Saturday, December 4, 2010

Running fun in China

hen you’re an Olympic athlete, you can’t take many days off. So when I’m out of my Monterey Peninsula comfort zone, I still have to get out and run. That means finding a challenging, safe course — even if you’re on the other side of the world.

Being in China to compete in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 presented me with many unique challenges, not the least of which was finding fun places to run.

The track and field team arrived three weeks ahead of time to acclimate to the country.

We stayed in a town called Dalian which is about a nine-hour ride from Beijing. It is a resort town on the coast, away from the pollution and heat of Beijing.

Security was ultra tough.

There were about 30 to 40 armed guards stationed around the hotel and training facilities. We could run around the hotel golf course, but that got boring pretty fast.

If we left the hotel grounds the guards were instructed to follow us in their car. Luckily we were able to lose them by ducking in some trails nearby or out a back entrance of the golf course.

If the marathoners needed to do a road workout, security officials would shut down six miles of the highway or a local road for two hours, stopping all local traffic until we were finished. I felt sorry for those drivers stuck waiting for us. Officials also closed roads if we needed to go to the training track, which was about 20 minutes away.

We had a police escort that stopped all traffic until we passed.

It was the easy runs on the rural roads that allowed me to see more of the Chinese countryside. I stumbled across a beautiful temple up a hilly road on one of these runs. Another time I came across a group of men who appeared to be taking a break from some sort of game — they were squatting in a circle, laughing. When I ran by and greeted them in Chinese they were a little stunned.

We runners definitely stood out in China. The locals were eager to practice their English on us or get a photo with us even though they had no idea who we were. The children were sweet and often came running up with hand-drawn pictures saying “Welcome to Beijing.” Some of the children were a bit more wary and just hugged their parents’ legs not knowing what to make of us.

One memory really stands out to me now that I have a toddler — that was seeing young children not wearing diapers. Maybe they were on to something over there.

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