The Sun started to rise as the energy of 30,000 runners built when they sang and hummed China’s National Anthem. As the minutes on the race clock edged closer to 6am I could feel the tension increase. The race catered for all distances – Marathon all the way down to 5k. Some people were pushing their way to the front, others calmly waited for the gun to go off. I kept on looking around me, towards Shanghai’s skyscrapers that decorate The Bund. The run started to get very real, I mean, one of the main points about the trip was you know, the race, right? We all ate pizza and went to bed really early yesterday for a reason, right?
I wasn’t so sure. The race would be a real, living, breathing thing in a few minutes though. In the hours before I got to the start line I prepared some gruel (porridge and water with about 7 teaspoons of sugar to make it bearable) and met all of the crews in the lobby for photo’s and good luck wishes. I kept quiet and smiled as much as possible. It helped mask my nervousness. 1:35 seemed like a time that was possible but I just didn’t feel like I could do it. Before it was time to leave for the start line I checked what pace I would need to run for the race would be. 7 minutes and 14 seconds per mile would get me across the finish line in 1 hour and 35 minutes. Cool. No pressure then. None at all.
The gun went off and people slowly started to find their rhythm while jumping over abandoned clothes and foil blankets. I stuck with Charlie, Chop and Venetia for the first mile. It was just too congested to get a fast start so I thought there was no point in overdoing it. 9 minutes later I ticked off my first mile and panicked a bit. 9 minutes certainly wasn’t close to 7 so I tried to pick up the pace to feel more comfortable. I remember when I ran Run To The Beat 2 years ago and Dommy gave me some great advice about pace during races. He said that running too slow was bad for me because my body wasn’t used to it. I had to pick it up if I wanted to even scrape near 1:35. My watch lets me set a pace for each mile to keep on 1:35 time. I checked that and saw that I was a few minutes behind and knew what I had to do, dig deep.
I looked at my feet and saw the little Run Dem man whizzing along with each footstep. I wanted to do well for my crew back home and my new international friends that I had met here in Shanghai. The second mile beeped off at 8 minute pace and I was feeling good. Charlie told me that the locals will ‘race you’ if they hear you coming up next to them. I found not one but two guys who would proceed to run the next 8 miles with me as we raced with each other at 6:58 pace. I made the decision to keep this pace up for as long as possible and see how my body reacted, making up those lost 4 minutes at the start of the race wouldn’t be easy.
The two men I started to race with turned into my companions. We didn’t speak the same language but we understood what we were all doing, we looked out for each other. We took turns breaking up the wind in front of us and deciding the best line to run on. It was like any other Tuesday when we weave through London, trusting the person in front to guide you forward.
8 miles later and I felt amazing. I kept on seeing people from other crews along the way and would pat them on the back as I went past., just because there was no cheering spot didn’t mean that we couldn’t have a cheer dem crew on the course itself! My watch beeped for the 10th time and I looked to my right at man that was running. He was maybe in his early 50s and quite tall.
I thought to myself, “I want to be running when I’m that age” then it all got very scary. He shouted something in Mandarin and within two seconds his legs turned to jelly and he went down like an old tower block, head first. I’ll never forget the noise that his head hitting the ground made. It echoed on the concrete. People kept on running and time slowed down. I looked at my watch and knew that if I stopped that 1:35 would be out of my reach but I couldn’t leave him laying on the floor, blood pouring from his head. I stopped with another runner and put him in the recovery position, then we started shouting for help and policemen around 100 meters away made their way to us, signalling for an Ambulance too. His head was hanging in a painful way so I grabbed it and rested it on my knee, there was blood on my hands and shorts. He wasn’t moving and we couldn’t tell if he was breathing or not, I felt his neck for a pulse and didn’t feel anything. I didn’t know what to do or think, I just kept on shouting for help. The police had caught up to us now and the man eventually woke up and dragged himself up in a dazed manner. He didn’t know what was going on. I knew that he was in good hands now and decided it was time to run on.
I stopped looking at my watch because I knew that 1:35 was out of the window, I could just focus on having a good few miles. I passed people that overtook me while I was with the man on the ground. It was smooth running, like in London. No plodding, it was like my feet barely touched the ground, I wasn’t running on the asphalt, it felt like clouds. My shoulders, chest, arms, back, hips, thighs, calves and feet all moving in a synchronised motion to propel me forward to the finish line.
Before I knew it I was running the last kilometre which is always a tricky one for me. 1000 metres is so deceiving, it feels short but in reality it just isn’t. I tried my best and ignored the pain in my legs, trying to finish strong and make everyone proud. I came up to the final stretch and it felt like Batemans Row on a Tuesday, I chased down people in front of me and crossed the finish line of the 2013 Shanghai Half Marathon. I stopped my watch and looked at its digital face for the first time since I got up from the ground while helping the older runner. 1:38, 13.1 miles ran.
I thought back to what this trip was about, what #runhai was about, about why I was in Shanghai and why I run. It brought a big grin to my face. My name is Nathaniel, and I run to be happy.