Toe Real

I enjoy running, although it leaves my feet looking pretty gross most of the time. I lost my first toenail a few years ago and although it grew back it was never the same again, and I’ve lost the same one a few times since. A few months ago I started having a terrible pain in my toe but I ignored it, as I was busy at work and my chiropodist friend recently moved back to Australia so it all felt like too much hassle.

Fast forward to October, and I ran the Changzhou Half Marathon. Changzhou is a small city of 5 million people about 200km from Shanghai. There was 30,000 people taking part and only 15 foreigners – our names were listed on a big board. People took photos with us the whole time. I don’t mind if someone is nice about it, maybe even asks, but when people photograph you coming out of a portaloo or when you’re at 18km and want to die then I’m not so happy with it. And don’t grab me and force me into your photo. I did that to a cat at a cat cafe the other day and it bit me, and you know what, I deserved it.

The Changzhou Half Marathon was probably the dullest route I have ever run – the first 6km were in a straight line on a completely soulless road – but in a way this is very Changzhou. We did go past Wycombe Abbey International School, which was exciting for me as the school is owned by my old company and I’ve taught a load of students from there. Otherwise, the day was grey and the lake was brown, and at around 10km my toe was really hurting. It felt like it was on fire actually, not a blister but an intense pressure from within, a sock volcano waiting to erupt. At the finish line we drank prosecco and I took my shoe off, saw blood through my sock and put my shoe back on.

Back in civilisation (AKA Shanghai) I took a closer look at my toe. When I prodded my big toenail loads of blood and pus came out. I decided to go to the doctors. My friend goes to the doctors on a pretty much weekly basis, so I got the details of the clinic and made an appointment. One of the joys of private medical insurance is that it’s super swanky. I think I’ve written about my guilty enjoyment of it before. This time I showed up and they gave me a pair of fluffy slippers to wear. It’s another world, I tell you (though due to billing cycles etc I ended up having to co-pay some of this treatment so I was milking the fluffy slippers as much as I could).

The doctor started telling me about how they didn’t like to remove infected toenails and instead would normally prescribe antifungals, but then I showed him my toe and he said that he’d definitely be removing it as it had two different types of infection (what can I say, I’m very talented). He gave me antibiotics to take and told me to come back in a week.

A week later I came back, no noticeable difference in my toe, and the nurse told me to lie on bed and wait for the doctor. She asked me if I was nervous and I said no, of course not. Eventually the doctor came in and got straight into the task of removing my toenail, zero chat despite my best efforts. He anaesthetised my foot, not well enough as he had to do it again once he started cutting, and I decided to stop watching and stared at the ceiling and felt miserable and lonely. After what felt like forever, the doctor announced that he was done, and I sat up and admired my toenail, sitting alone on the counter.

After bandaging up my toe, I was told to go and wait in another room in case I felt faint after the anaesthetic. The nurse asked if I needed a medical certificate to get signed off work. Off work?? Clearly they haven’t met my boss! The nurse was adamant that I couldn’t walk for the next week but also didn’t have crutches to give me, so I sat and waited to be discharged, texting a friend furiously.

Once at home, my toe did really start to hurt but I was teaching an online lesson so I took it out on the student. It hurt for a couple of days but very quickly felt fine. I’d been told that twice a day I needed to wash my toe with saline, use a special cream and bandage it up, and I was a bit wary about doing it at first as I thought it might look horrifying, but it was no big deal and I managed to keep up this regime for a good 10 days.

The worst thing is that after having the toenail removed I was told: NO RUNNING. I pressed the doctor on how long this was for, and he said “a long time” (ah, so scientific). I forfeited my place in the Shanghai Marathon (probably a good thing, as I wasn’t in any way trained and it absolutely pissed it down on the day) and still haven’t run… soon… soon…

Final note: aren’t you pleased this post had no pictures?

Two half marathons

This spring I ran two half marathons, and I meant to write about them but I was busy and lazy and didn’t. However, I was just thinking about how very different the two races were.

Pre-race:

  • Wuxi: Wuxi is 200km from Shanghai, so I had to take the high speed train after work, then a taxi across the city to a sports centre, to pick up my race number the day before (the organisers refused to allow same-day pick up or a friend to pick it up – really disappointing). I stayed with a friend that night, so had to take another taxi across town to this sports centre (very inconvenient location to start a race). Dropping off bags etc was fine and then I queued for 45 minutes to use the filthy toilets. Really unimpressive.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: I took the metro to a random stop in Minhang, then walked to a cafe on a dusty street. There were only 250 people doing the race, so it was all very low key and easy. I hung out with my friends and chatted, then stashed my bag in a cardboard box.

Route:

  • Wuxi: Getting over the start line took about 20 minutes as there were about 30,000 runners doing the full and half marathons. Once underway, it always felt crowded. The route itself was on closed roads, and there were quite a few spectators out, plus old people dancing and playing drums etc. Running alongside the lake was quite nice, although the pollution was very high. The final bit was through the university and the students were very enthusiastic cheerers – when I made the effort to wave, or high five, they went absolutely nuts and it gave me quite a boost.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: The race started down an alley beside a restaurant, and the first 8km was on the roads, dodging cars and old people, although after that it was mainly along the river path. When we hit the river things got a bit easier to follow, although some of the route markers had been removed by over-zealous security guards. No cheerers. Lots of annoying people also using the riverside path, how dare they. Got stopped 500m from the end by a film crew, then decided to be a dick and just ran through their set.

Water:

  • Wuxi: Water stops every 2km, after the first 5km, with water, energy drinks, sponges and toilets. There were also some random food stops, like a burger stall at 18km.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: Water at 9km, 15km and 20km. Nowhere near enough. Nearly died.

Weather:

  • Wuxi: It was warm but not too crazy. Shitty air.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: It was incredibly hot, and I contemplated throwing my dessicated corpse into the Huangpu. High pollution.

My performance:

  • Wuxi: I stopped at 8km to use the loo, then from 12km I walked through the water stops as I am rubbish at running while drinking. At about 18km I gave up and did a lot more walking. Finished in 2hr32.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: After the first water stop I couldn’t start running for nearly 1km, and that was kind of the story for the rest of the race. At one point I sent messages to my friend saying how awful I felt and he told me to get a fucking move on. Really had to have words with myself on several occasions but it did very little. Dragged myself to the finish line (a friend standing in the road with a can of coconut water) in 2hr34.

Post-race:

  • Wuxi: I sat on the grass for a while, then went to collect my belongings. Lots of random stuff in the goody bag. I called a taxi and then spent 20 minutes arguing with the driver because he didn’t know about the road closures. Finally got back to my friend’s house and went to eat churros, before getting the train back to SH and going for a curry with my boyfriend.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: Chatted to friends, went to the bar just as other friends had opened a bottle of prosecco, downed a glass, immediately felt my insides liquefy and had to run to the bathroom. Drank beer and heckled my friend who won, then got the metro home, feeling sweaty and slightly drunk.

Wuxi Trail Race

Back in the UK, I used to do a lot of races – there was a period where my boss would ask me what I was doing at the weekend and would groan when I’d tell him another half marathon. But in China I’ve not done nearly as many – partly because there are fewer races, but also because at my old job I worked every weekend. I did one race in September, but that was it.

On the day of the Shanghai Marathon, I met up with friends running it for celebratory drinks. One of the people there said that she was the organiser of the Wuxi Marathon, and a bunch of us ended up saying that we’d do it. She mentioned a trail race coming up in a few weeks, and a little while later, posted it in the WeChat group.

The trail race had a few options – 50km, 29km and 8km. I tried to talk a friend into the 8km but she wasn’t convinced. I asked another friend and he managed to talk me into agreeing to run 29km. Quite honestly, I was easily persuaded but that didn’t stop me from worrying about it quite a lot as the day got closer.

As I tried to get to sleep the night before the race, I was really quite worried. 29km is a long way, I haven’t run that distance since training for the Halstead Marathon, so not since April 2016. In fact, in 2017 I’ve probably only twice run more than 10km. I hadn’t eaten enough, wasn’t sure that I’d packed the right clothes and was all round questioning my life decisions.

The alarm went off at 6am and there was a flurry of activity – showers, coffee, soup, bananas, cereal, last-minute extra layers and then a taxi to Wuxi scenic area. The taxi dropped us off at the entrance and we waited for the shuttle bus to take us to the start line. It was cold. Did I mention I was worried? We did a group warm up and were soon on our way, with the start coinciding with my garmin going into sleep mode (a watch after my own heart).c8i48q1fmrp8o3q1hhmsm

The course seemed busy at first and I wondered if it would be congested all the way, though of course it thinned out without me really realising. We walked up the hills and ran down, trying to keep moving. I actually felt really bad. After 2km I wouldn’t have put money on me finishing. It wasn’t that I was tired but more that I felt that my head would give out. I started apologising to Alex, I was sick of the sound of my voice and sick of the voice in my head too.

run

After 8km we came to the first feed station and we ate bananas, orange slices and raisins. A man took photos of me eating a slice of orange but thankfully I am yet to see these photos anywhere.

Around this point we went through a large stretch of forest, where we had to go single file in a large group of people. Going step by step by step through the trees started to make me feel better. I’d been worried I was so slow, too slow, but here I was going at the same speed as everyone else, and I didn’t have to look where I was going because I could just follow the people ahead. I started feeling better, a lot better. Every step took us closer to the halfway point at the very least, and Alex had pointed out that we really only needed to do 15km because after that we’d have to finish or else never get home.

I normally hate running downhill, especially on trails, but was trying a new tactic of not being such a coward and giving it a go (though I had tried this in the Ashridge Forest trail race and ended up covered in blood). Maybe it was the moral support but I couldn’t stop laughing, even if I didn’t look quite as elegant as I felt.hu010ra63yvje0hxbavgnmcpcakqa5y02z9m8u47

We came out of the woods onto a road heading downhill and I felt like I was flying. Alex was flagging a little bit and I waited for him at the second feed station. I had some more raisins and he had some noodles, and then we were on our way again. We went through a village and then back out into the countryside, along paths through tea fields and then just pushing our way through dense tea plants.1s1c4agahdm3ek2u146vz2

tea

We headed up and up to the top of the mountain, high above the city. There was no one else around and we scrambled across rocks. It felt a little sketchy. Alex wanted to pick up every discarded water bottle that we saw (who drops litter in a place like this?!) so we ended up with lots of empty bottles tucked into our rucksacks. It was quite slow going but every step got us closer.

After about 21km we left the top of the mountain and went through another village, depositing all our water bottles in a bin. A man sauntered past eating a steamed bun and Alex asked him if he had a spare. The man thought he was joking but he wasn’t. We got a little lost just after this but eventually found ourselves on a road and by the edge of the lake, with a pleasant jaunt along the lakeside walkway.

Alex told me to go on ahead and wait at the final feed station, and I headed off, immediately regretting what I’d done as I should have waited for him. I took a wrong turning – that’s karma for you – but finally found my way back to the course, just in time for a long uphill road. Near the top of the road was a large white dog (a samoyed or similar), pulling his owners along. I went to pet the dog and the owners were amazed that I wasn’t scared, and then started laughing when the dog jumped up to cuddle me and we ended up rolling around in the road, one fluffy dog and one sweaty human. Such a nice dog, happy days.

From here it was a short run down to the final feed station, and I waited for Alex, who wolfed down orange slice after orange slice when he arrived. I wanted us to run the final bit together but couldn’t convince him to run with me, so (yet again – and I do feel bad about this) I headed off.

There was one final hill, and I tried to run up and down (by whatever definition of running), ideally without tripping over and breaking any bones. A man past me and gave me a vaguely patronising cheer, then when I passed him back I returned the favour, so he ran with me for a while, asking what I thought of Wuxi etc. I realised we were really close to the end and said I wanted to finish – I wanted it done and I was genuinely worried my watch was about to run out of battery! I tried my best attempt at a sprint finish and crossed the line. 5hr49!

About ten minutes later I saw Alex coming around the corner. Was he… walking? I shouted at him and he ran to the finish. We then made some significant inroads into the food available at the finish line, ginger tea being my favourite thing. We were given finisher hoodies – some pretty good swag at this race, all in all.

I can’t believe how this race went from one where I was so down and then so up. I felt great for days afterwards and I’m still grinning about it.

Yangcheng Lake 10k

My running club organises a few races each year, but this was the first I was able to go along to. People had been talking this up for some time, telling me about an amazing buffet and swimming pool, so as soon as it was announced it went straight in my diary.

What’s the deal:

  • get picked up from Shanghai (not too far from our house), get given breakfast and then driven to Fairmont hotel by Yangcheng Lake, a 5* hotel about an hour from Shanghai
  • 10k or half marathon in the grounds of the hotel/surrounding area, alongside the lake and through some organic farms
  • swimming in the hotel pool
  • buffet
  • get driven back to Shanghai afterwards

In reality, this meant:

  • We took a taxi to the pick up point and the stupid driver went the wrong way and refused to do a U-turn, prompting my best Shanghainese shouting. Breakfast was good and we had a chat with people I know from running club, then we took the bus. The bus got lost near the hotel for about half an hour, but one of the other buses was so lost that the start had to be delayed.
  • The 10k was slightly long, about 10.6k! This wasn’t appreciated but my undertrained legs. The half marathon was spot on. So glad I didn’t do the half… Beautiful course despite the runaway golf cart.
  • It was a little too cold to swim in the pool but we lazed by it for a while, and having a pool meant we could use the showers to get changed post-race, which was fantastic.
  • The buffet had been seriously hyped. I’d been told about cheese – and after not really eating much cheese for some time, I was pretty excited. This was just before the Great Cheese Ban of 2017 so I’m not sure why there was no cheese, but there wasn’t, and the veggie options weren’t amazing either. I had two plates of salad and then about 3 plates of desserts. Not three desserts. Three plates of desserts.
  • We got the last bus back to Shanghai as we were having fun chilling out in the hotel grounds. The bus driver took us on a major detour and we ended up in Suzhou. There was a lot of talk about dogs and Matt fell asleep. When we got back we went for a beer at EQ cafe.

All in all, a really fun day and an enjoyable race. I was soooo slow but I’ve really not done much running. I ran out of steam after 8.5k, which is definitely more of a mental thing. There’s a 15k race next month so I’m hopefully going to do that.

Huge thanks to Martin for organising everything and being an all-round great Dane!

Two weeks at Functional 45

Since moving to Shanghai I’ve been a bit lazy and have run a fraction of what I used to do in London. I have lots of excuses: I didn’t know the city, it’s impossible to run to work without a shower at work, it’s hot (it maxed out at 45 degrees), it’s raining (rain here is heavy – I don’t mind getting wet but the roads flood and there are huge storms), my stomach is bad, etc. But a lot of the time I’ve just been lazy.

I’m in a running club, which meets once a week and runs along a pedestrianised stretch of the West Bund. It’s a nice bunch of people from all over, coordinated by a 2m tall Dane. A great dane, if you like. The West Bund has no cars, bikes or scooters, which is heavenly (the rule of pavements in Shanghai seems to be that if you can fit your bike/scooter/car then it’s fair game). Lots of people come here to make the most of it, a lot of whom seem to be lacking any idea of space or direction. These include: old people out walking/clapping, young people walking 3 abreast, kids on rollerblades, kids doing martial arts, stupid little yappy dogs, a group of men playing the saxophone, old men flying kites, extremely large groups of women doing square dancing, big dogs scaring the shit out of people, joggers running extremely slowly, grandparents walking their precious darling… At first I tried to dodge people and then I progressed to shouting at people and I’m almost ready to graduate to what one of my club members does and implement a points system for shoulder barging people. 

Much as I love running club, it’s only once a week and I need to do more :( Matt told me about a new gym opening in Shanghai, with a 2 week free trial. We signed up for the trial without reading too much about it.

Last Monday we turned up at F45. It was a room full of random equipment in Jiashan Market in the french concession. F45, it turned out, is HIIT training, where you go around a circuit laid out and do each activity for a set amount of time (for example: 30 seconds, 15 seconds rest, 20 seconds, 10 seconds rest and move to the next activity). The activities are stuff like burpees, weights, cycling, squats, mountain climbers and sadistic things like battle ropes. Oh yeah and there’s banging music. It’s 45 mins long.

Slightly dazed at the end, we showered (using the delicious Eco&More shampoo!) and then had a little chat with Lauren, the trainer. It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be, less shouty and motivational, and it didn’t matter if you couldn’t do something very well (hello, press ups) as it didn’t get in the way of anyone else as they were all busy doing their own things. Matt and I went to Happy Buddha (amazing veggie restaurant nearby) afterwards and stuffed our faces.

The next day I was pretty sore but managed a run. On Wednesday we went back to F45, and again on Thursday and Friday. Thursday was more resistance based, whereas the other days were cardio. By the end of the week we’d got to know quite a few of the other people and felt a lot more comfortable with the format. I’d figured out that the TV screens at the front showed what each activity was meant to look like, or what it could look like if I was about a thousand times fitter and also a man with a half sleeve.

We didn’t go over the weekend but I was back on Monday. I was asked where Matt was and I forgot his excuse so just said he was in bed, which he was, but he was going to football later and also had a medical excuse that I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone and am probably not allowed to blog about. 

On Tuesday I got up at 6am, jumped on the metro and went to the 7.15 class. Although we don’t live in the french concession it’s super quick and easy for us to get there. I did a resistance workout then cycled to work HQ for an exam. And then ate a pastry and an icecream.

I didn’t make it again until Friday due to work, though Matt went on Wednesday and Thursday. Our final exercise of the final workout was jumping over a box, which Matt and I managed to totally synchronise. I thought we looked pretty cool, but evidently not as cool as my friends Casey and Catherine, whose endeavours on the agility ladder ended up filmed and on the F45 instagram.

Part of me would love to sign up now my trial is over. I definitely wouldn’t push myself to do all those exercises on my own, and I like the camaraderie. The trainers are really lovely, super supportive, friendly and fun. 45 minutes is enough time to get a proper workout in but not so long that you think you might die before the end. However, it’s 1600 per month (that’s about £180!). And I have a feeling that the vibe probably should be more shouty, to fit the overall brand. 

I’m really glad I did the trial. If money was no object I’d absolutely sign up. But I’m soon to be unemployed so I can’t really justify it :( You can do individual sessions for 200 a go, so I will do one every now and then, especially with Matt or with my friends. And in the meantime I’m going to try to stop being such a lazy goose and work on press-ups so that I can impress the trainers on my next visit!!