Travelling to China on business for 10 days, I was looking forward to continuing my training and running outside while working on my core and strength in hotel fitness centers. It wasn’t my first international trip, in fact it wasn’t my first trip to China, but I had not run on an international business trip before! The trip was awesome and eye-opening, and I learned so much and returned energized (but also happy to be back home). My itinerary included Beijing (Sunday to Thursday), Wuhan (Friday to Saturday), and Guangzhou (Saturday to Wednesday). I would like to share my experience travelling on business in China, and attempting but failing to run in China. Many lessons learned!
Lesson 1: Wear and tear from travelling more than 24 hours
Our company business trip started in Beijing, and I flew Cathay Pacific’s fabulous Boeing 777-300ER plane from New York JFK to Hong Kong, where I changed to Cathay Dragonair for the flight to Beijing. The entire trip lasted more than 24 hours, of which 20 hours was flying in economy class. That’s a long time to be sitting and not moving. I left Connecticut on Saturday, January 5 at 5 am to drive to JFK, and arrived on Sunday, January 6 at 9 pm at the Beijing Haidian Holiday Inn (unlike the Holiday Inns in the US, this was a 5-star hotel). I underestimated the wear and tear of the 24-hour trip on my body.
Lesson 2: Jetlag lasted for 7 of the 10 days
Exhausted from the 24 hour trip, and unable to sleep comfortably in the economy-class airplane seat, I crashed at the Holiday Inn on Sunday night. Unfortunately, I woke up at 2 am local time because my body was on US time (Beijing is 13 hours ahead of Connecticut, where I live). To make matters worse, I woke up at 2 am for the next 7 days, and usually by mid-day, I was struggling to stay awake and drank lots of coffee. By the 7th day, I was able to sleep until 4 am. During my final night in China, I slept until 6 am, yet realized I was returning to the US now that I was adjusted to China time. There was a silver lining. Rising at 2 am enabled me to respond to emails during the US time, which my US colleagues appreciated. At home, I sleep 7 hours on average, and manage my stress, to ensure I am physically and mentally healthy, and able to run and workout.
Lesson 3: Adjustment to authentic Chinese food
I love Chinese food. Who doesn’t? But my body wasn’t used to 10 days of authentic (and in Wuhan, very spicy!) Chinese food. Don’t be fooled, our American version of Chinese food is nothing like the real thing. Noodle soup and fried dough for breakfast, with Jasmine tea. Sea cucumber and ducks’ neck, among other Chinese delicacies, for lunch and dinner, served with multiple glasses of red wine. Ganbei! Bottoms up! On my flight back, still being served Chinese food, I was craving a pizza or a cheeseburger. At home, I plan and cook every meal to ensure I have adequate nutrition and hydration to fuel my body, and use natural and organic ingredients to know what I put in my body. Eating in Chinese restaurants and hotels, I had to “break” my nutrition principles for 10 days.
Lesson 4: All work and no play
China is not the country of “9 to 5” workers. The work ethic of the Chinese people is unfathomable for a Westerner. We left our hotel at 7 am every morning, and worked until 7 pm, and then either entertained customers or shared dinner with team members, usually until 10 or 11 pm. And of course my body woke up at 2 am, so not much sleep. Oh yeah, and we worked Saturday and Sunday. Our China team “moved up” the Chinese New Year’s party because of our visit, and on Saturday, January 12, we celebrated until about 10 pm (again lots of Chinese food and red wine), and instead of Karaoke, many of my Chinese colleagues returned to the office to work. The next morning, we had a 7 am executive meeting to kick off our Sunday, which ended with another customer dinner late into the night. We literally worked 7×24 (almost!), and didn’t even have time to see the cultural riches that China has to offer. Our token “tourist” thing was to drive by Tiananmen Square after dinner in our company car, and shoot a few photos while leaning out the window. Where was I going to fit my run, shower, stretch? Never mind core and strength workout?
Lesson 5: Domestic travel adds to wear and tear
We spent a few days in Beijing, then travelled to Wuhan for a day and a night, before heading to our final destination, Guangzhou. China is a big country. The modern, efficient, comfortable, and safe high-speed trains allow domestic travel over long distances in a matter of hours. Clocking more than 300 km/hr (close to 200 mph), the “bullet trains” travel from Beijing to Wuhan in about 4 hours, and another 4 hours or so to Guangzhou. Unfortunately, the cumulative effect of a 24-hour trip from the US to China, working long hours with very little sleep, and two train trips in the middle, added to the wear and tear on my body.
Map credit: China Discovery
Lesson 6: Recovery needed after return home
I checked out of the Nikko Hotel in Guangzhou at 6 am on Wednesday, January 16, flew Cathay Dragonair to Hong Kong, where after a long layover, I travelled on Cathay Pacific 777-300ER to New York JFK. I arrived home in Connecticut at 9 pm that same day (I gained 13 hours time difference coming back to the US, which made for a very long day). Now I had the reverse problem, my body was not adjusted to the US time. I was once again exhausted from the 24 hour trip, and immediately crashed in my own bed (boy, did that feel good!), only to wake up at 2 am. Having run 2.5 miles on a hotel treadmill at the beginning of my 10 days in China, I was suffering from withdrawal (physical, mental and emotional), and couldn’t wait to traverse the trails in Waveny Park. My home away from home. Not happening. My body needed 48 hours to recover from the trip, and my first run on US soil was on Saturday, January 19. It was 15 days since I last ran on Friday, January 4, the day before my China journey. I failed to run in China (not counting the single run on a hotel treadmill), but the trip enriched my learning so much, and I feel blessed that I was able to travel and experience China. It continued my journey through separation, divorce, healing, and rediscovery.