Monday, October 16, 2006

The Beijing Marathon

This weekend I had the pleasure of watching what some might claim to be "the most polluted marathon in the world." A week and a half prior to the race I made a bet with a friend (who hadn't trained) that he couldn't finish the half-marathon in under 2:15. The stakes: a full size bottle of liquor, winner's choice.

I awoke bright and early on Sunday morning, and hauled across town to a spot just west of the Tiananmen Square starting line. As I emerged from the subway, I was faced with normal Sunday morning Beijing traffic. What??? I hadn't actually looked at the course map, but had gone on the word of my friend who was racing. After surveying the scene, however, I noticed the presence of a number of uniformed officers loitering around the sidewalks. I approached one and asked if the marathon would pass through this intersection--he confirmed that it would, but only gave me a shrug when I inquired about the buses, cars, and bikes whzzing by.

I trusted his assurance, found a nice spot on the corner, and waited until the officials eventually ventured out in the middle of the intersection to cut off the traffic. Before long, a pace car, medical car, and press van rolled by, followed closely by a graceful pack of men's elite runners. After they had all passed the officers stolled back to the sidewalk and--I couldn't believe what I was seeing at the time--reopened the road to traffic in all directions! I'm still not sure if this was brilliant planning or a total misunderstanding of how to conduct a marathon in a metropolis of 13 million. Another 15 minutes later, however, the officers re-entered the streets, cut off traffic for the second time, and waited for the hoi polloi to descend.

And descend they did! Having participated in an 8k "run" (as my friend and fellow race buddy said "it was 70% people on bikes, 30% people on rollerblades, then me and Jenn) a few weeks prior, I was excited to see what the Marathon would bring. The race did not disappoint as a motley mix of athletes, small children, people with highly questionable fitness levels, and "runners" with bags of KFC takeout in tow trotted past me. I tried to snap a few photos to capture the spirit of the Beijing Marathon, and the diversity of the participants:

possibly the most hard-core competitor in the whole race

though this triumverate looks pretty bad-ass as well

some of the aforementioned "people with highly questionable fitness levels," once the roads had re-opened to traffic

wonder how far this dude made it

After about 25 minutes of spectating, the roads yet again reopened for traffic, engulfing the thousands of participants still on the course. They filtered into the sidewalks and bike lanes, and I can only assume that they soon resigned to the fact that they weren't going to finish. As for the bet, I lost, as my friend blazed through in 1:44.


Ari said...

Damn--that's not bad for no training! I'm actually thinking about training for the Great Wall marathon in April. Care to join me?

Harry said...

Bu Laoshi! God bless the lungs of those runners; and, man, do I need some noodles from chengdu xiaochi (and a warm bottle of yanpi to wash em down). Two thumbs way up on the blog. I will visit regularly to get my Beijing fix. baozhong, HK