On attempting to do a Beijing Runaround


While I did get a chance to sorta swim in the Olympic Water Cube here in Beijing, I really also wanted to enjoy a few nice runs.  In fact, the day I went swimming the weather was beautiful, and weather-like things were also quite good.  As you can see above, it was a rather nice day!

Unfortunately, that lasted only about 8 more hours.  Why you ask?  Well, Beijing is well known as the city with the worst air pollution in the world.  Historically people may have just taken a swag at things and gone about their business.  But in today’s day and age, information on just how bad is everywhere.  In fact, it’s updated hourly here in Beijing.

See, every hour on the hour the current air quality index (AQI) is published.  There’s a few different numbers that are published, but the one most people follow is the AQI.  The lower the better, the higher the worse.  It’s color coded and relatively easy to follow:


Above 500 it just converts to “Beyond Index”, which happened back in January (more on that in a second).

Which then corresponds with some structured guidance:


The data comes from two sources.  First is from the local government at two reporting sites in the city.  And the second is from the US Embassy.  In many cases, the local government variant tends to be more ‘optimistic’ than the US Embassy – for example, the local source won’t list values over 500.  That said, I generally saw them track fairly close while I’ve been here.  And they never approached ‘Crazy bad’ levels.


As I noted above data is published hourly on the hour (though, it actually hits feeds at 15 minutes past the hour), and then is digested into a slew of websites and apps that people can download and track.  For me, I just used the website and updated as required.  Here’s what the numbers looked like over the course of Saturday afternoon – only a bit of uptick around 6-8PM:


In fact, that’s not too bad mid-afternoon.  I looked later on at NYC and it was actually a bit higher at that point, and various parts of LA were also higher.  So, things aren’t always horrible.

On Sunday morning I was all ready to go out and run a nice 10-12 mile run.  Unfortunately, just before sunrise the numbers rose quickly and steadily, well past the ‘healthy’ or ‘moderate’ zones.  I figured that it’d get better as the day goes on since being a Sunday there would be less traffic, as it seemed to do that on the previous days.  Unfortunately, it only got worse.  And further worse.  And then flat-out bad.  This was the one time were the Chinese information had actually pegged it a bit higher at 315ish if I remember.


It ended up being the highest recording I’ve seen while here.  This is what it looked like out my hotel window.  Remember, not fog, but smog.  A sorta smokey tasting smog.


I was bummed, I had an awesome route planned out.  I was going to start on the Olympic Green and swing past the Birds Nest stadium, a slew of other venue, and then up into the parks north of there.  Would have been an awesome route.

Not all was lost though,  I did spend some time on Saturday within the Olympic Stadium.  These days, you can pay about $7 to go in and wander around, and it’s actually kept up fairly well.





You can even rent a Segway and ride laps around it:


Or, just do as I did and wander all the way up by my lonesome to the very top decks and last row:


On my planned route I would have also swung past the wall of medalists.  This wall seems quite similar to the Vietnam Wall in Washington DC, but instead lists all the Gold/Silver/Bronze medalists for each event.  Both Olympics and Paralympics:



Unfortunately, with the air simply unsafe, I stayed inside for my ‘vigorous activity’.  I used a rough AQI cutoff of ‘150’ as my limit for running outside.  That roughly matched with what various governing bodies recommended for athletic exposure during intense exercise.  Of course, it’s always hard to understand what someone’s definition of ‘intense’ is – but better safe than sorry I suppose.

So treadmill it was and hotel gym it was.


Almost 90 minutes of warm and fanless fun:


On Tuesday I was really hoping things would clear up for a long interval run.  I could still pretty much use the same route and just do it interval style.  But again, no love in the land of smog.

So, again back to the treadmill.


I did learn quite a bit though about various Chinese endeavors, since the only English channel on the treadmill was the national Chinese news station.  I can tell you all about the current Presidential trip to Central America and Costa Rican diplomatic relations.  Or about the impact of talks between Japan and India.


I loved that the hotel had these headphones instead of the ones that go into your ear.  I’ve never had good luck with those and treadmills.  These just worked.


My Tuesday night workout ended just before 1AM.  Just the way it worked out schedule-wise with conference calls that night.


During my stay I also learned that if you’re tall, you should bend down and see what exactly the difference is between the two water spouts before you put your hand under to simply feel which one was cold water.


It turns out if you go down to child-height, you then see a little red ‘Don’t touch’ symbol.  I discovered that the hard way.  Turns out the don’t touch water spout is really damn hot.  Like McDonald’s coffee-pot hot.  I was a sad panda for a while.


With my run completed I grabbed some product shots for upcoming reviews.  It’s sorta nice having an empty gym at 1AM.  Nobody staring at you while you take 28 almost-identical shots trying to get just the perfect one that illustrates a given point.


After that, I headed back to my room and spent hours catching up on things.  Beijing is 12 hours ahead of the US East Coast, which means you never really get a break from it.  I ended up just staying up all night, as my flight is at 6:45AM this morning (about 48 minutes from now as I type this), so I figure I’ll sleep on the nearly 11 hours back home via Zurich.

Sorry there wasn’t a Beijing Runaround this time – but fear not, I’m sure I’ll be back and “weather” permitting, I’ll be at it trying again!

Thanks for reading!


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  1. Chi

    Hi Ray, yes I am a guy lived in the city with worst air pollution. The air becomes worse these years. If you want to take a outdoor jogging, I strongly recommend Olympic Forest Park. Its source gate is on the subway line 8. And it is the most famous park for non professional runners. You will find 3km/5km/10km routes there and the air is normally better than outside due to the plants. The open hours are about 7:00AM~9:00PM.
    BTW, I like your blog very much and learned very useful information about running and gadgets.

  2. Champ

    good call for not going out in that air.

  3. Mans

    Grin… did those concept2 rowers had PM4’s? if they did you could have paired them with your 910XT/ant+ hrm. :D

    *wonders what your 2k time is :P *

  4. You don’t seem to having too much luck in Beijing with the workouts. But what difference does it make running outdoors or walking to tour the olympic stadium? You’re outdoors and breathing the same muck into your lungs either way.

    • DC Rainmaker

      The photos outdoors were from Saturday (low-AQI day), not Sunday (high-AQI day).

      That said, you’re consuming far more oxygen running at high intensity than a leisurely walk.

    • Eli

      While you’re breathing more (higher breath rate) you’re also breathing deeper. The deep breathing means the small pollution particles can get much deeper in your lungs

    • John

      It is a bad idea to go outside at all most days in Beijing. Locals tend to wear face mask filters, but these have been shown to have very limited effectiveness. Exercise of course makes it worse, since you are breathing that much harder.

  5. I had the same problem with Beijing when I was in China to run the Great Wall Marathon. On the first day in the hotel I was afraid to go outside since I literally couldn’t see across the street for all the smog. I ended up with a very short run along the river after the marathon just to stretch my legs, but with the heat and pollution, I kept it very short.

  6. Bob Quindazzi

    I’m curious as to the difference in air quality indoors as opposed to outdoors. Does the hotel have a filtration system designed for the local pollutants?

  7. Mark

    Any idea why bevan Docherty is not listed on the wall for the bronze medal?

    • DC Rainmaker

      He is, it’s just wrapped around at the top of the next chunk – about about 2 meters higher on the next panel.

  8. derek

    Cool photos of the olympic stadium; did you use your Panasonic Lumix or the DSL? (I ask partly because I’m in the market for a smaller, non-DSL). Thanks! Love the site, I’m a regular.

    • DC Rainmaker

      The stadium shots are all with the DSLR (Canon 7D). Actually, everything in this post is from the DSLR (except computer screen shots). A bit of a rarity for a single post to be all DSLR.

  9. Efraim Shaw

    I just purchased the TS4 for my cross country ride. I’m practicing taking pictures like you do: on the run or ride!

  10. Alex

    Where is Kiwi Bevan Docherty on the wall for medals?

    • DC Rainmaker

      He’s on the next panel, about about 2 meters higher. It just wraps around as it hits the bottom.

  11. Jase

    I feel your pain Ray. Living in Shanghai I’ve cancelled a heap of runs and rides.
    Over a year, not as bad as Beijing though…

  12. Harri

    The air quality here sucks. On a side note, I think the Chinese and US use different scale for the AQI. I usually follow the PM2.5 concentrations, and they track each other really well. However, Beijing is totally awesome for road cycling! The very nearby mountains offer amazing roads with very little traffic. Also the air quality there is almost always a fair bit better. Drop me a note and if you have time on your next trip here would be very happy to take you for a ride!

  13. Erlingur

    All DSLR – even the workout bunker selfie?

    • DC Rainmaker

      Yup, even that. :)

    • Eli

      And still not a low enough f stop so the background could be slightly out of focus with the treadmill in crisp focus while your legs could be slightly blurry from a slower shutter speed? Then the eye would be more attracted to the motion blur part. :-p

    • DC Rainmaker

      Yeah, I only gave it about 3-4 shots of trying to take it pre-run. Each one required getting off the treadmill, adjusting, getting on, running, finding the framing or stride note quite right and repeating. Eventually I decided for this purpose it was ‘good enough’.

      Actually, one time the bottom of the lens due to the bouncing – bounced onto the belt I thought the camera was a gonner, but the 7D is heavy enough it stayed put, though the lens now is ‘well smoothed’ on the bottom of the lens rim.

  14. Matt

    Hey look at that!! An Erg (rowing machine) in the background. You don’t see those too often. Amazed that Concept2 is sitting in a hotel in China!

    You want a killer workout, give one of those a try sometime. also awesome for recovery if you are ever nursing a running injury!

  15. Hi Rainmaker,

    I follow your blog and I must say that I am very impressed with all your many travels. I really like your blog and learn a lot from your posts and I am always well entertained. Don’t misunderstand me – I believe what your are writing but I was just wondering: In the above post you write “…as my flight is at 6:45AM this morning (about 48 minutes from now as I type this)…” – how it’s possible for you to reach your flight within 48 minutes in a city like Beijing (a lot of traffic and a big airport)?

  16. ahhh stupid me. I thought you were on the hotel while writing the post – airport wifi make sense and is pretty useful :o) Thanks for quick response

    • DC Rainmaker

      I started writing it at the hotel, took a taxi, and then finished writing it at airport. Unfortunately, the WiFi was too slow for everything to upload before I had to get onboard, so didn’t publish till Zurich some 10-11 hours later. :(

  17. Chen Yang

    Why do you believe the air quality indoors is much better than outside? Is there any science facts?

    • Uhh, yeah, it’s pretty well proven. Starting with fact that most businesses (and residences) have air filters designed for exactly that purpose. Heck, even the Chinese government recommends staying indoors because the air quality is better.

  18. David

    I know this post is kind of old. I didn’t see anything newer. But have you ever done a run around at the Beijing airport? I’ve got a layover there in a few days and was wondering if it could work out logistically. (I know you’ve done it at other airports).