April 19, 2013, by Robert Avery-Phipps
Training for the Great Wall Marathon part one
Training in Ningbo has been pretty challenging. Preparing for a marathon is hard enough but the Great Wall Marathon poses more than 5000 steps of mountainous terrain in the dry (smoggy) outskirts of Beijing. Unfortunately, the coastal city of Ningbo offers almost zero opportunity for gradients training. On a clear day (when factories are closed for holiday or it’s very windy) I can see mountains from my apartment. However, I’ve never been brave enough to negotiate my way by bus over to this area. It’s funny that a simple act like catching a bus seems more complicated than the work I’m doing at university sometimes!
For this reason I’ve had to be quite inventive when planning out my routes to run. I did start off in the campus gym on the treadmill on the highest incline possible, but it is unbelievably boring. The one positive was I was able to kill two birds with one stone and practice some Mandarin with some of the Chinese students at the gym. Apart from being the only Westerner in the gym I seemed to be only person actually wearing what I would consider sports gear. I get some very peculiar looks from the girls in summer dresses clip clopping with their high heels on the treadmills next to me.
After witnessing a hilarious slow motion treadmill accident where a girl tripped over her flared jeans and was majestically transported at her 2 km-an-hour pace off the treadmill onto the gym floor (I imagine it is what the Barbie doll production line looks like), I decided the gym was not really the correct environment for training and headed outside.
This is much more fun, in fact most of the time I totally forget I’m even running as a panorama of weird and wonderful sights unfolds in front of my eyes. Many of these nuances, such as a moped driver precariously balancing a bathtub on the back of his bike or an old man doing Taichi on the side of the road, are easily missed when driving in a taxi so I feel quite privileged. I’m always kept on my toes by the flow of people, bikes and vehicles, there appears to be a very liberal idea of what constitutes road and what constitutes pavement!
Considering I really need to practise running up stairs I am basically in totally the wrong city as the only decent amount of steps I’ve managed to find is in a park near my apartment. The government has created a mound of earth where they’ve put statues of politicians and scientists. There are about 20 steps which I run up and down for about an hour, or until I get bored, so usually much less than an hour! This place is quite odd, there is always one man who will turn up after about five minutes of me running up and down. He usually potters around pretending to look at the plaques on the statues. Once he has exhausted this he stands behind one statue for a little while pretending not to be there. I feel there are only two things this man could be – insane or an undercover policeman making sure I don’t do anything bad to the statues. I’ve named this run “the surveillance run.” This being said though, he must think I’m pretty weird running up and down the steps again and again and again!
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