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...a sweatshop of moxie

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Small Hiatus

I am taking a leaf from my Eurotrash background, and taking it easy in August.

Quite sure I'll be on Sundries to Fisk the Opening Ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics, as I did for Torino, but I'm concentrating on my athletic hobby at present, so blogging will be light.

Just to remind us what to expect, comes this blogpost entry from British journalist-marathoner, Tom Fordyce. I heard him on NPR's The World today.

He tried to recreate the experience of what those brave men and women will do in Beijing -- run the marathon in perhaps the most ghastly polluted city in the world, save Cairo.

Here's an excerpt (warning: not for the faint of heart, or those unused to hearing vivid accounts of spitting).


Don't worry about the pollution, the Beijing authorities have been telling us.

Factories will shut down. Cars will be taken off the roads. Skies will be seeded with silver nitrate and clouds conjured away to leave the air perfect for the world's athletes.

That's the theory. Happy to lay my lungs on the line in the name of unscientific research, I decide to head out into the city on a long run to test conditions first-hand.

The initial signs are disconcerting.

As I jog down the stairs and out into Monday morning, the concrete tower-blocks of the Green Homeland Media Village are shrouded in what looks like a heavy autumnal fog.

Even with the sun completely hidden away in the grey blanket up above, the heat is intense.

Traffic is roaring by on the Beiyuan Lu expressway, soldiers in pale khaki shirts and white gloves marching in rectangles around the security barriers. I wave at a group of staring schoolkids and head south towards the Olympic Green.

Five minutes down the road, my t-shirt is already drenched, hanging heavy off my shoulders.

It's 9am. At this time of day, the Olympic marathon runners will still have seven or eight miles to go.

The triathletes won't even be starting the run leg of their races for another three hours.

I pass a woman whose mobile has an Axel F ring-tone and realise that my throat has started to feel sore, as if I had a cold coming on.

Maybe it's the road I'm running alongside, I think, and head down a side-street in search of a patch of greenery.

Another five minutes down the line, there's a strange lumpy feeling halfway down my throat. An old chap watering a freshly-planted verge hawks up a fat lump of phlegm and flobs it expertly into a plant-pot.

When in Rome, I think, and spit into the gutter with relish. The metallic taste in my mouth remains.

It's not easy working out where to go. The haze obscures anything more than 100m away. I've picked a bad day - today the BBC reading registers 292 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic metre (the World Health Organisation target is 50).

I'd planned to aim for the Bird's Nest Stadium 5km away, but there's as much chance of me spotting it in these conditions as there is of me doing the pole vault there in 10 days' time.

The road stretches into the gloom, the two dedicated Olympic lanes completely empty of traffic while buses and bikes fight for position in the other lane.

"One world, one dream," read the banners flapping from the lamp-posts. My map shows a large park off to the left, but everywhere you look are tall fences and short officials with strict instructions to keep you out.

At the halfway stage, my eyes have started to feel gritty, as if I'd been out all night in a club full of smokers. Three weary-looking blokes slumped on a bench ni-hao in my direction as I rub my eyes and I ni-hao back.

The stinging in my throat gets worse as I head back north, the Bird's Nest lost somewhere in the smog.

Towers of apartment blocks loom slowly out of the mist. Young blokes on mountain-bikes pedal past while shouting into mobiles, which at least makes me feel more at home.

Every now and then a solitary soldier stands on a small plinth, staring into a seemingly random direction with a blank expression.

My lungs feel half their normal size. No wonder an asthma sufferer like Haile Gebrselassie decided to sack off the Olympic marathon, even though he's the world record holder.

The only other time my lungs have felt this bad was when I got stuck behind a brigade of belching buses while foolishly cycling down Oxford Street.

By the final few miles I'm dragging my legs along like sandbags. There could be several reasons for that - seven hours of jet-lag, the cannonball-like lump of egg-fried rice lodged halfway down my digestive tract, a delusional attitude towards my own fitness - but I've also taken it incredibly easy.

How much worse would I be feeling if I'd really opened the lungs up and got my heart-rate going?

At the end I'm coughing like a 20-a-day man. It's like I've borrowed the lungs of my colleague Ben Dirs - and if you've ever seen Dirsy trying to walk up a flight of stairs, you'd know that's a very bad thing indeed.

Goodness. What kind of sport have I gotten myself into?

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  • I wonder how many of the athletes are going to sue -- and whom.

    By Blogger JSU, at Wed Aug 06, 04:27:00 am GMT-4  

  • Vics! I will miss your sweet (not sweat!) bloggyness for August! I thought you might just be bringing in the wine crop...

    In a blog world full of bile and vapiditude(!), you give us charm and delight...perhaps I can siesta for the month, and return as well...


    By Blogger Ron, at Wed Aug 06, 07:26:00 am GMT-4  

  • Long as you aren't running in Beijing or Cairo you should be okay. I pity those athletes. They are in for trouble in the outdoor events.

    Hey, don't take off too much. And come visit our blogs. Let us know you care.

    ; )

    By Blogger benning, at Wed Aug 06, 10:58:00 am GMT-4  

  • USA-Japan kicks off at 5am tomorrow morning on Universal HD. (Before the opening ceremony, but when's that ever stopped anyone?)

    With Nigeria and the Netherlands also in the group, both of these teams really need to win this first one.

    By Blogger JSU, at Wed Aug 06, 02:52:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Goodness. What kind of sport have I gotten myself into?

    You're taking up running in China? Tough row!

    That's like taking up water skiing in the North Sea.

    Actually, goofball comment aside, August is sort of an odd time to start running. Especially in Florida (?).

    "I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue."

    By Blogger blake, at Thu Aug 07, 04:49:00 am GMT-4  

  • Come celebrate my birthday today with me!

    You can dance if you want, but if you don't dance, you're not friends of mine!


    By Blogger vbspurs, at Thu Aug 07, 12:41:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Birthday on hiatus? No way!

    Put your safety shoes on and lets dance to your 25th! (right?)

    Bless you on your birthday, sweet Victoria! :) xxxxoooo

    By Blogger Ron, at Thu Aug 07, 01:18:00 pm GMT-4  

  • My Dearest Miss V,

    All my best on your Birthday! I too will miss you this month, but I have no doubt you will make the Marathon distance. Know that I and I'm sure all of us here are cheering for you.


    By Blogger Darryl, at Thu Aug 07, 04:21:00 pm GMT-4  

  • You know, that dance isn't as safe as they said it was.

    WV: torbxehl!

    Which in the language of my people means, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"

    By Blogger blake, at Thu Aug 07, 04:51:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Feliz Cumpleanos Victoria!

    By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Thu Aug 07, 05:19:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Ron, Darryl, Blake and Joseito, thanks!!! :)

    It was an awesome day, capped by the ultimate in female sensuality -- a hotel spa (mango) pedicure and manicure by the pool, in my own private cabana, a present from my parents.

    I mean it's better than sex. Right?

    Never mind.

    THANKS GUYS! See you for the Opening ceremonies. ;)


    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Aug 08, 01:00:00 am GMT-4  

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