Maranic, Shanghai, 2010

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?”


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