responding to each run. I try to keep a steady pace throughout my runs (no sprints at the beginning or the end), making sure my heartbeat is at a stable level. I also find that what you eat before and after the races does make a difference!

In what ways has marathon running pushed you beyond your comfort zone?

When I accepted the challenge to run a half marathon, I thought I could make it, but I’d be dead afterwards. I then realized that I could go the extra mile (or in my case, the extra 13 miles). Nothing compares to the sense of achievement you feel when you go beyond what you think your limits are.

What have you learned from your marathon experiences and training?

Before I took up running, I thought it was the most monotonous thing in the world. That all changed when I realized I could meet new people, go new places, and learn about myself and my limits, all while doing something that’s good for my physical and mental health.

What has been your favorite marathon moment to date?

I had two very special moments during the same race in Kenya. The first was approaching the half marathon finish line alongside a local runner named Maria, one of the students whose education was being sponsored by the funds we raised for the race. One of her shoes split, but she picked it up and kept on running barefoot to cross the finish line with me. That was a very touching moment. The second one was crossing the finish line for the full marathon, when I thought I’d only be able to finish the half.

David B marathon

David

Your role at EF: Director of Academic Management with EF International Language Campuses

EF office: Zurich

Marathons you’ve run: London, Windermere, Blackpool, Zurich, Lucerne, Jungfrau

Favorite running route in your city: Ridge of Uetliberg at sunset

Favorite running song/playlist: I never play music (I fell over and cracked a rib the first time I tried!), but “Eye of the Tiger” is a great starting song.

Pre/post-run snack: Marmite and egg on brown toast with lots of pepper before, veggie Oxo after

If you could go on a run anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I love mountains and jungles so the Hilary Trail in New Zealand is a favorite. For a marathon, the Kilithon Kilimanjaro is on my bucket list (if it happens again).

When and why did you start running?

My grandfather gave up golf and started running at 70. I was his caddy so I kind of had to start!

What does your marathon training consist of?

Weekend runs building distance–I run at least 30 kilometers every Sunday with one or two short runs during the week.

In what ways has marathon running pushed you beyond your comfort zone?

I’m constantly out of my comfort zone in other aspects of life. For me, running actually represents a return to the familiar and control over time and place.

What have you learned from your marathon experiences and training?

I’m no superhuman, but anything is possible with planning and determination. The buzz of finishing a training and the overall rise in vitality from regular running really pays off and is worth the time you put into it.

What has been your favorite marathon moment to date?

The Jungfrau Marathon is incredible. It’s a half marathon on the flat, then half at a 50 percent grade through incredible Swiss scenery with the liveliest crowd shaking cowbells and waving from little trains. On the final climb alongside a glacier there are alpenhorns and flag throwers up to the summit of the pass. It’s an alpine dream!

Mark marathon

Mark

Your role at EF: Vice President of Business Operations for EF North America

EF office: Boston

Marathons you’ve run: Vermont City, Black Bear, Chicago (twice), Exmoor Trail

Favorite running route in your city: I love to run from one end of Swampscott, a Boston suburb, to the other and up and down the hills with the ocean views at the top of each hill. The hills are hard, but the views are the payoff.

Favorite running song/playlist: I tend to run to ’80s and ’90s rock. Something with a nice strong beat.

Pre/post-run snack: A banana before, anything salty after

If you could go on a run anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Antelope Canyon in Arizona

When and why did you start running?

In October of 2009 I was not exercising at all and my diet was not great. One day I got a wake-up call that told me I needed to make a change. Then, in January of 2011, Danni Ward, Director of Employee Experience at EF Boston, asked me if I wanted to do Reach the Beach. I said yes without knowing what it was. Danni’s response: “It’s a 200-mile running relay race. Do you run?” To which I responded, “I do now.” That one question changed my life.

What does your marathon training consist of?

I tend to just lengthen my normal runs from 4 miles to 6 and 8, then I gradually make my weekend runs longer and longer (making a 15-mile run not so daunting). I try to make sure I get at least one 20-mile run in before a marathon. I like to run with friends and, luckily at EF, there are always people willing to join regardless of the distance or pace.

In what ways has marathon running pushed you beyond your comfort zone?

There are times when I’m just having a bad run. I’m not feeling it, I’m struggling, I feel tired. Having to push through it and just get the miles in is hard at the time, but afterwards I always feel great knowing I beat the run. Running has taught me a level of mental strength that is tested time and time again and each time I stick with it, I know I’ve come out stronger.

What have you learned from your marathon experiences and training?

Consistency is key. You have to make sure to set aside time to get your runs in.

Anything is possible. If you set your mind to something and you stay focused there is nothing you can’t do.

Anyone can run a marathon! Seriously though, if you consider where I was five years ago and where I am now, the difference is night and day. Set a goal and work towards it, and know you have a great EF network to rely on to get you there.

What has been your favorite marathon moment to date?

I think it was the spectacular views from my first trail marathon in Exmoor National Park. Regardless of how challenging the course was, just looking out over the rocky cliffs across the ocean, running down the trail through the woods, winding back and forth down the side of the mountain (even though I knew I would have to go back up the other side) made every step one to remember.

Victoria marathon

Victoria

Your role at EF: Executive Assistant to the Co-Chairman of EF Education First

EF office: London

Marathons you’ve run: Paris and Belfast

Favorite running route in your city: Walthamstow Marshes along the canals to Victoria Park

Favorite running song/playlist: I prefer listening to audiobooks while running. Currently, I am listening to “Milkman” by Anna Burns.

Pre/post-run snack: Yogurt and granola before, anything unhealthy after

If you could go on a run anywhere in the world, where would you go?

The Great Wall of China

When and why did you start running?

I started running about five years ago. I was never a gym person who could just go and workout. I’m very goal-orientated, so running worked for me as you can continually set new goals.

What does your marathon training consist of?

I do three short runs mid-week (about 5, 6, and 7 miles long) then a longer run on Sunday.

In what ways has marathon running pushed you beyond your comfort zone?

It’s allowed me to realize that I CAN do it. When I first started running, the idea that I would be able to run 26.2 miles seemed like a complete joke. It’s pushed me past the pain barrier—the black toenails and blisters—and the monotony of doing the same thing many times a week to achieve your goal.

What have you learned from your marathon experiences and training?

Invest in great running shoes, which might not necessarily be the cool, sleek trainers you want to wear. Your feet will thank you!

What has been your favorite marathon moment to date?

On mile 22 during the Paris Marathon I saw a lady with a sign that said “Pain is just another word for bread” and a tray with little shots of champagne. I loved it – she spurred me on for my final four miles!

David G marathon

David

Your role at EF: Senior Director of Employee Experience

EF office: Toronto

Marathons you’ve run: Toronto

Favorite running route in your city: The Waterfront Trail along Lake Ontario

Favorite running song/playlist: Black-Eyed Peas

Pre/post-run snack: Banana with crunchy peanut butter

If you could go on a run anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Anywhere along the California coast.

When and why did you start running?

I was a competitive swimmer throughout school but when I graduated I fell off the wagon in terms of fitness. My parents have always been big runners and were constantly encouraging me to get with the program. Then, when I joined EF, everyone was doing these crazy races like Reach the Beach and running marathons all over the world. So, I caved to the peer pressure and haven’t looked back since!

What does your marathon training consist of?

I do two shorter runs during the week and one long run on the weekend, building in mileage over the course of 12 weeks. It looks very simple on the calendar, but when those long runs start getting up there, it involves a lot of mental training. I didn’t realize how much of long-distance running is about training your mind.

In what ways has marathon running pushed you beyond your comfort zone?

There’s nothing comfortable about running 26.2 miles. From hitting my “wall” and crying in the middle of a sunny, brunch-goer-filled street during a 23-mile run to figuring out the right formula for fueling my runs (nothing is worse than a hangry runner), I’d say marathon training has pushed me outside of my comfort zone in almost every way possible.

What have you learned from your marathon experience and training?

As corny as it sounds, I’ve realized that if you make a plan and stick to it, you can achieve what you set out to do. Even more importantly, I’ve learned the importance of ensuring that you have the right support systems in place. I couldn’t do this without the support of my parents who are constantly providing advice and books on running, or my husband who listens to me complain and encourages me to keep going when it gets really tough.

What has been your favorite marathon moment to date?

Toward the end of the Toronto Marathon I was feeling pretty good and then I saw my parents and husband cheering me on about 100 meters from the finish. I didn’t think I would get emotional crossing the finish line, but something magical happens when those countless hours of training and all those sweat and tears add up in the moment. It was pretty special.

Allie marathon

Allie

Your role at EF: Program Advisor with EF High School Exchange Year

EF office: Denver

Marathons you’ve run: Providence, Boston, New York City

Favorite running route in your city: Cherry Creek Trail

Favorite running song/playlist: “Stir Fry” by Migos

Pre/post-run snack: Honey Stinger Goos during, Italian hoagie after

If you could go on a run anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I would love to do all the world majors eventually, but my ideal running route would be anywhere along the ocean.

When and why did you start running?

It was hard going to Boston University and not playing field hockey (I was planning to walk on) so I started running the Charles River and Commonwealth Avenue for exercise. While I missed team sports, running was a fun break in the day from studying and going to class that I could do anywhere, at any time.

What does your marathon training consist of?

I don’t like to lose my weekends to runs and it can be hard to do when traveling, so it’s a lot of early morning, pre-work sessions. I like to have the rest of the day ahead of me because sometimes those long runs can weigh on you mentally.

In what ways has marathon running pushed you beyond your comfort zone?

Fundraising for the Boston Marathon really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I had to make a plan and roll with the punches when things didn’t work out or when people didn’t feel like coming out to an event after a couple inches of snow. I was surprised by people’s generosity over the four months and ended up raising close to $14,000! Now, I get to be a fundraising mentor for the organization I ran with (Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired) so I can help others reach their training and fundraising goals.

What have you learned from your marathon experiences and training?

Running is a privilege and despite the difficulties we all experience when training–minor injuries, painful runs, getting up early–it’s something I will never take for granted. I feel very lucky. I’ve also learned that the running community is the kindest network of people. It makes any city seem more like home.

What has been your favorite marathon moment to date?

Right on Hereford, left on Boylston. After four hours of running, seeing my parents at the Boston Marathon finish line yelling my name, hand in hand with my twin sister and her boyfriend. It was the culmination of months of snowy, cold runs and stressful nights thinking about how I was going to raise all the money. That and seeing all the amazing people running Boston – former military, people with disabilities, people running in honor of a loved one, or even running pregnant! I’ve never felt more motivated and inspired.

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