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Expat joggers hot to trot

When I was in Buffalo, I ran with Americans; when I was in Hiroshima, I ran with the Japanese. But when I run in Shanghai, I run with the world," says regular jogger John Paul McCarthy after a year in Shanghai.

"I'll see a guy here and then there. I'll see him at a race, he'll see me ... and then all of a sudden we know each other without ever speaking," the American adds. Before moving to Shanghai, he lived in Japan for seven years.

McCarthy, a PE teacher at Shanghai International United School, is just one of the 1,000 or so active runners in the Shanghai Triathlon Club - half Chinese half expat. There are separate groups for running, cycling and swimming.

When he arrived in Shanghai last hot and humid August, McCarthy found running could be quite difficult. There was no crisp, cold air as in Buffalo or mountain and river as in Japan. "My running world got turned upside down, inside out, and did a 360," he tells Shanghai Daily.

"But it didn't take long for me to get connected with other runners and get my bearings straight," he says, adding that Shanghai's running culture is "truly international and incredibly diverse."

On September 15, McCarthy and his team of around 240 intrepid runners got together for a Moron'athon - a 24-hour ultra-marathon relay - to raise money to build a library in rural China. They set up tents in a camp along tranquil Dishui Lake in Pudong's Nanhui area. Then they ran 5-kilometer laps, rested and then ran, or lurched along again.

McCarthy encourages rusty runners and "virgins" to get off the couch and move it.

"We all started because of him, jogging is not really our hobby," one woman said before the first Moron'athon lap. He organized everything and the group showed up for 24 hours of grueling fun.

New Zealander David Chitayat runs a trading company and has lived in the city for 10 yeas. He runs religiously, at first just for exercise, then because he got hooked.

"I run alone mostly, but that's nice. I can get peace in my mind without focusing on work. After that, I just feel relaxed. Time passes faster when I run in the city, in spite of the pollution," Chitayat says.

He says he usually starts in Xuhui District, then runs down to the south Bund area. Sometimes in the morning he jogs on a track at Jiao Tong University or Luwan Stadium.

Frenchman Lauren Cochet, an energy efficiency consultant, started running when he arrived in Shanghai five years go. "Frankly, there is not much else to do," he says. "There are no mountains, no nature, so the only thing you can do is running, unless you like indoor sports."

The Parisian runs twice a week near the riverside avenue in Lujiazui or near the Jinqiao Rugby Club in Pudong.

Most women runners say they run for fitness, to control weight and burn fat. Most of those at the Moron'athon say they usually run at the gym because it's more convenient.

But Bridget Waters from Liverpool loves running outside, though she misses the open fields at home.

"I grew up running since I was two years old and I'll probably run until the end of my life," she says. "Even when I'm in a wheelchair, I guess I'll run with the wheels."

Waters lectures on art and technology at Shanghai United International School. Before going to work, she usually runs in her neighborhood where locals think she's a phenomenon. She enjoys watching people do their morning tai chi.

"It's a lot easier to stay in bed but they get out and start to exercise," she says. "We don't have many people like them in our country."

Waters says she tried tai chi once, but didn't know how to do it properly, found it "very therapeutic."

Sports transcends boundaries and national differences, so they say. When Japanese Naoko Umahashi decided to join the Moron'athon, she felt a little intimidated to be surrounded by so many Chinese. "But I found them very friendly and I really want to make friends with those joggers and share our experience."

Umahashi has only lived in Shanghai for six months and finds it a bit polluted and jammed with traffic. But she found her running mecca in Pudong's Century Park. She also joined the Hash House Harriers, a running and drinking club that has a lot of fun. But she leaves after the run and doesn't go to the pub where things can get wild.

Jogging is trendy in Japan among young people, but Umahashi is deeply committed. "I feel so concentrated during running and if I don't run for even one day, I feel so bad," she says.

So does Peter Kostur from the Czech Republic, though he doesn't run as frequently. "Generally, running is so enjoyable that every place is almost the same to me. I love jogging in the city but I never do it in the gym. I find it boring," says the engineer in an office furniture and interior company. He runs near Jing'an Temple, where he lives.

Air pollution and traffic are the common complaints of joggers throughout Shanghai, but the environment is getting better, according to American Morton Patrick, a professor from Duke University. He has been living in Shanghai for eight years and jogs virtually every day.

When he arrived in 2004, he found Shanghai rather gray and dusty all the time. "But sometimes when I look up I see blue sky and white clouds," he says. He lives in Hongkou District and usually runs in Luxun Park.

Arne Heuweuemeijer, who works for Radisson Hotels, is dedicated to jogging since he lost 16 kilos after taking up the exercise. The Dutchman has been living in the city for 11 years. He jogs alone every weekend near Luwan Stadium. He says runners in Shanghai need to be vigilant and keep an eye out for bicycles that could crash into them.

Almost all the joggers interviewed say that in their home countries they usually run alone. The Shanghai Triathlon Club and, to a lesser extent, the Shanghai Hash Harriers are the main running groups for expats.

"Most of the websites don't have an English version and I don't know how to get information," says Liverpool native Waters. "When I was in the UK, I joined a jogging club to run with friends, but here I have no idea. I think there should be more."

Many joggers recommend Century Park, where the air quality is better. Regular runners can buy a year's ticket for entry.


For more information on runs and races, in both English and Chinese, check http://weacool.com/.

Other jogging club sites:

Freemarathon Sports: http://forum.freemarathon.org/

STC Shanghai: http://www.shanghaitriathlonclub.com/

Written by Qu Zhi

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