One of the practices of at-home-making I have discovered for myself is the simple practice of moving through the places I find myself in and want to more deeply immerse myself in.
It doesn’t have to be running, it can also just be running around, walking and being a flaneur, but it often does take the form of run-seeing through cities, along places both famous and far away from the touristically much-visited.
Running just too nicely combines the physical, oriented inside the body, and the psychological-exploratory, oriented towards the outside, the place in the world and the attention paid to the world.
My place in the world, for the last few months, has been as something of an international migrant worker who, like so many Chinese migrant workers and others looking for a chance to get ahead, headed for the Chinese capital, Beijing.
This city, though, can seem to have some rules of its own, in many a regard – and especially when it comes to something as seemingly simple as heading outdoors for a run.
Rule #1: AQI ≥ Training Plans
Running as a regular practice has been described as a great start into willpower training: you go out according to your training plan, you build the grit and conscientiousness that will help you in other areas of life as well.
All well and good, but not in a city like Beijing where the very air seems out to deliver a slow death of a thousand breaths.
The problematic situation with air pollution is well known, and a look at the AQI (air quality index) becomes as routine a part of everyday life, if you care about your health in the least, as a morning’s step on the scale is in many a life.
It’s simple: AQI below 100, which isn’t great but as good as it gets? Go running.
AQI between 100 and 150? Get your face mask and go for a slow run, if you feel that you must.
AQI above 150? Try and stay indoors with an air filter running.
Rule #2: Traffic Moves in Mysterious Ways
Someone with the slightest experience with China will know that actually, there are traffic rules in China, they are just different – and followed in very “different” ways again, in practice.
When in doubt, cars have the right of way, for example. Always. Cars may come from many an unexpected direction, and people on two or three wheels from even more unexpected ones.
So, keep your eyes open when you need to cross roads, be they small or large, with traffic lights or without. Prefer under- or overpasses, they are good for getting in a bit of “hill training” in otherwise flat Beijing, too.
Listening to podcasts while running outdoors? Maybe not so good.
Rule #3: Praise (and Race) to the Parks
The value of city parks becomes all the more apparent in a city where so much space is reserved for vehicular traffic and so much pollution is all around. Even on good days, most outdoors running that is not in parks will be close by roads, and the (still leaded) gasoline makes for not the best of air even when the air quality is not as bad as usual. Even in the parks, there will still be quite enough smokers to make for some breaths you’d really wish you hadn’t taken.
Parks, still, even with throngs of people, some of them smokers, make for much nicer places to run than almost anywhere else, given trees and meandering paths – and also, perhaps, the manifold sights and sounds of people practicing taijiquan, dancing together, singing and making music, and so much more.
Rule #4: Look Strange as You Want
China seems a pretty closed and mono-ethnic society, in some respects. A foreigner is still a pretty noteworthy sight, be that where there are too many who are too easy to rid of more money than Chinese or where there are so few that they are worth a comment.
Especially in the parks, however, everybody dresses the way they do, does what they do – and even if running is still less popular than more traditional pastimes and practices (though I wonder what’s the history of the public dancing in parks), it is becoming more popular and one can see all kinds of clothes employed in its practice.
So, you’ll get looks for your foreign face, and you may get looks for your running clothes, but most anyone can potentially draw a crowd, anyways. So, never mind that.
Rule #5: Don’t Be Kept From It
Sure, there are days when it’s considerably healthier to stay indoors and keep an air filter running than to go out at all. Beijing is not a good place for, well, for even just existing, as long as that includes having to take breaths.
If you don’t believe me, check out my video from the Beijing Marathon, “the most depressing running video ever,” as a friend of mine called it.
The lack of movement that can come with that, however, makes it all the more important to go out and exercise whenever the air quality is good enough.
Now that my time here is drawing to a close, I must admit to failure when it comes to the plan of seeking out and presenting Beijing trails for running (though I did find some, but with them rather farther out, I usually just walked and did not record them). Yet, having sat around only too much with all the days that made the outdoors unappealing, the (few) days that included runs outdoors were all the more precious.