Kevin Mennie teaches student the finer art of half-marathon running in China.

Kevin Mennie teaches student the finer art of half-marathon running in China.

Victoria teacher challenges authority in China – by training students for half-marathon

Kevin Mennie teaches a group of Chinese high schools students how to run a half-marathon – but it came with its challenges

All eyes are on Kevin Mennie as he slowly moves his arm in a deliberate pendulum motion.

Standing on the spot, Mennie then bends one leg 90 degrees to hip height then repeats with the other. When he is done, he turns to his students and asks them to do the same.

In unison, the students repeat the drill.

Mennie nods in agreement. “This is proper running form,” he tells them. “This will help you in your half-marathon. But if you don’t do it correctly, you’ll have trouble running the long distance.”

For Mennie, the last year and a half working at a B.C. offshore school in Shanghai, China has been a learning experience too.

The Victoria resident arrived on the shores of China to teach B.C.’s high school curriculum at a domestic Chinese school.

It was a year of firsts.

Within months, Mennie was training and competing in what is considered one of the most difficult endurance races in the world: the Great Wall of China Marathon. It would be a life-changing experience for Mennie, not just the race but in what would transpire afterwards.

As he trained for the marathon, students and teachers were fixated daily on his antics on the track at speed drills, tempo training and fartlek runs. After all, physical education is almost frowned upon in China, where academic achievement comes before all else.

Mennie finished the grueling race in just under five hours and calls it “one of the biggest challenges of my life.” (Back home, he’s qualified for the Boston Marathon twice and has run a marathon best 3:08).

When Mennie returned to school the next day, he was quizzed by students about why he was having problems walking – and about the race. He used the opportunity to get the students enthused about running and invited them along on a run.

“They were really inspired by it,” Mennie recalls.

Within weeks, a few students were running with Mennie and co-worker Vanessa Fung, another B.C. resident teaching at the school.

And that’s when the idea started percolating.

Over the summer break, the two had a grand idea: introduce the students, who were most enthused about running, to a “real race.”

The first formal training session on return to school attracted 10 students for what was first dubbed Track Tuesday. The next week, 140 students showed up.

“It was so inspiring to see the kids get better and better, and they were right into it,” says Mennie.

The decision was made to race in the 30,000-runner strong Shanghai International Marathon in December.

Soon the school’s marketing class created a logo of Shanghai Footprints for the team and bracelets saying, “You Inspire Me.”

“(It all started with) this idea over the summer to see if any of these kids would want to run with us, and maybe we could put them in a race, not even thinking what could happen,” Mennie says.


Living in China, you soon learn that Chinese traditions play an integral role in everyday life. It is at the core of Chinese culture and revolves around values and how people interact with each other.

It’s this sense of tradition that put Fung and Mennie on a collision course with the school administration.

“The school (administrators) told us that students don’t run half-marathons and it’s never been done before and shouldn’t be done now,” Mennie recalls.

“Within a few weeks, (the school administration) didn’t want us using the track, and said it wouldn’t endorse the race.”

School administrators continued to up the ante. They said the students would die if they ran a half-marathon and called a parents’ meeting to discuss it.

Mennie and Fung were prepared to give a presentation, but they were not permitted to speak. “I’m sitting in the audience thinking it can be done. Give them a chance,” says Mennie.

The school issued a gag order which said they couldn’t mention Shanghai Footprints or the marathon at all.

The students weren’t about to be stopped. “I just said to the kids let’s just call it a run for fun and when we show up on the track, don’t say anything about the marathon,” Mennie says.

Mennie and Fung learned in China to expect the unexpected.

At the school-hosted sports day, one of the runners showed up wearing a yellow shirt with the words Run for Fun written on it.

“This was a statement against the authority. The kid (a Grade 12 student) ran a race and won and turned and looked at the authorities. This is when I thought, ‘Oh, oh, this could go sideways. I could be sent home. I started worrying about my job a little bit,” Mennie says.

Another school meeting was soon called. It was mandatory that parents attend if they wished their child take part in the half-marathon. The administration attempted to dissuade any participation in the race. Again Fung and Mennie were told they could not give a presentation.

As the meeting wrapped up, Mennie could no longer hold his tongue and gave his thoughts on the running group and the half-marathon. Slowly the administration started leaving the building one by one. By the end, it was Mennie and Fung answering parents questions.

“We reaffirmed with the parents what was going on and they started getting onboard and that’s when we realized this is a lot bigger now, because the parents were behind us.”

The subtle harassment, however, didn’t end: students were asked to steal runners’ lists from Mennie’s office; running signs were taken down; physical education teachers would set up soccer shooting drills on the track while the runners practised; the teachers would abruptly hold fabricated exercise days on the track, working out in business suits no less, to interrupt the running.

“I thought the biggest challenge would be making these kids who aren’t runners be able to believe and do a half-marathon. My biggest worry was someone getting injured. I didn’t want to hurt them. I didn’t even think about the other part, and once it started, it was relentless,” Mennie recalls.


It’s a cool day in late November and of the 140 students who trained for the Shanghai International Half-marathon from the school, 70 will take part in the race. (Ten were classified under age and couldn’t register.) For the under-age students, Mennie made up bibs and slipped the students into the race without notice, although they couldn’t qualify for medals.

Mennie and Fung began loading their runners, adorned in bright pink shirts, on buses – rented privately – at 5 a.m. off school property. The plan was to get the students to the start line early and ready to go. One teacher would be stationed at the finish line in case any student got into injury trouble or couldn’t finish the race.

Mennie ran with the lead group until the 12K mark. After that, he dashed back and forth on the race course running with students and encouraging them.

Only one of the 70 students was unable to complete the race due to injury. The first runner crossed the line at the 1:38 mark. The last runner, who stumbled with just 20 metres to go, finished with a 3:30 time.

“It was a moving experience, especially what we had to do to get here,” Mennie says.

A few weeks after the marathon, a gala was held to honour the students. The runners, family and friends attended. It was an exciting evening.

The 10 underage students received medals after Mennie told his friends about their plight. They put money together to buy each student a medal.

“People all over the world knew what was going on with these kids,” says Mennie. “My family and friends knew and a lot of other people too.”

While there was plenty of excitement centred around the event, Mennie was keeping a secret.

He wasn’t returning for another school year. “At that point, I knew I wasn’t coming back,” Mennie says. “I knew I rocked the boat.

“These were kids just dying for something. They wanted a chance to do something other than study. It’s been life-changing.”




Victoria Footprints

The passion for China continued when Kevin Mennie returned to Canada in January.

Although Canada and China have two very distinct cultures, Mennie wondered why more Canadian teens weren’t running half-marathons. After all, plenty have run 10-kilometre races.

Enter Victoria Footprints.

Taking the success of Shanghai Footprints, Mennie approached his former school St. Andrew’s Regional High School, where he was athletic director, and asked if he could present his idea to a school assembly.

Eighty kids signed up right away, but that soon dwindled to 30, and by the time the TC10K half-marathon rolled around only four took part in the race.

“Although the numbers weren’t there, there was a lot interest,” Mennie says. “And it will grow.”


Kevin Mennie bio

Kevin Mennie is no stranger to sports.

The former St. Andrew’s Regional High School director athletics has twice qualified for the Boston Marathon, the holy grail for runners.

He completed his first marathon in 2002. Since then he has completed three more marathons, including the Great Wall Marathon, thought by many to be the most difficult in the world.

Mennie played for the UVic Vikes soccer team, helping the team to a national championship in 1996.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A decade into the 100-year blueprint for restoring the Bowker Creek watershed, Soren Henrich, director of the Friends of Bowker Creek Society, feels positive about the future of conservation and daylighting of the creek. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Ten years in, Greater Victoria’s 100-year Bowker Creek blueprint gets a boost

Victoria council passes several restoration recommendations

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
UPDATED: One man shot dead in ‘targeted incident’ on Sooke Road

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

A resurfacing of the tennis court in Metchosin is being eyed for the community. However, funding opportunities still need to be solidified for the project. (Michelle Cabana/Black Press Media)
Renewed surface eyed for Metchosin tennis court

Funding source must first be solidified in order for project to happen

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels after found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Retired B.C. teacher and star CFL kicker charged for assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
$16.9 million invested to improve worker safety, strengthen B.C.’s food supply chain

Money to be used for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, and air circulation

More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow, according to SFU professor Michael Parent. (Pixabay photo)
SFU expert unveils 5 ways the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed cybersecurity

Recognizing these changes is the first in a series of steps to mitigate them once the pandemic ends, and before the next: Michael Parent

Kevin Haughton is the founder/technologist of Courtenay-based Clearflo Solutions. Scott Stanfield photo
Islander aims Clearflo clean drinking water system at Canada’s remote communities

Entrepreneur $300,000 mobile system can produce 50,000 litres of water in a day, via solar energy

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

Most Read