Into The Underground

Shanghai Lockdown ‘22, Day 35: “Runners Find a Way”

Note: Thank you for reading!

0548am and I was out the door, running. Shanghai Lockdown Day 35. The security apparatus in these past few days especially required me to try an early run on for size. The rules have tightened after three Covid cases were found in our compound; magically, after 31 days with zero cases. But surely, I’d be able to run until at least 07:30. It’s Sunday after all, even if most Chinese folks do wake up early.

I’ve been running in the shadows by night. Finished up a fast workout two days ago at 21:45. Not too late, but not optimal for eating, then sleeping soon after. Even that was the result of the run being split after I was caught outside in the afternoon by the Big White hazmat people. At least I had the pleasure of beginning the workout. Imagine, the audacity I had of stepping outside!

My goal today was a half marathon. Just a fairly easy pace right around what I call the “short course”—a .3 mile loop encompassing my apartment block and the blocks just in front and behind mine. I decided to not run the close to mile loop around the entire complex as I could be spotted potentially by more people in more places. So, out I went.

I was happy to see around a dozen folks total during my time out. Mostly elders walking. The runner from adjacent block also came out. He may be running two-a-days as I usually see him nights, too.

Surgical mask over mouth, I wound my way ‘round and ‘round as the sun continued its rise over the canal. Occasionally, I jumped on and off the cushioned red track path by the water. I was living the Lockdown Dream. Truly a dream for many folks in other much stricter compounds. Many folks who can quite literally not even exit their apartments, in any way whatsoever.

5.7 miles. That’s how long it took for the Big Whites to show up. It was 06:40am. I was shocked to see the strictest White up on his scooter already, telling me, literally, “Don’t run—go home!”

Then, turning the corner toward home was another, on a bicycle. “Go home.”

You can take the American out of America, but cannot take the American-ness from me. I don’t take too kindly to being told not to run. Especially on a beautiful Sunday morning, our 35th day of lockdown, with 24 negative Covid tests under my belt from the past five weeks. With a mask on. With virtually no one outside. At 06:40am. No, no, no sir. That cannot stand.

A runner gotta’ run.

First, I thought: to the rooftop. But it’s cluttered with various obstacles and is uncomfortably small. Thankfully, there’s a better option. First, I had to check it out.

I rushed down a steep and slick pedestrian rampway beneath our buildings. One of many entrances/exits to an abandoned parking garage. I’ve reconned down there several times but never ran the course as I thought it was underwater. Well, the first rooms are.

In half-darkness, I waded through about a ½ inch of water. I wandered in and around several different rooms. Found a back staircase, construction materials still on steps.
When was this all abandoned? And why? Was it really because of the water? Or, as I later scared myself in considering, was it because of what they found below? What horrors may have transpired in such depths?

Then, something interesting happened. The ground became drier. I traveled down a small staircase, deeper below. An open heavy bank vault-like door encouraged my entry. I stepped on top of a smaller door, randomly strewn across the floor and found myself within near complete darkness. Just the glimmer of light from a staircase in the distance. Using my new phone’s flashlight, I went in slowly, not sure where potential obstacles may lie.

I began kind of half-jogging, wanting to continue my run but not being able to see much in front of me. But, after a few minutes, the glimmer in the distance seemed brighter. Several other rays of light streamed in from a few other nooks and crannies. I began to run. Flashlight on, no music, no podcast—lest the sound be amplified any more than my footsteps already were.

Wanting to run a wider course, I first found my way to the large vehicle entry/exit gate right behind my building. Natural light poured in. Rows of fire extinguishers lined up nearby. Leaves one of the only signs of nature in this decaying apocalyptic atmosphere.

At night, I’ve looked through that gate and seen a motorbike parked beneath a single electric light. Never known why or how. So, I decided to not hang around there in case someone showed up. No, I want this to be a secret running spot. (Well, secret before I’ve shared this with you all! But, seriously, personal tours are available.)

At another side, I found myself near another entry/exit gate. Figuring this was the spot where the garbagemen park their vehicles—which I’d first found on previous recon missions—I decided to stay away from that side, too. Also, I’m pretty sure I saw a man in the darkness, a ways off, but near an electric light. I don’t know if he could’ve seen me, but may have heard my footsteps.

With occasional sounds of water dropping through pipes, and various other clicks and clacks which sometimes put me on edge, I pioneered a course. After several loops, it became more and more familiar.

Even though I could probably squeeze out a good ½ mile loop all the way around, I decided to keep to the darkness within what I call the Inner Passage Loop. Don’t know the exact distance yet, but it’s probably somewhere in the range of 250 meters. Slightly larger than an indoor track lap. Along this course are six speed bumps, and both the front and back side turns of the loop have raised cylindrical metal poles marking parking spots. At those points, I had to either quickly go through the narrow spaces between spots, or do small hurdles—hops, really– over the poles. Either way, it was quick feet all the way around.

Turn right, then left, a good straightaway before the next speed bump, a “dusty” that’s hard to see…right turn, hurdle over…quick right, nice straightaway…right into the Nostromo-like loading dock area…left turn, speedbump right away, straight ahead, past the door—quick glance over to stairs covered with construction buckets….right, hurdle again…repeat

The pace felt quicker as time went along. It had to be. I felt faster, lighter, stronger. Of course, it was probably not as fast as it felt, all things considered, but as I ran along, closer and closer to reaching my goal of 21km for today, I had already succeeded.

In darkness, I found peace. With mask down to chin, not a single person in sight, solitude brought a smile to my face. Running free, I was training. Actually training. My refusal to allow this lockdown to throw off my training is the rebellion I need against sometimes arbitrary rules which I am finding ways to overcome.

And with a 14 miler in the books, 8.5 miles underground, I headed back up the stairs. The sunlight never felt sweeter. Then, I jogged back home before anyone could pursue me. I made it, yet again.

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