Sunday, October 21, 2007
A Run of Mass Proportions
This Sunday morning it was very chilly outside and thousands of people like me gathered at the National Olympic Sports Centre for the 2007 ANA Beijing International Marathon.
No.... I wasn't doing 26 miles, but 10K.
Overall the event went smoothly but the organization of it was marred by many problems.
First off, foreigners who signed up for the run had to pay US$55 to participate, whereas locals only had to pay 30RMB (US$4). I complained about this to the organizer in an email who replied back saying I wasn't the only one who pointed this difference. They added that it was the Chinese Athletic Association that had set the prices and it was too late to change it.
And then I had to pay this money into a bank account but in Renminbi and the thought of having to line up at a bank and do this transaction was not something I wanted to do.
Luckily the organizer agreed to accept my US cash in person and I thought that was the end of that.
But the weekend before the National Day Holiday, the organizer sent out an urgent email to notify us of the route change.
Originally the start was supposed to be at Tiananmen Square. But because of the 17th National Party Congress of the Communist Party of China, the route had to be moved elsewhere. And on top of that, those who had signed up for the 8K like myself were now going to run 10K.
Again I complained about this but the organizers said that's the way it's going to be. Also, there would be a time limit of one hour and 30 minutes to finish 10K. Those who didn't would be picked up by broom buses so that the streets could reopen. I wasn't even going to get a timing chip either. I've participated in runs where everyone regardless of their ability got one. But I guess logistically the Chinese haven't figured out how to do this on a mass scale.
Anxious about my ability to finish 10K, I trained hard the weekend before and ate pasta.
This morning I woke up early and got to the race start around 7:30am. Lots of people were already there, almost all Chinese except for the odd foreigner. We dropped off our running bags at designated tents and then headed to the start.
There were lots of people like me dressed in orange Nike running T-shirts. Others wore white, bright yellow or maroon.
The marathoners started at 8am and those of us in the 10K group started at 8:18am. I started off slow and kept that pace even though lots of people ran ahead of me. As we ran out of the stadium, there was a stage area on the right where some officials stood and waved at us. A dramatic song from Mao's era rang out from speakers, probably some kind of motivational tune.
We then turned right and headed over a bridge where we could see the National Stadium or the "bird's nest" and the Aquatic Centre, shaped like a square bubble. Ahead of me, it was amazing to see a large black sea of heads bobbing up and down.
Sprinkled along the route were mainly migrant workers who were working on construction projects in the area. Some were dressed in jackets with a hard hat, others looked like they just got up and watched us with bemused looks. Some young people, cheering on their fellow university students shouted "jia you!" or "keep going!"
By the 5K mark where the first water station was, many people started walking but I kept going. I was impressed to see an elderly woman with a younger one, perhaps her daughter and son running together. At one point I also ran with an elderly man who kept going in his cotton sneakers.
Then we turned around and went back to complete the 10K. More people came out to see us but not much cheering or clapping that you'd find in North America. There were buses and cars ready to take over the roads as soon as we were done. They were really serious about the broom buses.
In the last kilometre I picked up the pace and finished at 1:24:15.
I got my running bag and then headed into the stadium to see the first marathoners finish their race. Again not a big turn out but at least the cheers made up for it.
Then getting home was another logistical problem. The stadium is located by the Fourth Ring Road, making it difficult to flag down a taxi. I had to walk almost another kilometre before I was able to grab one.
In the end I'm pleased I finished 10K without stopping, but it wasn't worth US$55.