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Why I'm Running the London Marathon In My 50s

Training is tough, but this retired expat is determined to keep life interesting

By Jonathan Look

­It is 7 a.m. and I am in a sweat. My hands are shaking and I can barely hold my drinking glass as I gulp down my third cup of water. My knee hurts, my legs are aching and I can feel the stubborn blister between the toes on my left foot coming back again.

Why do I voluntarily do this to myself? I am almost 55 and my body hasn’t been without some sort of pain or soreness for over six months. Retirement was supposed to be a time to lay back and relax, but I can’t let up. Time is counting down. London is calling. Specifically, the London Marathon.

Seeking Adventure

I am an American, my partner, Sarah, is English, and we are in the midst of our second year of living in the small, landlocked, southeast Asian country of Laos. We moved here because, in addition to loving the scenery, the culture and the people, we like to try unusual things and we appreciate a challenge.

We are both avid travelers who like to stay active and push the boundaries of our comfort zones. I think it is a great, if somewhat unusual, way to live life. But I have to admit I was a little taken aback when Sarah told me, during the middle of the hottest season of the year in Laos, that she wanted to start training for the 2016 London Marathon, scheduled for Sunday April 24.

I have run a marathon before. In 2003, back when I was just a kid in my mid-40s, I completed the Houston Marathon. But I have never been an enthusiastic “runner” and even back then I found the training to be a pretty miserable experience. Still, I kept going and even managed to finish before they reopened the streets and packed away the finish line.

So when Sarah asked if I also wanted to run the London Marathon and use the experience to raise money for one of our favorite charities, ActionAid (she has a knack of finding ways to appeal to my heart; ActionAid helps fight poverty and injustice), the memory of all that miserable training came flooding back. But so did the exhilaration of crossing the finish line. I still have the feeling of accomplishment. It did take me a couple of days, but I did eventually say yes to London.

Ready, Set...

Now, Sarah and I aren’t particularly athletic. Nor are we obsessed with staying in shape or with fitness in general. We try to eat healthy, but often fail. We sign up for strict training programs and (sometimes) take an unscheduled day or two off. We don’t stretch our muscles the way we should and we certainly aren’t looking to break any records, but because we committed and gave our word to ActionAid, we have taken the challenge seriously. We are ready!

Being committed to running 26.2 miles is not something anyone should take casually. It is hard work and requires the completion of a lot of little goals before you can even consider tackling larger ones. (We got health checks, too.)


But like many tough things, the pieces start coming together. Enthusiasm builds and that keeps you moving forward. Even a few weeks back, I was already beginning to feel the excitement I know I will enjoy before the race and upon crossing the finish line. I also know that the city of London has a great reputation for supportive crowds and and there will be thousands of people there to cheer us along the way.

Not Stopping

As if running the marathon isn’t crazy enough, a couple of days after we cross the finish line in London, we are going to fly to Biarritz, France, walk across the Pyrenees Mountains and begin the 30-day, 800-kilometers trek across Spain along the “Camino de Santiago.”

Walking “the Camino” is something that has been on our bucket list for years, and when we saw an opportunity, we took it. I am looking forward to the scenery, the comradery and the food and the wine. I anticipate having an incredible walk and I know that it will give us more ideas about new places to visit. That is the problem with traveling, it is like a drug; traveling doesn’t get anything out of your system, it just makes you want more.

When we do these things, it gives us more common interests and shared experiences. It keeps our minds engaged and looking forward to the next goal.

We don’t do them because we find them easy. We do them because they are a challenge and they make us feel younger and excited about life.

Retirement is too precious to waste reliving old memories when there are so many memories yet to be made.

Follow this link to help us raise money for ActionAid. And I will be posting updates on our progress on my blog (, my Facebook page and Twitter (@LifePartII)  as often as possible. Thank you!

Jonathan Look At age 50, Jonathan Look Jr., sold everything he owned, took early retirement and began exploring the world. He believed the best of life comes from being true to yourself and pushing against the edges of your comfort zone. Unfortunately, Jonathan passed away in March of 2021. He shared his unique philosophy and stories of his adventures on his website, Read More
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