Before going to sleep on Wednesday night, I had spread the word amongst the new arrivals that I would be running every morning before classes and anyone and everyone with a hankering to see Beijing before 7:00 am was invited to join me. The mandatory language pledge on our program would not begin until Monday but already something must have been lost in translation since the next morning only one jet-lagged shirtless dude was waiting by the campus gate. After waving aside my warning that the park we planned to tackle might require him to be fully clothed, we set off. When my warning was born out, the park was out of bounds so yours truly got his first crack at the smoggy sidewalks of Beijing. Initial verdict: Bad and worse. Bad because the air still has the clogging sense that makes me feel like my lungs are drowning and worse because if this is supposed to be the new and improved Olympic ready air quality, well, I suggest they run the marathon on treadmills.
The good news was that my lungs were the only things heaving with every step. Since returning to Beijing from Sichuan on Friday, my calves had been terribly weak from the punishing decent of Emei Shan. Until the end of Shavout I literally could not descend steps without clutching a handrail and moving at a pace that would inflame nursing home residents. On my first run on Wednesday in the local park, every downward step felt like a hammer clanging on my calf muscles. The feeling was cool only to the extent that lifting my foot—that is, striding forward—felt comparatively effortless. But today the pain in my legs was only a memory. Apparently my calves had decided that their painful protest was not going anywhere and so they had faded into the background allowing my polluted lungs to take their place at the pinnacle of personal pain.