June 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
The words “marathon” and “picnic” combine (in the Japanese mind, anyway) to form “maranic” a TARC weekend specialty consisting of long distance running followed by beer drinking. It is telling that all the letters to spell “maniac” are also included. The term was coined by Ida-san, whose full name I don’t even know. He bears a faint resemblance (again, to the Japanese mind, it seems) to the Emperor of Thailand, Bhumipol and so he is called “Bhumipon” or “Emperor” more often than not.
The first one of these I joined was a send-off party for one of the TARC captains, Mr. Tsujino. The plan was to run from Century Park to Pudong airport in time to accompany the Tsujino family to their gate at the airport. I was told we would meet at the usual spot at 5am and the distance was roughly 30k.
It wasn’t the number as much as the knowledge of how long it takes in a car to get to the airport that made me think twice before I set out. I pulled my drinks, breakfast, Vaseline, Band-Aids and jacket together and hopped a cab to the meeting spot. It started to rain almost immediately. It sprinkled and then started pelting the cab. It was pitch black out.
The headlights illuminated hooded and shrouded figures of various shades of fluorescent colors under the overpass next to our Saturday meeting spot. I was early, but still felt late and couldn’t believe anyone else had shown up. We all giggled a bit at the ridiculousness of the situation and threw the c-word (not that one, but the one that means insane) around a bit and giggled some more.
There was a group photo and then we were off into the rain. Mercifully, the rain tapered steadily as we went and after an hour we stopped for water and I tied my jacket around my waist. The pace was comically slow. I had to force myself to slow down and was a bit perplexed by it (“I know we aren’t driving, but aren’t we still trying to get somewhere?”). But there was lots of idle running conversation (“When’s your next race?” and “How’s your knee/foot/ankle/back?”) and cultural oddities conversation (“Why don’t American’s like soccer?” and “Why do Japanese people say meet at 5am, when they mean 4:45?”) and Chinese frustration conversation (“Why is that guy stopped in the middle of the road?” and “One time I saw a toilet…”). I took in the wet countryside and trotted along.
At a certain point the conversation lightened to bursts, the pack strung out a bit. My legs started to hurt and one woman started to lag a bit. I tried to keep her company and struck up a conversation about having kids in China, but after a while she said to go on and I did. Someone else fell back to keep her company. We stopped and I had a Gatorade and when we got going again, hints of the airport started appearing, wider roads, more traffic, airline catering companies, airline fuel trucks.
The second or third or whatever wind is such a magical thing when it comes , especially after hours of running. It’s a force invades your body, skips your brain and makes running faster easy and necessary. All the discomfort and junk evaporates and you get carried along, like a conveyor belt. I caught my wind around there, 25k or so and when we saw the airport terminals in the distance, we split into a couple groups and I opened up my stride and cruised down the deserted streets to the terminal building.
Rocking up at an international airport, especially one as remote as Pudong, on foot, in sweaty tights, fly-aways, all manner of lycra, nylon and polyester with mud stains on your calves is a somewhat surreal experience, a real disconnect with the world as it is. I thought that instead of it being strange that I showed up to the airport like this, it was strange that the airport (where runners weren’t normally found) should be here.
In China, people already perceive foreigners as strange so accessories like sweaty, muddy running gear don’t get any extra stares in the airport. When it comes to running I feel like if people think it’s normal, I’m probably not doing it right, so I made no effort to dry off or blend in or change. A bunch of us had friends or family bring dry clothes to the airport by more modern means of transport. The rest of us headed straight to the convenience store’s beer coolers and snack racks to round out the “picnic” half of the maranic.
The goodbyes were too long and very sad, as always is the case when a real TARC leader leaves. After the tears and pictures and waves, we all sort of looked at our feet and at the scaffolding and smiled at our running clothes.
Then someone said, “So, who wants to run back?”
June 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
My cell phone is buzzing and twisting on the floor like an injured fly. I open my eyes a bit and find myself on the living room floor. I look at the time, 4:00AM. Saturday. What the fuck?
What could I have been thinking setting the alarm so early? Must have been drunk. Oh no….. must have been drunk and made arrangements with someone for an early morning run.
I sit up, look around. I wipe the sweat off my forehead. I think about spitting. The spots fade in front of my eyes. I seem to have only barely crossed the threshold into my apartment before undressing and crumpling on the floor. I take a deep breath, exhale and stand up. My throat burns and I need to steady myself on the shoe rack.
Canceling isn’t an option. Drinking is not an acceptable excuse for not running. With my running club, TARC, it is more of a raison d’etre. I pull on some shorts, a shirt, socks, grab my Garmin, my Camelpack, some tissues. I consider a shower. I reconsider. I shuffle into the kitchen to make toast. I fill the Camelpack. I shuffle into the bathroom to do my business. I quickly duck my reflection in the mirror washing my hands. I drink some water and eat my toast over the sink, contemplating the fountain in the dark. Any lovebirds in still out this fine summer morning? A car drives by below, illuminating an empty gazebo and some beer bottles lying in the playground. My mouth tastes like someone else’s bad breath. I brush my teeth and look at myself in the mirror. I’m going to make it, but I’m glad it’s dark out.
I lace up my shoes by the fountain while my Garmin links up with three lucky satellites in the sky. The digits pop up and I lurch into motion, a little woosy and wobbly, yes, but running, ok, jogging. The late night partiers are still out. They’re eating meat on a stick and drinking warm beer on plastic stools on the sidewalk. A stumbling man is being escorted by a bar girl to the trashy hotel across the street. The street reeks of fresh, organic refuse.
I can see Wei Laoshi (PE Teacher Wei from a local middle school) well before he sees me. He’s wearing a yellow, zip-up cycling jersey, sunglasses and short fly-away shorts and fidgeting nervously, pretending to stretch while he checks his phone for messages. He’s waiting for Maezawa and soon so am I. This is something of a tradition and the conversation is scripted, for me anyway.
“Joe! There you are. I was wondering when you’d arrive.”
“Where is everyone?”
“I’m not sure. I think it’s just you and me and Maezawa.”
“I called Maezawa twice already, but she didn’t answer.”
“She’s probably running over now and didn’t hear.”
“He/She was probably out late last night and couldn’t get up this morning. Oh, there’s Maezawa.”
“Coming down the street, right there.”
“Where? Oh! MAEZAWA! You’re finally here!”
Maezawa apologies. Wei Laoshi tells her how many times he called/texted her. We wait around for a few minutes for the people who couldn’t wake up and then set off at a trot. Really it is just walking with some exaggerated bouncing and swinging of the arms, like someone demonstrating how to run. It grates on me for a few minutes and then I fall into the rhythm and the peaceful smalltalk .
Maezawa: “Joooooeeee, were you out drinking last night?”
Joe (feigning shame): “Yes, I feel awful right now.”
Maezawa: “You smell like beer. You’re sweating beer right now.”
Wei Laoshi (before I can answer): “Joe, where is XXX? Was he drinking with you last night?”
Joe: Not with me, but probably with someone else.
Wei Laoshi: XXX is always out late and sleeping through morning runs.
Wei Laoshi launches into a chronicle of someone’s history of missing runs, getting drunk, improving/declining running performance, work, injuries, attendance at track night and I tune out, laugh at the right spots, consider his ability to repeat himself without ever tiring or catching himself.
4 and 6 lane roads are empty at this hour. You can run down the middle if you want and some people do, as that’s the flattest part of the road. In the dark the asphalt feels softer. The lights make everything look like a movie set. I’m sweating and I take a slug from the camelpack. I almost gag, but smile at the taste of the nozzle, stale beer and saliva. I worry if I’m really smelling bad.
The route cuts east, south-east through Puxi. There’s the shuttered fashion shops on Huaihai Rd., the stucco villas and canopy of trees on Fuxing and then the construction barriers with safety slogans when we’re almost to the river. Time passes subway station by subway station.
By the time we crest the last pedestrian bridge, get a good look at the river and run down to the ferry it’s light and there’s already a clatter of activity at the ferry dock, revving engines, yelling, creaking turnstiles, banging grates. I grab a Gatorade. Maezawa grabs a coffee. Wei Laoshi grabs a Red Bull. We stretch in the midst of a lot of bored staring. Wei Laoshi announces to someone that we’re marathoners and moves into the crowd to fill the guy in on the details of our times, years running, marathons run, marathons run together and so on. Maezawa and I marvel at Wei Laoshi’s childish enthusiasm for making friends and repetitive story telling. I marvel at Maezawa drinking hot coffee half way into a 20 mile run on a 90 degree morning. Maezawa marvels at me drinking until the early hours of the morning before a 20 mile run in 90 degree weather.
We get on the boat and it rumbles and pivots. I do some light stretching and consider that Pudong was built (in relative terms) basically in a day. I’m suddenly aware that I’m no longer drunk or uncomfortable, but relaxed and projecting an image of health, especially in comparison with my surroundings.
The rest of the run is along the wide, smooth streets of Pudong. Nothing is particularly interesting or inspiring, but there are plenty of trees and very little interruption. We dip into the underground shopping center that surrounds the Science and Technology Museum subway stop and connects to Century Park. I love running through underground urban spaces. It really symbolizes for me the ridiculous side of the urban distance running experience. We grab another drink at Family Mart and then pop up to meet the rest of TARC for the Saturday 8am Century Park distance session, 5k loops around the part at varying speeds.
I can tell who’s been running already from the wet clothes and the way they stretch, not idly and gingerly, but deeply, grimacing. I can tell who’s been out drinking too late from their bleary eyes and late arrivals. I can see who’s new by the way they don’t fit in the circle and try to follow other’s conversations. I can see who’s getting psyched for a tough workout by the way they play with their watch and shake their legs. I revel in the fact that I was out late drinking AND I’ve already put away 12 miles AND I’m ready for a tough workout.