Saturday, January 2, 2010

Running in the Olympic Park

First things first! A Happy (Gregorian) New Year to Everyone! Finally mustered up enough energy to blog (and find a proxy so that I can post and see my own blogs from China).

So I have started to run semi-seriously again, ever since getting back to Beijing in November. I actually started an Excel spreadsheet to detail the time and length of each run (and which pair of shoes, which route, time of day, …). I did pick up a new pair of New Balance (NB 1224, size 8D) while I was in the States and wanted to track the mileage I put on the new shoes.

Luckily the weather (and, even more importantly, the pollution/smog) in Beijing has been unusually cooperative, and I have been able to run 15 times in the last month and a half. (And I could have put in a few more runs had I not come down with a cold the second week in December.) It has been much colder than last year but overall the pollution levels are noticeably lower than last winter. I presume it is due to a greater portion of heat in Beijing being generated by natural gas instead of coal, but I cannot be sure.

In any case, when I’m at PKU during the week, I usually run around Weiming Pond (Weiming Hu, 未名湖, i.e., the pond whose name is 'Nameless Lake') or on the track of the May 4th Athletic Field. Once around Weiming Hu is about 950 meters, so I usually run 5-8 laps. Weiming Hu is very scenic, especially in the Fall and in the Spring. Unfortunately, I usually run in the afternoon and most times I have to compete with automobiles on the north side of the shore, as west bound car traffic is permitted on that side.

That’s why I prefer to run on the days when I’m working in my wife’s office/lab at the Datun campus of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The 4 year old campus is a block west of the Olympic Park, which is the site of the Olympic Stadium (aka the ‘Bird’s Nest’ and the silver doughnut in the satellite image below) and the National Swimming Center (aka the ‘Water Cube’ and the pinkish square to the west of the Bird's Nest). The park is organized around a broad, tree-lined, pedestrian-only boulevard that runs north-south through the length of the park. A series of man-made ponds run mostly parallel to this pedestrian walkway from the Bird’s Nest to the even newer Olympic Forest Park (not shown in the image below). I have mapped out my basic running route, which is a loop around the 4 easily accessible ponds. (I mark the route in dashed white lines on the Google satellite map posted below. The dashed cyan line marks partly our commute to the CAS from home and will be the subject of a future blog.)

From the CAS campus, I run due east along North Datun Road to the closest pond, turn left and head up north. The series of Olympic Park ponds end at one of the side entrances to the Olympic Forest Park. There I turn right and run back south along the eastern edge of these ponds until North National Stadium Road. Some time in the summer I have run south one more pond to get to the foot of the Bird’s Nest, but lately that area is fenced off, with entrances on the east and the west of the stadium and an exit-only gate on North National Stadium Road. So here I turn up north again and run up along the western shore of the ponds up to North Datun Road. Here I have two choices. I can either run back to the CAS Datun campus, making it a 5 km run, or loop again around the 2 northern ponds and making it a 6 ½ km run. (A couple of times last summer, I have run 2 full laps around the 4 ponds. But, so far this winter, I have not tried, partly because I have not quite worked myself back to it, after various trips and the weeklong bout with a cold. But mostly it is because it has been so windy in the last 2 weeks. On Christmas, I ran the usual 6 ½ km route but with the last 800 meters straight into a 20 kph wind from the west.)

During my runs in the Olympic Park, which is extremely scenic (especially at sunset), I mostly enjoy looking at the people visiting. I see families out walking with their kid, with or without strollers. I see old couples walking hand-in-hand, some times walking their dogs. I see young couples seated on benches (and usually in each other’s arms). I see old men flying kites. I see park workers sweeping at the end of the day, keeping the park extremely clean. And some times I even see other runners, although in the last, bitterly cold, month, basically I have been the only runner out there. Some times I nod to people I run past, but usually they do not respond. When they do look at me, fully decked out in running shirt and running tights, it is as if I am from another planet. Even my fellow runners don’t seem to acknowledge other runners.

This afternoon, I went for the first run of the year in the Olympic Park. It snowed a little bit last night, and so there’s a thin layer of snow on top of the solidly frozen ponds. (But not enough snow to stay on the paths or the walkways.) There were noticeably more people than on the regular, weekday, afternoons. Many people were trying to skate on the frozen ponds. One person even came out with an office chair with wheels and was using a tree branch as a pole.

There were also new winter fair-like events in the tents next to the stadium and the stadium proper made into a snow theme park (filled by snow machines). (The latter I did not get to see first hand but has been in the news on CCTV recently.) But what was eerily missing this afternoon was the music blaring from speakers along the pedestrian walkways and along the ponds. Usually the park speakers play three songs in a loop: ‘Beijing Welcomes You,’ (the claustrophobic-at-least-to-me) ‘One World / One Dream,’ and ‘You and Me’ (as performed by Liu Huan and Sarah Brightman during the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremonies). I prefer running to the rhythm of ‘Beijing Welcomes You,’ especially after I have warmed up. For me, the other two songs are a tad too slow to run to. The three songs are in an endless loop broken only by the park information announcement (in both Chinese and English) between ‘You and Me’ and ‘Beijing Welcomes You’, with the lady’s voice reminding everyone to shop only at ‘official’ Olympic Park shops and that there are 3 zones (she pronounces the English word ‘zones’ to rhyme with ‘ruins’), each with their own information centers and services.

Remind me to ask my British friends how they pronounce ‘zones.’

Anyway, my New Year's resolution: a 10-k run under 50 mins.


Phil said...

Great blog start, Louis! But I got cold just reading it. Wait ... I forgot that I'm in Pittsburgh right now, where it's 10 deg F. And windy.

Nikolaj Madsen said...


Is their any problems with air/pollution up north where you run at the Olympic Park, or is it almost possible to run there?