you can do it, too
Runners at the Chengdu Sports Aid Second Annual Marathon.
Growing up, Kelly Ponton hated running ("I dreaded running for sports practices and was usually the slowest," she says) but eventually became an avid runner, running 5 to 10K at least four times per week and training for four half-marathons (and counting). During her stay in Chengdu she has run all over the city and organized two half-marathons, the most recent of which benefitted Chengdu Sports Aid. Here, Kelly shares some wisdom gathered over two years of running Chengdu's streets.
City Running: Hot Spots
Second Ring Road: Stay in the bike lanes, with the flow of traffic. If there aren't too many people out that day, it can be nice to run against traffic.
Donghu Gongyuan (East Lake Park): Green, fresh, and no noise, this park is off the Second Ring Road near the Wanda Plaza and one of Chengdu's best kept secrets. Lovely to run in.
Along the rivers is nice but beware of people in the late afternoon/evenings monopolizing space right along the river. You may have to dip up to the street for a few minutes. But don't run along the river at night—you will trip and fall. It's also a notorious pickup place for prostitutes, and there have been reports of nighttime river runners being harassed.
Yulin's streets are skinny but if you're going at a slower pace and want to window shop, it's nice.
Campuses, such as Sichuan University, Huaxi, and the Sports University, see relatively low volumes of traffic. Every campus also has a track or two, many open to the public. While you need patience or a purpose to run in a circle, they offer the advantage of being traffic-free. And compared to road running, proper track surfaces absorb more of the impact of running, decreasing the likelihood of shin splints or other injuries.
Stay away: The First Ring Road requires high alertness, a lot of starting and stopping, and dodging traffic from all angles. The Third Ring Road has a lot of construction, and the paths are interrupted by walking bridges. There are more trucks out there too, which are noisy and stressful during a run. Tongzilin isn't terrible, but the cobblestone roads are bumpy.
Equipment: Clothing and Shoes
The only equipment really required for running is a good pair of running shoes, making it one of the most budget-friendly forms of exercise. But the importance of good shoes shouldn't be underestimated. Many injuries runners suffer are due to running ill-fitting, improper, or worn-out shoes. In Chengdu, you won't find the technology and expertise in fitting running shoes that is available in athletic-shoe stores in the West. However, there is a vast amount of information online that will help you determine what kind of foot you have and what kind of shoe to buy. Most international brands are more expensive in China than they are in Western countries, and Nike, Adidas, and New Balance are no exception, although they are available in shopping malls, department stores, and sporting-goods stores. Reputable Chinese brands such as Li Ning, Anta, and Peak will cost less, but it will be harder to find information on specific models in English. Decathalon carries its Kalenji brand of running shoes, and Brooks and Asics have shops in Shanghai that will ship to Chengdu via the internet.
Name-brand shoes from a legit store should last the recommended 300 to 400 miles. The under-RMB100, no-name shoes will fall apart quickly. The soles of these shoes also usually lacks proper traction, possibly leading to a fall or injury, especially if you're running on the streets and in rain.
Sports clothes are easy to find in any of Chengdu's numerous sporting-clothes stores, such as those found near the Sports University or near the Sichuan University north gate.
If you're new to running, start small, with sessions of 10 to 15 minutes a few times a week, and then work your way up to your goal. Running gets easier every time you go. A great resource for runners is www.mapmyrun.com, which utilizes mapping technology to enable users to plot out runs, save them, and challenge other people in their city. This might encourage you to explore your area of town—I have even taken buses out of town or across the city and tried to run back home. It's also helpful to determine distances between two points, although the "Walking Directions" feature on Google Maps can do the same thing.
Running with other people helps you to stay motivated. There are many runners and even some running groups in Chengdu. Get a few people who will commit to a run each week and hold them accountable when they don't show. Setting a goal helps, whether it's weight-related or training for a specific time or distance. Organize a friendly 10K with friends or get involved with the Chengdu Sports Aid group. You may just like running after all.
Chengdu's international community currently has two weekly running groups. Sprinters practice on Mondays at 6 p.m. at Sichuan University's east gate track; distance runners depart Wednesday evenings at 7:30 from the Bookworm. Visit Sichuan Quake Relief (SQR) for more information information on Chengdu Sports Aid.
This article was originally published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 24 ("Summer"). Photos by Ben Fredman