Running is the easiest to do, and I’ve been putting in pretty consistent miles. We live right along a canal, and all of the roads crossing it go over high bridges, so the pathways along the canal go under them and don’t encounter any cross streets. I’ve gone 3.5 miles west without a cross street. And I’ve gone about 3 miles east with few intersections to navigate. There are also some parks along the canal for detours.
Nonetheless, it gets boring running the same routes, and running is one of my favorite ways to explore a city, because you cover a lot of ground but not so fast that you miss everything. So, I’ve headed away from the canal on a few occasions. To the west of us, it’s not bad. But, all other directions are a little crazy.
Out there it’s really much more like trail running than road running. I’m constantly jumping from the sidewalk into the street, zigzagging through pedestrians, passing bikes, hopping onto stairs. I guess most cities are at least somewhat like this, but the craziness of Shanghai heightens the effect. In addition, because the nutty traffic “system” relies on everyone predicting everyone else’s path, the “runner” throws everything off because no one sees them very often. At least it’s easy for me to sprint out of danger since I’m already warmed up and have my running shoes on.
My trusty steed
I’ve also been able to do some cycling. Soon after arriving, I purchased a brand new bike. It’s a city bike made by Giant and I spent a whopping $125 on it. As you can see, it’s got fenders and a rack and is really designed for getting around more than getting fit. It also weighs about 60 pounds. But, with Shimano shifters and Giant parts, it should be a solid ride for the five months I’m here (you might recall I went for the beater in Hong Kong; I had some regrets, as a few months later the friction shifting system decided it didn’t like friction, leaving me with a single speed bike).
Now, you might think I’d prefer to have a nice road bike. But it turns out my Giant is the perfect bike. First, I can use it for commuting, too. But, also, a really heavy, inefficient bike turns out to be great for exercise here. It’s not like I want to go fast. Fast will get me killed. I just need a workout. With this bike, I can get a workout while going slow. Perfect.
The only downside of cycling here is that it’s tough to go very far without having to stop for a light. There’s no “getting out of the city” to ride. The canal offers one route, but it’s impossible to avoid regular roads.
That said, the uninterrupted bouts of effort on my bike are far better than what I’ve managed in the pool.
I’ve found two pools in the area that offer day passes. I first went to the closer one, which is a beautiful 50 meter, Olympic-sized pool. The first time I went in the morning and found it was too crowded. I had to share my lane with a bunch of people and typically had to wait after each length for space to swim. People hadn’t sorted into lanes by speed, so it wasn’t working very well.
I decided to go back during the afternoon shift. Initially, I was surprised to see that the last two lanes were only moderately full but, more importantly, people were actually swimming, not just the typical casual breaststroke that everyone does here. It looked like I could hop into the rotation and swim uninterrupted. Well…
There’s a scene in A Christmas Story where Ralphy and Randy go to see Santa and they stop at the bottom of the stairs and a guy says, “hey, kids, the line starts here; it ends back there,” and they trudge back to the other side of the mall to get in line. I felt like Ralphy when the lifeguard notified me halfway down my first length that the first two lanes were being used by a swim club. I had to go to lane 3, which was about as crowded as the line to see Santa, stretching all the way to Terre Haute. Here, I couldn’t swim more than 10 feet without stopping. It took me 5 minutes to complete a lap. I went home.
So, I decided to try the other pool, about which there was zero information on the internet and I only knew about because someone on an expat forum posted some pictures and said it had day passes. It was actually worse. Picture a typical 6-lane swimming pool in the US. Now, shorten it a bit, as this looked only about 20 meters (most US pools are 25 yards). Next, add about 50-60 Chinese people, most of whom are doing that crazy, lazy breaststroke, which takes up twice the width of a freestyle swimmer (and is a fraction of the speed). Finally, and here’s the best part, remove the lane lines. Now imagine swimming laps. Or trying to.
Actually, it was a lot like getting around Shanghai’s streets, come to think of it, only in water.
So, it looks like I won’t be doing much swimming, but I should be able to have good run and cycling fitness this spring and into the summer. I’m hopeful that I can turn it into some reasonable efforts in some late-August and September sprint triathlons.