at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Category: Training (Page 3 of 7)

Beijing AQI (Air Quality) Readings

5 Rules for Running in Beijing

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

Beijing AQI (Air Quality) Readings

Beijing AQI (Air Quality) Readings. Guess at what time it was time for a run…

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


A little of the traffic (and video artifact) encountered recently…

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

Looking back at the "end" of the canal

Nice enough to make you forget there’s traffic all around

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.

Dampfbad - Steam Bath

Of Sweat, Sweets, and Self

When you sweat, it’s you that sweats; when you enjoy something sweet, it’s you tasting and enjoying it. Isn’t it?

We often think and speak as if we were truly just the conscious part of ourselves – and it’s a fundamental and consequential way we fail to be and make ourselves ‘at home’.

We are “brain owners,” I recently heard in a podcast;

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Untrained Ultra – 12 Weeks, More Than 50k…

When you experiment with yourself, you can get fantastic and fascinating results – because you quit trying to find the best way first and get going instead… and because your sample is just 1.

I’m on record complaining about Tim Ferriss and his brand of personal development going astray, exactly as it applies to ultramarathons – and all the more so because I claimed that he probably could finish a 50k within the 12 weeks of training he ‘advertised’ (but never came through with even mentioning anymore).

Still on through the Seetaler AlpenInadvertently, I created a similar situation for myself in the run-up to the Via Natura 100 mile trail:

Where a real ultra-runner preparing for such a race would rake in 100-200 mile weeks, I hardly did that in the 12 weeks leading up to the race.

The last run before the race was 3 days before, doing lactate testing to finally get the medical certificate necessary for participation. (I had thought I’d just go to my usual doctor on Monday and get it signed, only to find out that he was on vacation until the day before the race. Fortunately, I asked at the ‘Sportordination‘ in Vienna, and promptly I got lucky with someone having to cancel their next day’s appointment and me getting it.)

Six 3-minute episodes rising to 18km/h speed. On a treadmill. Not what’s recommended mere days before a race.

The last time I had been out training before that (there was also a little work-related hike), I went up the Feuerkogel at the Traunsee lake (one of my usual ‘quick’ mountain training runs) the day after a sauna/steam bath visit, feeling weak and steamy. And then, after getting up there in 1 hour 30, I moved back down, checked when the next train back would go when I was down quite a bit, found that it would be in some 15 minutes, and ran all-out to catch that train.

12.6 km, 1156 m of ascent and then descent, in 02:16 hours, (at an average heart rate of 177 and reaching a maximum of 225(?)). Not all that unusual for me, but a mountain trail sprint race more than anything training-like.

Before that? Aside from one of the usual relaxed circles, that was the Linz marathon, just about a month before the 100 mile race. There, I ran in Salomon S-Lab (trail) shoes because I found that I neither had any decent road-running shoes anymore, nor the money and inclination to get new ones just for that race. And I started out only too fast, as usual when I do such things, only to get close to some cramping later on, have to walk a bit – and finish in my (apparently) usual 3:45.

April Training Statistics

April training statistics: 4 ‘moves’

All in all, after February (which was a good training month), I did only 14 “moves” I recorded as training, spanning 19:30 hours, covering a distance of 195 km, ascending merely 3000 m. That’s what a good runner may do in 2 weeks, not in more than 2 months… and I may have counted some twice because they were recorded once with my usual Ambit2 and once with the Ambit2R I was then testing.

FitBit data for last 12 months, in contrast

FitBit data for last 12 months, in contrast

Then again, my average daily number of steps during that time, as recorded by the FitBit One I carry, was between 12000 and 13000 (where 10000 steps is said to constitute a “highly active” lifestyle). So, I wasn’t just sitting around, either.

Is there anything to learn from that, though?

Well, it apparently is possible to finish a 100 mile mountain ultra marathon, going into it with a decent foundation of fitness but having done relatively little training.
Having had the adequate gear and enough experience certainly helped – but it all, aside from a decent physical foundation, mainly comes down to just what I’d written before, I feel: Do you really want to do it and are you able to overcome the obstacles in the way? Especially the psychological ones? Especially the competitive spirit that tells you that you’re not good enough if you aren’t among the fastest of finishers?

No way to know that in theory, no way to gain the fitness – whether from the usual training plans or some “minimum effective dose” – by perfect planning. You’ll just have to go out, find out for yourself, and get better at it by the doing. Or realize you don’t want that.

Sunrise in the Seetaler Alpen

Getting on a Via Natura-l High…

I cherish my mind too much – or maybe fear it’s all too fickle, anyways – to drink alcohol or do drugs. The 100 mile Via Natura ultramarathon proved mind-altering, anyways…

One hears a lot about the runner’s high. Some stories sound as if being on the move, running, was not a natural activity that a human body is made for, but a mere possibility that people get hooked on because of the way it taps into the brain’s production of opiates.

It all belongs together, though.

Going barefoot (or “barefoot shoes”) or not, the human body probably did evolve so that we are “born to run.” And a part of the ability to go on may well be the production of opiates stimulated by the running and making it possible to go on and get self-drugged further. The brain works by chemistry, anyways.

The Via Natura ultramarathon had the additional element of sleep deprivation.

I thought I had some experience with that thanks to the night shifts I used to work for a while (when I had had to take a job as security guard to get by). I was mistaken.

Sunrise in the Seetaler Alpen

On the Via Natura, we went straight through the first night and on the next day, not sleeping until arriving at the third and final control point, some 27 hours after the start – and then, my stop there was a total of 45 minutes. Later that second night, even the husky with whom Stefan runs started falling asleep while moving and refusing to go on, at which point we all stopped again.

That had been and would continue to be a constant, the surprising realization that one could keep walking while actually having started to fall asleep.

Then and there, though, we crashed at the roadside, a little up, head on the running vest propped against a tree trunk, in my case. Wrapped up in the rain gear and with hat, hood, and gloves, it was sufficiently warm. Some raindrops hit the visor. After maybe half an hour, someone in the group noticed that the “hikers” were coming, turned on his headlamp again, and we all awoke and continued.

Hallucinated, I had before. There was the headlight of a van parked by the roadside, there to provide aid until it turned out empty, at an odd angle… and then turned out to be just the reflector strip of the roadside marking, finally. The place where we slept… I’m sure I’d been there, slept at a spot just like that – if not that very spot – before. When we continued, I took off for a little, got off track into a cow pasture… and I’m pretty sure the same thing had happened once before.

Many places, I felt like I’d been there before.

In part, it was easy enough to tell how they reminded me of one or the other of the (relatively few, after all) places where I’d been on such adventures before. The Alpannonia. The Ötscher. Areas I go more often.
Some places, though, it was the total deja-vu. Even while knowing that I’d never even been in that area before, let alone on those trails, I could have sworn and would still swear I’ve been there and did some of the same things before.

The paths we went up and across that one mountain where we also ended up sleeping for a little bit, on the side of the forest road. The very spot we slept. The wrong path I took just a little later, leading inside a cow pasture when it actually goes by just outside of it.

Old memories of similar situations combined with ideas of such places, rattled around my sleep-deprived brain, and came out as recollections of previous experiences I never actually had, the way they seemed (and still seem) to be remembered now.

It all still is a perfection of memories.

Fancies of exquisite delicacy…

…when the bodily and mental health are in perfection…

…where the confines of the waking world blend with the world of dreams…

 … where all that we see, or seem, is but a dream within a dream.

(A Dream Within A Dream, Alan Parsons)


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