The Mental Toughness Needed to Run 7 Marathons in 7 Days on 7 Continents with Greg Nance

Greg Nance speaks to Ryan Morfin about his remarkable life journey from addiction to ultra-marathon running to entrepreneurship.
Greg Nance speaks to Ryan Morfin about his remarkable life journey from addiction to Ultra-Marathon running to entrepreneurship. Nance started an online scholarship and mentorship program in Shanghai, China called Dyad.com at the age of 23. Since then he has embarked on an incredible journey where he has completed seven marathons in seven days on seven continents.

Being a part of China’s economy also enabled Nance to develop and share views from a perspective that is similar to that of a Chinese citizen. He speaks about watching state news on his daily commute on public transportation and comments on the nation’s shocking level of interest in American politics.

Greg Nance offers both insight and inspiration in this episode of Non-Beta Alpha by sharing his story of preparation, tribulation, recovery and perseverance.

View Transcript

Ryan Morfin:                    (Silence). Welcome to Non-Beta Alpha. I’m Ryan Morfin. On this episode, we have Greg Nance, ultra marathon runner and entrepreneur coming on today to talk to us about the mental toughness one needs to do seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. He’s going to share from his experience, living in China about why he believes China actually wants Trump to win the 2020 election. And he’s going to talk to us about his next major milestone challenge running from New York city to Seattle. This is Non-Beta Alpha.

Speaker 2:                        I guess I didn’t know. I guess I didn’t know.

Ryan Morfin:                    Greg, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.

Greg Nance:                     Ryan. My pleasure.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, you are a very, very, very accomplished ultra marathon runner and entrepreneur. We had the privilege last year to be part of your story. You did the world marathon challenge and not a lot of people know what the heck that is because not a lot of people in the human race have actually finished it, but maybe you can talk a little bit about what that challenge was and a little bit about the process that you went through to prepare and go through it. And then we could talk about business right after.

Greg Nance:                     Absolutely. So this was a lifelong dream of mine to run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. And thanks to the support from Wentworth, I was able to make it happen. 183 miles over seven days, 23,000 plus air miles getting to each race location, starting in Antarctica up to Cape town over to Perth, up to Dubai, over to Madrid, down to Santiago, and then up to Miami for the seventh marathon with Wentworth’s team at the finish line, absolutely epic adventure. And yeah, it was the thrill of a lifetime, lots of training and preparation to get to the start line and then kind of a gut check or 183 miles to make it happen.

Ryan Morfin:                    So let’s just reiterate that. You did seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. So how do you train for that? Like mentally and then physically?

Greg Nance:                     Yeah. So it’s primarily a mental challenge. Above all else you’ve got to keep your mind right, and so you’ve got to build up the mileage. So you’ve got to get your legs prepared and get your body ready. So tons of mobility work, stretching in the morning and evening, long runs each day, a little bit of weightlifting to keep your fitness going, but overwhelmingly it’s actually it’s mental. And so one of the big challenges, you go from Antarctica, which is sub-Zero, it’s freezing, massive wind chill, ice below your feet, and then 10 hours later, you got to run another marathon in Cape town in the dead of summer, under the African sun where it’s 100 degrees.

                                           So that’s really difficult. I’ve run a lot of ultra marathons, I’ve never done one with 100 plus degree temperature change back-to-back like that. So part of it is I’m going to literally take off my shirt and go running in the winter in Shanghai where I was based while training, and then I’m going to get in the sauna and I’m going to do 1000 sit ups and then 1000 pushup, all to get the mind ready for that, while acclimatizing with your body as well.

Ryan Morfin:                    So you started off your journey in the Antarctica. And so you left, I guess… where was your departure point? And then tell me about going to Antarctica. Many humans are never going to go there. What was it like to just be on the ground there?

Greg Nance:                     Oh man. So it’s a dream come true. I first learned about the story of Ernest Shackleton, this great British Explorer, who was trying to become the first guy to get to the South pole. And so after hearing the story when I was like five, six years old, I looked on the globe, saw it, started watching all the documentaries about penguins and the age of exploration and have always wanted to go there. So looking out the jet window, seeing this great white expanse in all directions, it was just, it was surreal. It was a dream come true feeling, just the dry cold air go down my windpipe here [inaudible 00:04:21].

                                           I’ve got to run a marathon on this and then slipping and sliding around it’s like, wow, this is going to be tough. And then you hear the wind, you hear the wind before you even feel it. And then it rushes over and there’s not a sound around except that howling wind and the crunch of ice under your feet. There’s no animals, there’s no birds chirping, there’s no people. And so it’s very, very rugged and it’s unlike anything I’d experienced even after a lifetime in the mountains, up here in the Northern hemisphere, it’s very, very different, very serene.

Ryan Morfin:                    And how many people went on this journey with you to Antarctica?

Greg Nance:                     We had an incredible team. So we had 40 runners all attempting this, and then we had about 12 support folks ranging from doctors to folks running like logistics, operations, a pilot. So we had an incredible team backing us. And then I was a text message away from you, Ryan, from you, Ramon and the Wentworth team. And so I’m the one out there putting the miles and running it, but you really feel like there’s a tribe, there’s a village supporting you as you go.

Ryan Morfin:                    Yeah, no doubt, we were paying attention and we were still in all when you were doing it. I mean, so you guys all traveled together, what kind of… was it on a private jet? Was it on a commercial airliner that you rented? How did you guys get there?

Greg Nance:                     Yes, it was the yeah, a private jet that we kind of went in on to rent and that made it much, much easier. Because that way you basically land, you go run and then you can immediately get back on board and then take off again, as opposed to waiting extra hours for the next commercial flight out. So without that, I think it’s near impossible to pull this off, but with it, hey, you’ve got a shot.

Ryan Morfin:                    And so after the race, does everyone go to a hotel to shower and then get back on the plane? Or what’s the… do you shower on the plane? What is the situation there?

Greg Nance:                     We have no time to shower, so you are literally getting back on the plane and once all 40 runners are accounted for you’re taken off. And so yeah, I got a shower in Dubai, the halfway point and that was a glorious shower. And then after finishing Miami, I really needed another shower, so.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, so do you sweat after a marathon in Antarctica? I mean it’s cold there. Do you do develop a sweat?

Greg Nance:                     So part of actually the strategy is to avoid sweating because it will freeze to your skin and you can actually get frost… that’s like the best way to get frostbite in Antarctica. So the key is you actually want to create ventilation in your underarms and you want to have pants covering all of your legs, but not too thick because what will happen is you’ll then sweat through and ice crystals form ,that ice touches your skin and then you’re running for two, three, four hours with that, you’ll end up taking off and you’ll have a bunch of frozen skin. So part of the strategy is to avoid that, and that’s one of the preparations was figuring out the right gear, testing it out and then thank goodness it was ready to roll once we were actually out there.

Ryan Morfin:                    And if I remember right, you, you went to Africa first, Kenya, and then down to South Africa to then go to Antarctica. Is that correct?

Greg Nance:                     Yeah. I flew into Tanzania or excuse me I flew to Ethiopia for a three, like a two day layover where I got some last minute altitude training. And it’s kind of like the cradle of long distance running. So just like soaked up some of that then into South Africa for two more days of just acclimatizing, relaxing, then flying to Antarctica for the first race before back to Cape town for the second and then onward to Perth for number three.

Ryan Morfin:                    And so Perth, what was the atmosphere in Australia?

Greg Nance:                     It was amazing. So we were behind schedule. We had a weather delay in Antarctica, so we actually got in at like 1:00 in the morning on a work night in Perth, there were still hundreds of Australians out barbecuing. They’re grilling, they’re drinking beer, loud music, it’s like a party. At now, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 in the morning on a work night, these guys are out having a big party. So that was probably the single most fun race because these Aussies know how have a good time and they want to make sure that you’re having fun, even when you’re in pain, running a third consecutive marathon.

Ryan Morfin:                    That’s insane, but yeah, the Aussies do have a good spirit of celebration. So you leave Perth and then you head over to Dubai and now, I mean, that’s a completely 180, it’s a sandbox, it’s a desert, it’s super hot. Where’d you guys run? Was it at night, during the day? How did that happen?

Greg Nance:                     Thank goodness it was during the night, and actually it was a very rare drizzle in Dubai. I’ve done three or four trips to Dubai over the years for some I’ve seen it rain, it was luckily I was running. So it cooled it down. Unfortunately, by this point I had a stomach bug, like a stomach flu and it was really, really taking a toll. So I run these three marathons had had… wasn’t able to like fluids down the way that I need to to stay hydrated, couldn’t get food down the way I wanted to to stay fueled. And so I was really, really just getting into the bible, it was like praying it wasn’t too hot, praying I could get into a groove. And that was a very long 26 miles, but one that was made much better by that light drizzle.

Ryan Morfin:                    So you guys landed, took off and then you went over to, was it Spain?

Greg Nance:                     That’s right. Madrid, Spain, which was a… it’s this beautiful historic city, though in Europe it’s very hard to get a permit to actually run in public places. And so instead of actually having like a beautiful tour of like Madrid, which I would have loved, we got stuck on an F1 racing track. And for those that have watched racing, a lot of the corners and there’s a lot of corners in F1, they are banked. It’s like a 15, 20 degree slope and you’re running on that, which doesn’t sound so bad except your quadriceps, by the time you’re running a fifth consecutive marathon are just on fire, it’s like, my ankles are burning with trying to grip the slope, my quads are burning, my hips are burning and this was my first cry baby moment. I had like a total breakdown halfway through, I desperately needed some fluid. I was so dehydrated. It’s 30 degrees. It’s like below freezing, it’s winter in Spain, I’m totally cold, I need something. And I get to the checkpoint, there’s no coffee and there’s no Coca-Cola.

                                           And I basically just trudged out of there, little tears coming down, I felt so sorry for myself and was just so desperate to be done in that moment. But we talked about the mental and the mindset training, that’s exactly when you got to snap out of it because feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t get that fifth marathon done. The only way you get that fifth marathon done is taking the next step, the next step, the next step. And I had a lot of next steps that night, and coming across that finish line was a sweet one. And you had texted me, Ryan, as I got past the finish line and you said, “Hey, you can do it, keep going.” And I remember seeing that and just feeling on top of the world like that can’t, it can’t get harder than that. Whatever’s next, it can’t be harder than that, we got this. It was the first time it felt like I’m actually going to make it here.

Ryan Morfin:                    And so let’s just talk about times here. So what’s the Antarctica time that everybody was running? What was a reasonable time to finish a marathon? Obviously I’m not a marathon runner.

Greg Nance:                     Yeah, I know. So what I heard from friends who’ve done like extreme, I’m going to run a marathon at like the North pole or an Antarctica is, “Hey, like don’t sweat the time so much, like go by feel.” Because if you go too hard trying to hit a certain pace, you can burn out really fast, especially if you’ve got multiple. So I went in not paying too much attention to my splits or the time, but really just listening to how’s my heart doing, how are the lungs, how are the legs? And so I came across the finish line just after four hours.

                                           So I think I run like a 406 or 407 and which I felt good about that was good for seventh place with a pretty amazing field of runners out there. So I felt really good about that. It turns out that we actually didn’t run a marathon, the first marathon was actually about 27 miles. So you’re adding nearly a full extra mile on top of that, which all of us were joking with the race director like, “Wow, like you [inaudible 00:12:28] even harder for us. We’re [inaudible 00:12:29] a little ultra marathon here instead of the traditional 26.2.”

Ryan Morfin:                    And so at this point, you’re halfway through, when’s the first time somebody started to quit and what were the reasons that anyone would get injured, break a leg? I mean, any bad stories?

Greg Nance:                     Antarctica was tough. So that there was a couple on their honeymoon, this really, really sweet Thai couple, both very, very strong athletes. They just got married. And the young lady is having a very tough time with the cold, she basically is hypothermic. And so it was a little scary. I’ve seen her trying to help a lot, not much I can do not much anyone can do, so that was a scary one. Luckily she revived, she was okay. And then one of the older ladies, there was a lady who took a bad fall and ended up, her hip was black. She had a horrific bruise all up her hip, like under her rib cage from this fall on the ice. And so she ended up dropping from the marathon, attempting to run seven marathons, doing seven, like half marathons, which to her, I mean, it’s credit, was able to power through that injury and actually get that done despite having what could have been a broken hip or something really, really rough there.

Ryan Morfin:                    What’s a broken hip if it’s only a half marathon for you? Oh my gosh.

Greg Nance:                     [crosstalk 00:13:57].

Speaker 4:                        It’s 14:30.

Ryan Morfin:                    What are you eating at this point? Are you guys just doing liquids, doing IV bags? I mean, are there any performance enhancing therapies that you’re doing? Medical equipment you’re using to heal yourself?

Greg Nance:                     Yeah, so we were on… the charter jet was called Titan airways and they had an incredible food system. And so we all had put in dietary preferences beforehand. So yeah, you’re eating pretty lavishly. I was having, before my stomach turned on me, I had three lasagnas and then a bunch of bread rolls. I wanted a ton of carbs and some good white chicken and spinach, a lot of protein, a lot of macros and antioxidants, good things for your body. I got to a point though pretty quickly and by Cape town, into Perth, Dubai where the stomach just wasn’t cooperating. And so yeah, I was cliff bars basically, it was one thing I could actually put down the hatch and feel okay about, and almost anything else would sort of trigger nausea for me.

                                           So it was really, really rough though, though friends were eating quite well. And we had a doctor, Dr. Paul from Ireland who works with championship athletes. So he was really, really wonderful. He was looking after me. He was doing a lot sports massage on my quadriceps, on my calves. And he had a variety of ointments and things that he was giving me to reduce some of the pain because I was having really, really terrible cramping because I didn’t have enough electrolytes. And not having electrolytes is a little bit like not having any oil in a car. It’s like your car can kind of still run, but not anywhere near optimal efficiency and you’re going to damage your engine, same deal. If you don’t have electrolytes, your quads don’t have the fuel they need nor to any of your muscles, and so you’re having a doctor there to be looking after you made me feel that much more confident to kind of push and push and push. So it’s certainly not easy even with someone there to push.

Ryan Morfin:                    And so you left Madrid and you guys head over to South America, was it? Now that’s a pretty far flight from Spain. But when you got to Santiago, where’d you guys run and what was the environment like?

Greg Nance:                     It was wonderful. So it was my second trip to Santiago and so I was really jazzed to see more of the city and just to experience in a new way. We ran in this wonderful park. Downtown Chile, there’s a central district park and it’s got all these really nice loops actually built into the park. And so it was a really beautiful nighttime run. And you’re amidst this big rose garden, all these beautiful palm trees, very, very idyllic. And we finished around sunrise. In fact, two of my friends, a fellow named Luke and a lady named Sally, they waited for me at the finish line to actually be there to cheer me on because they knew I was in pain from these damaged quads as I was kind of trotting through. So that was really special. And then got to just soak up the sunrise. We actually got a little bit of local food and at this moment, the end is finally within sight. Like, hey, we got one more flight and one more run. And so it was sort of a transient moment as we get back on the jet for one more mission.

Ryan Morfin:                    And that last mission, so we were there to meet you guys in Miami. So you guys were a little bit late coming into the country. Did you guys have problems getting through immigration on Miami?

Greg Nance:                     We had problems actually exiting Chile. So yeah, they’re sticklers down there, and even with all of our licenses and my flight plans and everything squared away months and months in advance, it’s still difficult. So we were several hours late getting out of Chile, which was stressful because part of the deal on the world marathon challenge powered by Wentworth is it’s seven marathons within seven days. And so it’s like, well, you got to watch the clock, and time is ticking. And if you miss that 168th hour, you haven’t really run seven marathons in seven days. Seven marathons in eight days, doesn’t have quite the same rain to it. So you’re all sweating bullets, man. And finally we get clearance for takeoff, we get on board, we fly and then we’re feeling the pressure. So like you got to now run it, hit that finish line and then hopefully [inaudible 00:18:05] celebrate a little bit too.

Ryan Morfin:                    So you guys land in Miami, you go to South beach, you’re running out on the ocean and well, we’ll get into our story about being there. But so you’re obviously exhausted. I mean, you did not look good. I was there with your parents, your mother, I can… your poor mother, I could only imagine what she must’ve been thinking when she saw you, but she sitting there and she just a being supportive mother as they all are, but we’re all like, is Greg going to be able to finish this? This is insanity. But so you guys all take off and it’s in the evening, so it’s a little bit cooler. How was that last marathon in your head? I mean, are you in it to win it? You’re there and no doubt or did you really have to pull some stuff from your gut out to get it across the finish line?

Greg Nance:                     Yeah. It’s one of these where, I’ve been through some really dark days, both in training, you push yourself intentionally through tough stuff, and then actually during this race where I knew that there was no way that I wasn’t going to make it across. I could break my knee, I could break my leg or a shark could jump into the ocean, try to bite me, like I’m going to make a way to finish this thing. And so that was the mindset. And it was so much when you’re that close, it’s easier. And then when you feel the love, the support, the encouragement, it makes such a big difference. Because it’s very easy to get in your own head when you’re in the middle of 100 mile race, 200 mile race. And it’s easy to forget how hard that you’ve worked and how many people are rooting for you and supporting you.

                                           And so there was no way to forget that because in this race, we’ve got five laps on Miami’s boardwalk, and every time I get back to the starting a lap point, I’ve got the Wentworth crew all cheering so loudly running after me, my mom and dad are right there. So there’s just no way to feel alone. And even when the tank is like physically empty, it just, it gets restocked every time you start a lap. And by the time I’m feeling pretty empty again, there’s everybody, again, cheering for you. And now I’m just one step closer, one step closer. So it doesn’t feel like the end was in sight and it was sweet and surreal, even though I’m in pain going through that, like the legs are burning. My dad came and trotted after me, so I’m able to share some really special moments with the family, with the Wentworth team and just soaking it up.

                                           Because this was a long time dream coming true. And it was, I’m only going to do this… I’m only here this one time, let me soak it up. And it was so sweet crossing that finish line. Ramon was right there with a bear hug, I got champagne sprayed all over me, and I’m rocking my Wentworth cap and Jersey and it was just unbelievably sweet and surreal.

Ryan Morfin:                    Yeah. So you guys were delayed. So I had to keep the bar open for several hours longer. So I could only imagine what your colleague runners were thinking of the company you keep. Because we were eating Burger King Whoppers and we were all carrying a bottle of vodka and champagne. So sorry to embarrass you and tarnish your good name in the running community, but we had a blast. I think everyone was blown away that you finished, given just the physical toll it took on your body. But that’s a lesson in mental toughness. I mean, you really impressed a whole bunch of people with that.

                                           And anyone complains about they’re having a bad day, I mean, it’s just someone tell him, “Have you run seven marathons in seven days in seven continents?” I don’t think so. So you’re going to have a good story and a high bar for your children to keep for sure. Did you have any damage to your body after that? I mean, how are your joints and what are you doing to get ahead or stay ahead of any potential longterm damage? Because I know human bodies aren’t built for this.

Greg Nance:                     Yeah. No, it’s true. So for three weeks following this, I was unable to run because the legs were just too stiff and it felt like I was going to break something if I ran. So every muscle in my legs was stiff as a board, my back was really kind of locked up, my shoulders from just pumping my arms so much were really, really tight. And yeah, so everything’s really sore. So it was a recovery mode. So tones of protein to accelerate cell regeneration and muscle regrowth, a ton of very, very gentle dynamic stretching. It’s like doing little circles with my ankles and my knees and my hips and my back and my shoulders and my neck. Really, really gentle to start. A ton of hydration, just flushing all these, all the lactic acid as much as I can. A lot of ice, a lot of heat, a lot of elevating the legs it’ll help blood kind of re-circulate as I go, and sauna, massage.

                                           So like for three weeks, my job was, I got to heal up and I have to be really focused. And I was spending probably four hours a day stretching and an hour or two with either massage, heat, ice, all of that. So really, it was my full time job recovering because the body took a, it was really tough on it and it would’ve been tough regardless, but because of the stomach flu, I just didn’t have the nutrition I needed to keep the body running the way it needs to. So that was rough, but I learned a lot in those three weeks. And one of the biggest lessons was all of the preparation I did beforehand helped me avoid a much worse injury. I didn’t have any sprains, there were no breaks. It was really just extreme muscle fatigue and running on empty for that time.

                                           And so starting March 1st, I did a two mile jog and since March 1st, 2019, I have maybe two or three days I’ve taken off over that 15 months and every other day I’ve run, I stretch, I take pretty good care of the body and I’m built like big bird over here. So I don’t have a lot of beach muscles, so it’s easy on the legs to kind of cruise around. So I’m hoping to one day run with my grandchildren. And that’s one of my biggest running goals, is to stay in the game as long as I can, because I love it. And I want to stay healthy because it’s not much fun if your knees are falling apart, or your hips or whatever else. So try to stay healthy.

Ryan Morfin:                    Yeah, no, yeah. You mentioned you want to run with the grandchildren. I mean, there were some old folks in their 60s and 70s running, they completed this, which I was blown away.

Greg Nance:                     It’s amazing. It’s amazing. And I loved hearing their stories because none of them actually were standout runners in high school or college or what have you. Many of them have gotten into running later in life, but they just, they love it. And it’s a way for them to connect with their family, their friends, and to see the world. And a number of them were raising a lot of money for charity. A couple of them were raising hundreds of thousands, a million dollars for charity through this. And it’s like, whoa, that is so cool.

                                           And so many of these wonderful adventure stories and just very kind spirits. And so I was so glad that, yeah, it wasn’t just pro runners, there were several of those, there’s fellows that were competing at the Olympic trials and stuff. So they’re really like top caliber guys. And then the old folks were actually that much more interesting and so much perspective on life and when you’re spending seven full days together, and you’re all going through the same difficult experience, you learn a lot from each other. And I was certainly the recipient of that wisdom and I’m really grateful for that opportunity.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, no, we were grateful that you could stretch our imagination. I really mean this. I mean, to see not only you do it, you’re young, you’re fit, that makes sense. But to introduce us to people that were much older than us and able to complete that, it kind of eliminates any excuses. I mean, if you put your mind to it, you can get anything you really need to get done. And that was an important lesson for us and our adviser. So I appreciate you helping us, independence is a journey and you definitely took a very interesting journey on your own. And let’s talk about your journey that you’ve taken. So you’re an entrepreneur, you built an education platform in China, in Shanghai. Given what’s happened here in the last several months, starting in January in Wuhan and coming here, and now that you no longer live in China, you lived there for how many years, and maybe explain just real briefly a little bit about the business you built there.

Greg Nance:                     Yeah. So I’m just moving back to Bainbridge Island, my hometown off Seattle, the seven previous years I’ve been in Shanghai, building a company called dyed, D-Y-E-D .com and dyed.com is a mentorship platform that helps students from around the world, including China, India, Brazil, Egypt, all over, apply for university and apply for scholarships at American universities. Our belief is that everyone deserves a mentor and with the right advice, you can achieve your biggest dreams. And so we built a tech platform and a curriculum and a wonderful team of mentors to actually help students that are primarily kind of middle class, working class, from working class families to actually access the world’s best education system here in the United States. And so that has been my passion over the last seven years on this project and 12 years as an education entrepreneur seeking to expand access, because the only way I was able to attend my dream schools, university of Chicago and Cambridge with help scholarships.

                                           And without that, there’s no way my family could afford to send me to these great institutions, and I’ve been on a mission to pay that forward. And plus China was a natural place to actually start that business because there’s a very large consumer market. There’s tons of students who want to go to American university, number one, and number two, there’s a big talent advantage because you have all these terrific web engineers and these data scientists, these really, really sharp folks and the salary for a web developer is not $200,000 like in Silicon Valley or New York or Seattle, it’s $25,000. And so you can actually stretch your dollar much, much, much further. And as a startup guy, I was 23 when I got the company going, I was literally using my Bank of America credit card to try to get this thing going.

                                           I didn’t have the kind of anywhere near the funds to pay a Silicon Valley developer to build stuff. So that was a part of the purpose for getting there, but once we were there, China is a immensely fascinating place, 5,000 years of history, extraordinarily dynamic society changing rapidly. And it’s before your eyes where the little neighborhood where I live in, it’s a tech district called Wujiaochang, which is a, it’s the universities and then all these big technology companies, right there clustered together. That neighborhood changed immensely in seven years, hundreds of hundreds of new buildings hundreds of thousands of new residents in that little district and the city of 25 million in Shanghai, it’s a beehive, it’s buzzing and it’s immensely fascinating place that’s moving fast.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, question for you then is do you, having lived there understanding Chinese society, and I know there’s many China’s in China, but do you believe kind of some of the data that was coming out of China, were you skeptical early on when this pandemic started or was this just par for the course and you didn’t expect any transparency? What were your thoughts when you started watching this play out in early March?

Greg Nance:                     Yeah, so I do follow the news pretty closely and I’m on a variety of newsletters and blogs. And so, yeah, as of early January, I was reading about this mysterious pneumonia that was just kind of like the word was getting out that authorities in Wuhan and medical professionals across China were very concerned about this. I have a fascination with epidemics and pandemics, and so I was like, ooh, this sounds kind of scary, I’m wondering what’s there. In China, there’s sort of always the official word from the official government channels, and then there’s the full story, and the two very rarely align 100%. And that’s probably true in a lot of places, but it’s pronounced in China. So knowing that and with no official word from the Chinese central government or provincial governments, it was clear that there was a lot happening under the surface.

                                           And so I sought to get more intel about what exactly is going on. I’ve been to Wuhan at least 15, 20 times for business over the years, several of my close friends are from there. And it was very clear that people are afraid there’s a [inaudible 00:30:37] in the hospital with this mysterious condition. And so it was scary. I’ve got friends that have their own family and they’ve got ties there. So yeah, I knew that there was more to the story, but it’s always difficult when something’s still basically a rumor and you’re wondering what elements of that rumor are bearing out. And as it turned out, this was even scarier than the actual initial rumor. This mysterious pneumonia is a corona virus that is very easily transmittable, and it’s got a mortality rate, 2.5 to 4% and it’s rapidly being spread by asymptomatic carriers.

                                           And so before the government had a full handle on it, it’s now affected like tens of thousands of people and the Chinese government doesn’t always… it wants to frame its facts in its own way to paint the government as singularly competent and capable. And this was a case where the government doesn’t actually come across looking particularly competent or capable. And so no wonder they’re kind of sitting on this information for several extra weeks and they’re reticent to kind of acknowledge a little bit of the [inaudible 00:31:47] on the face, where if they just acknowledged straight up, hey, there’s this mysterious epidemic sweeping through the city, here’s what we’re going to do instead of punishing the whistle blowing doctor who came forward, instead of actually getting on top of it would have perhaps saved hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of lives around the world.

                                           So it’s disappointing, it’s not unexpected for someone that’s been in China for quite a while. And my only hope is that the international community can work together from here because we are racing to get PPE to the frontline across the world. We’re racing to collaborate more effectively on a vaccine and to get testing around the world. And this is just the first wave, there will be more, and it’s frustrating for me that China’s pointing fingers, America’s pointing fingers, and sure we can deal with all that later, but right now let’s actually solve the crisis at hand is my advantage.

Ryan Morfin:                    Yeah, no. And it’s concerning too that FBI came out this week, warning people and research institutions that the Chinese government and intelligences are either manipulating vaccine data or trying to steal it outright. Are you surprised by this kind of turn of events?

Greg Nance:                     Now, I think every country is. And there’s a lot of pride. I think every country wants to crack the nut on a working vaccine. And it’s going to take a village. My perspective on this after learning more about the different vaccines in trial is, even once you actually have a vaccine that’s workable, that is step zero. From there, you’ve got to figure out how you’re actually going to scale that solution for the hundreds of millions, billions of people who are going to need this vaccine, how do you distribute it? How do you equitably share this so it’s not just a pure pay to play situation? So I’d like to see, instead of China trying to steal intellectual property here, it’d be nice if there was direct collaboration between labs, between institutes of health, between governments.

                                           And my belief, look, there will be tension in the China, America relationship probably for the rest of my lifetime. It’s the story of great powers rising that we’ve seen since the [inaudible 00:33:53] 2000 plus years ago. But with that, there is an opportunity here for collaboration because in an era of globalization, we, by nature, there are a lot of areas for collaboration and if you want peace and prosperity for the rest of our lifetimes and beyond, collaboration is really the coin of the realm. And it’s a pandemic, we’re on the same team. We don’t want Chinese people dying, we don’t want Americans dying. The way to actually get through this is with better cooperation. If China develops the vaccine and shares it, awesome. If America develops it, let’s share it over there, is my perspective. And I’d like to think that we can actually turn the page here from kind of an unfortunate several months, several years in the China, America relationship, turn the page and actually move toward a more collaborative model.

Ryan Morfin:                    And so there’s a lot of talk here in the US about China being a global power that wants [inaudible 00:34:46]. And when you were living there, did you feel that the Chinese population in general feels that’s kind of [inaudible 00:34:55] that they will be the country that rules the world? Or is it not even on the radar for these people? They’re just trying to make a living and get ahead. Or what kind of conversations were you a part of being an American in China?

Greg Nance:                     Yeah, so I studied foreign policy when I was at the university of Chicago and so I’m a bit of a geek on this stuff. And once I developed some basic rapport with Chinese friends, I loved asking questions about like, what is your vision for China? What would a great Chinese society look like? What’s China’s role in 21st century? And a few things really surprised me with that kind of line of questioning usually over tea or coffee or a meal. One is the historical wound of the opium war with the UK, with these quote, unfair treaties with the Western powers, they kind of carved up China and then really all the way through the people’s liberation army reconquering and then unifying China in 1948, 1949. That entire century is seen as a black mark on Chinese civilization and Chinese society.

                                           And so a lot of the psyche of China is actually still addressing that, because there’s kind of this collective trauma. And even after 1949 is the country is [inaudible 00:36:12] reunified, there’s all of these great shocks ranging from the great leap famine, where upwards of 50 million people starved to death on account of very, very poor leadership from chairman Mao where there wasn’t enough food to go around, basically because the central government was expropriating and taxing barley and wheat and rice at these record levels. And as provincial leaders are fabricating results and so horrible damage and all that. So really, I think a lot of Chinese are trying to create internal stability and a little bit of a foreign policy, like a muscular foreign policy to sort of safeguard and protect this homeland. I think overwhelmingly that’s the chief priority.

                                           If you look at a map of China, I think it’s got 12 or 13 neighbors along its national borders, and China doesn’t really have anywhere to expand to terrestrially because you’ve got very, very thick jungles and mountains to the South. The Himalaya are massive, you’re not getting an army over the Himalaya. Even Northern Vietnam and Southern China, that’s very mountainous. I run an ultra marathon, it is mountainous. It’s very, very brutal jungle territory. To the far West, there’s these huge deserts. It’s Tibet, it’s [Shin Juan 00:37:22] Cancun army over there. And then in the North, you’ve got Mongolia, Russia, Siberian and Mediterranean wilderness, very, very brutal, permafrosted land many months of the year. So all that said, China’s kind of geographically hemmed in and its core challenge is how do we feed 1.3 billion people?

                                           And so a lot of the saber rattling now, and a lot of the tension in the region is over the South China sea to the South East of China. There are clashes over fishing rights, mineral rights, under seal oil deposits. There are areas that have more oil than all of Iraq or all of Kuwait in the middle East. And it’s under these little pockets of the sea. So no wonder they’re clashing. My perspective on all of this is the United States can play the role of mediator and make sure that each of these countries, including many smaller countries have a seat at the table so that China can’t unilaterally bully any one of these countries. China is massive. It’s much, much larger than Korea or Japan or Brunei or Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia.

                                           But if each of these countries has a seat at the table and there’s a multilateral conversation of how do we fairly allocate these resources, then I think China can protect itself, these countries can protect themselves and America, we can continue to be a force for peace and prosperity in the world. So to your question, I realize I’m getting long-winded here. I think China seeks to be a great power, absolutely. I think they are trying to find their voice and their place at the table. They want to be recognized and have the respect that comes with a great power. And I think the United States, with good diplomacy and good international leadership, we can actually create space for China. There are so many massive challenges that require collaboration, this pandemic, COVID-19, being just one of them. China is a responsible player, and with a seat at the table, I think that can be a force for good, so long as America and our allies stamps strong.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, what are your thoughts, and I don’t know if it’s ever come up because I know it’s probably taboo there, but there’s talk of the Uighurs being put into concentration camps. Having been on the ground there, does that even register on people’s mindset there or is it too far away? It’s a different part of China and they don’t really care. I mean, or do you not talk about it because you don’t want to get on any law enforcement or security radar?

Greg Nance:                     Yeah, it’s shocking and it’s disturbing. And I have three friends who are Chinese Muslims, two of which are of Uighur descent with family in the borderlands between Kazakhstan and China. And it was really, really troubling hearing that this gentleman can’t even get in touch with his aunt and uncle because they’re in some camp, they don’t have their phones, they don’t have the internet anymore. And the fact that China’s able to say, “Hey, we’re reeducating people, we’re training them for the jobs of the future and we’ve taken away their phone and their internet and their connectivity. And they’re basically prisoners.” Very, very disturbing. And yeah, I wanted to hear openly and honestly from friends, both those Muslim folks that are more directly affected and then also friends that are Han Chinese, the majority ethnicity, and those that have been in the West, been educated in the West that are able to kind of think and speak a little bit more freely and with a little bit more of a global perspective agree, hey, this is crazy and this is disturbing and I want to stop this.

                                           I don’t know… how do I? I don’t even know. And that’s a little bit how you feel, I think as an American ex-pat in China is look, I feel powerless to do anything about this because yeah, if you speak up, you certainly are on to some police watch list. I’m running a business, I have employees, I have customers, I have investors, that’s not really fair to these people whose livelihood depends on my leadership to sink our company over a political stand that will have no bearing on any outcome. And so it’s difficult as an American, I’m sure it’s very difficult for my Muslim friends who wish they could impact this and affect this. And it’s difficult for Han Chinese too, who feel that this is a really unfair and really draconian policy that they were pursuing.

                                           And so clearly, if the government wants more security and internal stability, that’s fine, but there has to be a line that you can’t, cross you can’t imprison rant innocent people going about their daily life. And that to me is a scary one because it shows an authoritarian government there’s very few checks. The rule of law doesn’t mean the same thing in China. And you learn that the hard way when folks are being locked up with absolutely no recourse and with flattened denials, despite massive satellite reconnaissance proving out the scale of this policy and this program.

Ryan Morfin:                    And so 2020 I think, is going to be the election is going to be all about China. Trump’s going to get lambasted, corona virus response. Trump’s going to probably lash back out at Beijing Biden, is what he’s calling him these days. So given that you’ve lived in China for seven years and you hear this kind of resonance starting to go bipartisan against China, how will China and the government react to a louder voice that’s somewhat focused at China’s response to corona virus and then the trade practices and what may be a failed trade negotiation from last year that may not play out. I mean, what are your thoughts on, and how are they going to respond to being the number one issue in 2020?

Greg Nance:                     Yeah, so I think the Chinese are very, very gifted spin masters. And so if you’re at the Metro, you get state TV played on little TVs on the Metro. And so I always follow, hey, what’s China saying about the United States? And China is overwhelmingly rooting for a second Trump term, overwhelmingly. And the reason is simple that China thinks it’s getting what it wants from Trump. Trump has been very, very ineffective at organizing American allies in the region, the trade war is inflicting damage both ways, but it’s giving China a narrative about Chinese led free trade leadership through one belt, one road. They love that. And they basically portray Trump as sort of a bumbler in the oval office, this sort of oath that doesn’t know what he’s doing, who talks a big game, can’t close the deal.

                                           And that’s been the narrative since he got elected, they were thrilled with Trump’s initial election. And even at the trade war, they’d prefer [inaudible 00:43:41] down, but they’re getting a lot of what they’d like from that. There is a damage in that China sending more students out of the United Kingdom, to Australia, to Canada, Germany, to France, and a lot of suppliers are now-

Speaker 4:                        It’s 15:00 hours.

Greg Nance:                     … exporting more to alternate countries as opposed to United States. So they’re rooting for Trump because they think it’s going to be four more years of Chinese international growth and leadership on the international stage. And I think that there’s some… I think they’ve been pulling against Biden for quite a while because he seen as a relatively tough guy internationally. He’s seen as someone who understands international relations, understands how to build alliances and coalitions. So it’ll interesting to see how it plays out, it will be interesting to see what level of interference China seeks to run in the election to aid Trump. Wouldn’t surprise me either way if they let Russia run, it’s interference, or if they get involved as well with the Facebook and Twitter and all the like. So to be continued on, yeah, I don’t have the answer, but it’ll be fascinating to see.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, that’s interesting. That’s a different opinion than a lot of people have that they think… a lot of people here politically think that Trump is bad news for China, second term, he can take the gloves off. But you think that the Chinese would prefer to have Trump because they think they can manage him. And he’s breaking all the lines and so there’s not a unified Western front. So that’s an interesting perspective. Well, listen, you’re not done running, like you said, you’ve been running all at three days in the last several months. What’s next on your horizon? What’s the next challenge? How do you have a next challenge after seven marathons, seven days, seven continents?

Greg Nance:                     Yeah. So I’m gearing up. I am preparing to run from New York city to Seattle. So I’m attempting to run across the United States and I’m really, really fired up to knock out those 3000 miles to celebrate 3000 days of sobriety, which I recently celebrated.

Ryan Morfin:                    Congratulations on that. So New York city to Seattle, approximately how long is that going to take, you think?

Greg Nance:                     Yes, so I’m aiming to average 40 miles per day, which will lead to a 75 day crossing.

Ryan Morfin:                    Wow. And you’re going to have a film crew, I understand, and you’re going to be taping it. The question for you, so you said your 3000 days celebration of sobriety. And so I understand that a reason that you’re running is to get awareness up about addiction. And maybe you can share a little bit about that cause.

Greg Nance:                     Yeah, absolutely. So for many years, yeah, I was struggling  with alcohol and opiate abuse and only after getting to the other side of that, have I realized how common that challenge is. 40 million Americans are actually addicted to substances or to alcohol, that’s one in seven Americans. And this is a relatively common issue that we’re not talking about because there’s a lot of stigma around addiction in the United States. And my mission with this run and with the accompanying documentary is to kind of explore what is addiction in the United States and how do we better support those dealing with addiction and seeking recovery and redemption in their own journey.

                                           And our goal is yeah, with this documentary film crew to actually find folks that are at various stages of their addiction recovery journey, connect with them, connect with their families, and really kind of crack the nut for how do we better support folks. And then we want to create a great film that helps people actually talk to their family, their friends, their loved ones to create a more supportive, encouraging, compassionate American society. And my hope on the other side of COVID-19, we have an opportunity to kind of re-examine what is our relationship to each other? And I think this pandemic has taught us, look, we are in this together, public health is a real thing.

                                           When one person gets sick, a lot of us get sick and the data says that that’s true with addiction as well. If you have a friend struggling with addiction, you’re more likely yourself to deal with mental health issues and addiction. And yet if you’re able to reach out to that person to help them kind of clean up and find recovery, you can create a positive chain reaction. So that’s our aim with this documentary, and it’s going to be a big running challenge and it’s going to be a big challenge to actually help spark those dialogues and to help create a more compassionate society.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, Greg, no doubt, you got the mental discipline to not only overcome addiction and run the seven marathon challenge, but I’m sure you’ll complete the New York city to Seattle run and we’re hoping to be a part of it. So thank you so much for coming back on the show and we’ll definitely keep track and tabs of where you’re going to be and share that with our viewers. Thanks so much.

Greg Nance:                     Ryan. My pleasure. Thank you for all the support. Thank you everyone at Wentworth for the endless encouragement here too. Thank you.

Ryan Morfin:                    Thank you for watching Non-Beta Alpha. And before we go, please remember to subscribe and leave us a review on Apple podcast or a YouTube channel. This is Non-Beta Alpha, and now you know (silence).

Speaker 5:                        Get a busy time.

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