Devoted female runner defies nation's toxic air

By Jinghuan Liu Tervalon
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, January 14, 2014
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Day 4 of my pneumonia recovery: congestion, coughing and lethargy remain. No hope of running any time soon. I read up on the disease again: Three to five days of antibiotics treatment, two weeks rest and recovery.

Day 5: I finally go back to work. And as usual, I walked up seven floors to get to my office. I started coughing at my desk. Again, I sadly realize I was far from running any time soon.

It all started like this: I had a mild cough a few days ago while visiting relatives in my hometown in Xingtai, Hebei Province. I shrugged it off as usual, laced up and ran eight miles in Xingtai, a city where the air is so bad that it often exceeds the Air Quality Index’s ability to rate it.

Two days later I shivered like a shaky leaf clinging onto a tree branch in gusty, strong wind, clattering my teeth under a blanket. Because of my husband’s insistence, I finally made it to a nearby hospital, with the surprising diagnosis of pneumonia and the unpleasant treatment of an antibiotic drip in the infusion room with 100 strangers receiving the same treatment as I did.

I have injured myself from running before: over-trained and ended up hurting my right hip. It took me two years of acupuncture (I’m no needle wimp!) to gradually heal. But this time it was different, something entirely preventable. I should have never run that day, but not running was too depressing for me even to consider, though I was well aware of the risk. My grandmother died of lung cancer, though she never smoked a cigarette in her entire life.

Air pollution in many parts of China kills many people every year. Yet I was headstrong and felt compelled to get out and run in the worst air imaginable.

Why I ran

I have the life of a business consultant (in Shanghai). I often work with some of the brightest, smartest and most interesting people in Shanghai. When the workload increases, when deadline kicks in, I do 16-hour days for several weeks straight, not even a weekend off.

The stress and tension from high-volume, quick turn-around work drives colleagues to tears and nervous breakdowns. I’m afraid that one day I will exhaust myself and burn out. Running slows that day that I know is coming when I’ll need to seek life in a slower lane.

Air, something I had always taken for granted, suddenly became a huge worry. I religiously check two apps about air quality after waking up. And if it’s bad, I make a judgment call about whether to go out or not. Most of the time, I still go.

Unless it gets really bad, like AQI over 300, I usually go out undaunted, willfully ignoring the risks. Only later, after I got pneumonia, did I begin to suspect it was the accumulation of running in poisoned air that led to my illness, defeating the whole purpose of running to be healthy.

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