There are many reasons why people run, with general health and well-being figuring high on the list, but here's one that you may not have considered: Sightseeing.
In much of the world, throwing on a pair of trainers and hitting the road is a perfect way to soak up your surroundings, but in a massive city like Shanghai, worries about pollution, unfamiliar streets, traffic and getting lost can be enough to drive many a health-conscious traveler to the gym for a mind-numbing session on the carpet or treadmill.
Fortunately, there is a fantastic alternative: UnTour Shanghai.
Launched last year by expat pals Kyle Long and Jamie Barys, UnTour offers Shanghai adventures like no other. Between them, Kyle and Jamie have got seven years' worth of Shanghai experience and they've put their collective expertise, knowledge and personal passions together to present a collection of off-the-beaten track eating, running and cultural explorations of the city—letting you be a tourist without feeling like one. Find out how, after the jump.
[pullquote]"It's a great way to find your way round... and to beat jet lag!" —Kyle Long, Chief Running Officer[/pullquote]A keen runner, Kyle knows the city like the back of his hand. And as "Chief Running Officer," he acts as guide and running buddy all in one. For newcomers to China's streets, he aims to dispel a few of the concerns touched on up top and show them just how runnable the city really is.
"There's not any heavy industry in Shanghai like elsewhere in China, and though there is a lot of traffic in the daytime, the air is a lot clearer in the early morning and even later in the evening," he explains as we jog along, side-by-side through the early morning streets.
"It's a great way to find your way round... and to beat jet lag!" Indeed, if you're coming from the US and even Europe, you're going to be wide awake at 3am, and a run is a great way to make use of your jet-lag time to get some exercise and figure out your surroundings.
In fact, orientation is another of UnTour's strong points, as Kyle explains as we work our way through Shanghai's Old Town. "The run gives people an idea of where things are and if they see something they are interested in, it's easy for them to come back and explore more later."
I'd arranged to meet up with Kyle to sample one of his running tours at 6:30am on a Tuesday morning, which, when it arrived, was the the epitome of spring in Shanghai. We were off to a gloriously crisp and sunny start.
Setting out from the corner of Yongjia Lu and Shaanxi Lu in the French Concession, we worked our way south, taking in Cité Bourgogne, a shikumen-style lane complex, before heading west along Jianguo Xi Lu, through the winding cobbled lanes of Taikang Lu (Tianzifang), its bohemian-style shops and cafes laying silently in wait for the tourist assault that would strike later that day.
We then passed the newly renovated Sinan Mansions complex and did a round of Fuxing Park, which, true to form was filled with lively music and housewives working out to Michael Jackson, classical dance and retirees practicing tai chi. And all the while, Kyle kept up a steady stream of informative conversation that ranged from a brief history of each attraction we passed or observations on Chinese society to must-try eating and drinking spots.
From the park it was over to Xintiandi, Shanghai's glitzy luxury lifestyle and shopping district, then quickly on to the narrow streets and cacophonous activity of Old Town.
Dodging street vendors, rubbish collectors and pajama-clad locals out on their morning shop, this part of the route takes you through the beating heart of Shanghai. Stands of hissing oil and freshly fried youtiao (fried dough sticks) sit alongside piles of vibrantly colored fruit and vegetables, all manner of fish and mesh bags of bullfrogs bound for the pot. "We often go a bit slower or walk through these streets," says Kyle, "there's so much to see and take in. Sometimes we might grab a snack to eat along the way."
Things quieted down as we forged our way deeper into Old Town's back streets, winding our way through narrow alleys and lopsided buildings, past half-demolished homes festooned with freshly washed laundry that highlight the plight of residents faced with the onslaught of rapid urbanization.
Shanghai's juxtaposition of old and new is nowhere more apparent then where the shadowy, run-down streets of the Old Town give way to the south end of The Bund and the renovated shikumen chic of the Cool Docks and the stark, industrial-look luxury of boutique hotel The Waterhouse. And looming across the river, there's the iconic skyline and symbol of Shanghai's economic might, Lujiazui.
We finished our tour with a quick ferry ride and a run along the river up to Metro Line 2's Lujiazui station where, after ten kilometers or so of exploration, it was time to head home.
"A lot of people don't realize that although Shanghai is a huge city, most of the places you're likely to visit are actually in a fairly small area. What is beyond that is largely just sprawling suburbs," says Kyle, and he's right—in just over one and half hours, we'd touched on many of Shanghai's major places of interest, had ourselves a great work out and got a feel for the sights and sounds of the city. And it was barely 8:30am!
Designed for un-tourists who like to hit the ground running, routes can be adapted to suit all different levels, making them as great a solution for serious runners on strict training regimes as they are for more casual runners who simply want to explore the city but don't know where to start.
There are three main options on their current roster with the 10, 15 or 20km "Run This Town" (as featured here) and the 10km "Blade Runner Nights", an evening adventure through the futuristic neon-lit streets and night markets. For those looking for something a little more challenging, there's the 27km "Dragon Tail" that takes in the length and breadth of the city, or else Kyle can come up with something bespoke for both groups and individuals.
Prices start from USD 70 for a single runner on the "Run This Town" package, with an additional USD 40 per runner thereafter—so it'll pay to get your lazy bone buddies up and out of bed too—and include pick up from your hotel, a welcome pack, guide, water and post-run Shanghainese breakfast treat. Now, with all this running you'll be doing, you're bound to be getting hungry—look out for our China Travel Blog review of one of UnTour's culinary offerings, coming up soon.
For the low-down on all that's on offer from Chinglish Quest to Weird Meats, head to the UnTour website and remember to pack your running shoes, a healthy appetite and leave your guidebook at home!