When I had just arrived I summarized my beginners knowledge and impressions about Shanghai as a running location. My first long run followed soon after and I’ve now been around long enough to frame some ambitions for my city explorations. As these are taking shape, thus the creation of a new category, running Shanghai, introduced as follows:
Running a metropolis is obviously very different from running mountains and other natural landscapes but cities are not ‘unnatural’. issues of reflection are how to make the most of this man-made environment, how to navigate it best, how to make running it a worthwhile experience.
Part of the ambition for this category is to build up a running Shanghai guide for anyone wanting to explore the city.
Practicalities assume that the principles are clear. Well, they are not. I’m working on it, but haven’t spelled them out yet. What I have spelled out is that I write about running Shanghai from the perspective of what running the city, rather than walking or otherwise exploring it, has to offer. I don’t expect anyone to even contemplate running the city who doesn’t like – for whatever motivation, be it health, be it the endorphin rush, be it some kinda self-improvement, be it whatever – the activity of running. But what I have to offer here doesn’t primarily address issues like what the best places are for a good work-out (googling won’t get you plenty of options but a couple of standard locations will pop up –Century park, the South Bund). It is about practicalities of using running as your way of moving through the city to explore her, connect with her, and ultimately make her your own.
Given that perspective, one core principle for running landscapes, and thus cities like Shanghai, is that it only comes into its own when you start covering (considerably) more ground than you could walking. I’ll delve into that in another post, but it underlies all that I’ll bore you with here. However, before I go into those specific practicalities, there are a couple of practical issues, that are relevant to any runner in Shanghai, whatever their motivation to hit the pavement.
Shanghai is not the worst city in China, but the index very regularly goes into the orange zone, and unfortunately the red is not only a regular occurrence, a statistical hazard, but also an experiential bother for everyone. In my couple months here I haven’t experienced the very unhealthy purple much yet, and the maroon hazardous only once, but being a runner in Shanghai means checking before one goes out, and not only runners…
Another one, equally applicable to all runners (and others using Shanghai streets) is traffic. Now, I’ve been in places where traffic is worse, many more cars, much more chaotic, higher speeds, etc., but some of the traffic peculiarities here are as much against the grain of what Westerners take for granted as anything I’ve encountered elsewhere, and made me very cautious. I borrow a short overview from a Shanghai expat site:
- You will quickly learn that cars are definitely the king of the road in Shanghai traffic, while pedestrians are just moving obstacles for drivers to get around as quickly as possible. Chinese drivers will tell you that if they had to be polite and yield to pedestrians they would never be able to move forward, which is actually quite true due to the large numbers of pedestrians everywhere.
- Always remember that just because the pedestrian light turns green does not mean cars will stop and wait for you.
- Drivers rarely stop before turning right in China, even on a red light or to yield to pedestrians walking in either direction. Oncoming traffic turning left into your crosswalk will also not yield to you, so keep looking both directions as you continue to cross the street.
- Zebra crossings do exist in China, but don’t serve much purpose, as drivers will rarely stop when you are near one or indeed inside one, so never take this for granted.
- Many car drivers in China are quite inexperienced, as Chinese tend to buy their first car and get a driver’s license much later in life than Westerners.
Alright, enough borrowing from others, on to my own unique contribution, an embarrassing insight into my artistic and presentation skills, but hey, I’m just starting:
To be honest, I’m not only embarrassed about my drawing skills, also about the pedestrian nature of my thoughts so far about designing explorative running itineraries. They are so, what shall I say, obvious. But sometimes the obvious needs stating.
When running a longer itinerary, through a cityscape that one is not (intimately) familiar with, one needs a route that is as straight forward as possible. It’s no problem to regularly consult a map and/or a description, but not at every second street corner (a design principle that I also follow in the development of an ultra trail in the environs of my Dutch home town). As you can see from my map above this translates into finding runnable and interesting streets that can be followed for longer distances (5-10k). Or follow rivers. Interesting longer city streets nearly by definition will have one or more particular highlights, and others, not too far away can be connected by an out-and-back.
As a short, generally applicable aside: nothing wrong with out-and-back. Anyone who’s ever run a mountain trail will know that running the same trail back is a totally different experience. And the same is true for most city routes too. From the perspective of my very particular objective to make a city my own by running its pavements, I would even argue that one needs to run a route both ways (and several times).
Another design principle, as much driven by the physical aspect of running enjoyment as by my exploratory objective, is to include every bit of green space and the oxygen it exudes, as well as the biophilia it satisfies. And whatever others may say, Shanghai has plenty of green spaces, with lots of fabulous stuff happening.
Doing longer runs has two aspects to it. The first is long in the sense of covering a lot of ground. The second is long in the sense of taking a long time, a good day out. That is because you want to be able to ‘run without haste’, and that is not only running at a pace that allows you to take in your environment, but also to have time to take walking breaks where walking is either the only or the most appropriate option, e.g. when visiting a temple, or a very busy market street, to have time to stop to enjoy a particular view or checking out a detail, and living of the street for your sustenance.
Well, that’s all for now, I told you: how obvious can one get. Nevertheless, I can assure you that my approach to a good city running exploration, let’s say a minimum of 20k of distance and three hours of running with walking breaks and short stops, is not something I’ve seen described as a premise of good route design anywhere yet (let me know if that is just a sign of ignorance, I don’t mind at all being corrected).
As this is a very prosaic post I cannot end without adding something uplifting. It would have been nice if that could have been sounds and visuals from my new environment, Shanghai, but so far I haven’t come across creativity in these art forms that comes anywhere close to what is generated by my previous cityscape, Cairo (although the Y.A.S duo is actually Paris based and doesn’t have an Egyptian background..but one could as well see that as a tribute to the Mother of all Cities):