Sunday, November 13, 2011

Top 10 Ways Running in China is Different than in the US

My friend Katy ( suggested that I write something along the lines of this. To be honest, I hadn't really thought lately about the differences in experiences of running in China vs running in the US. I've been traveling out there for some time on a regular basis, so I guess I've just gotten used to the differences and don't really think too much about them.

In some regards, there really aren't any differences. I mean, you put on your shoes, head out the door, and plod down the sidewalk, path or street. The 'movement' of running is exactly the same, except that you're running 'upside down' when compared to the US... or is it us that runs upside down here? Hmmm....

But there are differences in preparation, during the run and even the experiences around you (people, terrain, etc.)

1. You have to think ahead about water. Water out of the tap is not really drinkable. We take that for granted in the US. I always have bottled water (like 5 liter jugs of it) in the hotel room. The four little complimentary bottles they give me in my room every day don't cut it when it comes to my water usage - especially for long runs. I do always wonder if the stores though just fill up those bottles from the tap anyway. Best not to think about it.

2. There really aren't restrooms available on the run. Unlike in the US, where you have porta-potties in parks and along trails - there aren't as many of these on the routes I run. There are a few in the parks I pass through, but it's hit and miss as to whether they are open when you need them. It's probably a little more acceptable to take a 'non-facility' potty break (I see people doing it from time to time in some of the fields and ditches on the sides of the roads) - but it's a last resort for me. I don't have the language skills to explain myself to a property owner if I picked the wrong spot.

3. Traffic and streets are not runner friendly and almost deserve their own blog post because it is one of the most complex and different aspects of getting around in China - and especially running. I don't run in the street and traffic in China is akin to what would happen if you took a bunch of New Yorkers, had them smoke crack and then told them they had to get to the other side of town in 1/2 the time it should normally take. I compare crossing through China traffic as a pedestrian akin to stepping into the business end of a particle accelerator. Traffic moves in every direction, at speeds that are well above those posted. Lines on the road, signals, rights-of-way - these are all simply 'suggestions'. Buses have the right of way over pedestrians, and although pedestrians have the right of way over cars - I wouldn't push the issue. You'd end up getting clipped. Eye contact is non existent. In fact, the surest way to intimidate a driver that is encroaching on your crosswalk is to look right into his eyes. They won't return the gaze, but sometime they'll stop encroaching. Luckily I only have a few streets to cross on my morning runs to get to the long river path. On the way out, it's early enough that traffic is very light. On the way back, they at least now have traffic cops putting some order to the intersections and ensuring pedestrians don't just get plowed over. I make a point of always crossing in the middle of a throng of pedestrians. Part school of fish approach to looking bigger / part physics - the car will hit several pedestrians before me, shedding some of it's momentum. Yes, that's morbid, but I've thought about it. It's survival instinct. Finally, my peripheral vision has gotten exceptional walking and running around China streets all these years. And when I'm there it's super-charged. I notice it when I return to the US. I notice things out of the corners of my eyes that I usually don't notice. Ok, enough of that one.

4. You should be prepared to be stared at. Not just when running, but especially unnerving is when standing in a group of pedestrians waiting to cross. I've had 7 or 10 people just turn and stare right at me, looking me up or down. They don't mean anything by it, it's culturally more accepted to stare like that I think. I just smile or ignore it. I imagine it's what being a celebrity feels like - so I'll go with that.

5. You don't blend in. At 6'1" and dressed in running clothes, I'm one of those things that's 'not like the other' in China. It's impossible for me to blend in like I can traveling domestically or even in Europe. People know I'm not from there. Once I was running on a rainy morning and stumbled on a loose paver stone. I went out the front door, did a complete shoulder roll and came back up on my feet to keep running - almost in one complete move. I got stared at, but nobody said a word. I wouldn't have blamed them actually if they had laughed - I'm sure it looked pretty funny to see this giant go down in an uncoordinated mess - but that's not the way there. It was almost as if nothing happened - except for the staring.

6. When I first started running years ago, you didn't see other runners. There weren't many Westerner's in the locale I'm in and the Chinese didn't run. Since the Olympics, running has become more popular as a way to keep fit and healthy. I now see more runners that are Chinese running, both in running gear as well as street gear or jogging suits. I wave, sometimes they wave back and smile. There's a bond there I think between all runners. Of course the Chinese still haven't warmed up to running in crappy weather. I've gotten some strange looks from people that 'have' to be out in the cold rain (commuting or working). It's a look of, "Uhhmm... it's raining. What are you doing out here? Are you ok? Did you have a head injury?". I should say I used to get those looks in Michigan a lot and I'll get them in other areas of the country. Not in Colorado. We all understand here. The looks exchanged are more, "Awesome isn't it dude? It's so freakin' crappy!!!"

7. It can be very humid and hot. Look, I've run in Houston, Miami, Atlanta and throughout the South in the dead of summer. While it doesn't get as hot in Hangzhou as in say Tucson in the middle of the day (I once went running there in 115 degree weather and the only living thing I saw was a scorpion) - NONE of the places in the US have higher perceived humidity than south China. Sorry, it's not. Don't even try to argue with me until you've gone. You'll see. It's more than the fact that you can come back from a run, go fully clothed right into the shower and not get any wetter. You get super-saturated. But the fall and even the winter are fairly nice and can even get chilly. And I always run very early, so I avoid the heat of the day.

8. Air quality is something I get asked a lot about. You know, it's definitely worse than in the US, but in the mornings, running along the breezy river - the air is just fine. I'm pretty sensitive to poor air quality. Sometimes my throat will get sore or my eyes a little red, but overall I'd say I don't notice most days. Mid-day is probably worse - not just from the cars, coal plants and such, but also from the construction dust. They are always building EVERYWHERE there - so there is more of that. And some cities are much worse than others. I've been to Jinan, Shanghai and Beijing - and all can be worse - although parts of Shanghai seem to stay pretty clear due to the winds and proximity to the ocean. Anyway, it's rarely an issue because again - I run in the very early morning.

9. Treadmills use the metric system on the displays. I have a pace converter on my phone though. It's hard to do that math in your head (I can go from KM to miles, but doing miles per hour to KM / hour is tough for me to do in my head). The good news is that just like in the US, most hotel gyms are empty - or if someone is on the treadmill, they are unlikely to last more than 15 minutes (both there and here). It's universal.

10. While nutrition isn't really running per say, it's an important difference and a challenge in China. The food is good - but it's restaurant food - so you're challenged to ensure you're eating right. In the US there are more options that I use when traveling domestically, but in China - not as much. I generally bring some staple foods like Kind nutrition bars, a special oatmeal mix of oatmeal / raisins / almonds and brown sugar. Big bag of it. I also get a couple of the dehydrated meals from REI. They are surprisingly good and there is some welcome familiarity to them by the end of the first week.

Anyway - those are the main things I can think of. If you want to experience a video tour of one of my runs, I posted one a while back here.

1 comment: said...

I don't know how I missed the post with the video back in April. That was really cool. Not nearly as populated as I expected. Funny how it's not really cool to make eye contact, but it's acceptable to stare. Kinda the opposite of here in the states.