The Road To Shang­hai

Twelve thou­sand kilo­me­tres, eight coun­tries and a near-death ex­pe­ri­ence: meet the man who ran from Ger­many to China

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

A lot can hap­pen when you set out to run from Ham­burg to Shan­hgai, as Kai Markus Xiong found out

KAI MARKUS XIONG had al­ready run more than 11,000km when his life flashed be­fore his eyes. An on­com­ing car veered to­wards him on a Chi­nese dirt road, so he jumped out of the way, but slipped and fell into a con­crete wa­ter chan­nel, break­ing bones in both heels.

For most peo­ple, such an in­ci­dent might prompt a lengthy pe­riod of self-pity and the aban­don­ment of the jour­ney. But then, most peo­ple don’t at­tempt to run from Ham­burg to Shang­hai. ‘I saw it as a chance put my pos­i­tive think­ing into ac­tion,’ says Kai. ‘I’ve got used to tough sit­u­a­tions through­out my life: you need to be­lieve in your­self, set new goals and be flex­i­ble.’ In this sit­u­a­tion, that meant pass­ing over run­ning du­ties to his one-man sup­port crew, Vic­tor Neubauer, who had been fol­low­ing Kai in his ‘Bu­ga­van’, a com­bi­na­tion of a VW Bee­tle and a camp­ing trailer. ‘We’re a team and we fix prob­lems to­gether,’ says Kai. And so they did, Vic­tor com­plet­ing the re­main­ing kilo­me­tres while Kai re­cov­ered in hos­pi­tal.

You might be won­der­ing what pos­sesses some­one to at­tempt to run from Ger­many to China in the first place. For Kai, whose wife is Chi­nese and whose work as a man­age­ment con­sul­tant means he reg­u­larly trav­els to the coun­try, it has be­come some­thing of a se­cond home. ‘My am­bi­tion was for the run to build a cul­tural bridge from Ger­many to China and set an ex­am­ple by show­ing tol­er­ance,’ he says. ‘To this end, ev­ery nine days, with the help of our sp­son­sors, 361˚, I took a rest for the pur­poses of cul­tural ex­change.’

On their long jour­ney the duo trav­elled across eight coun­tries: Ger­many, Poland, Be­larus, Rus­sia, Kaza­khstan, Uzbek­istan, Kyr­gyzs­tan and China. The run­ning would typ­i­cally be­gin around 8am and fin­ish around 6pm, with Kai cov­er­ing 60-80km a day. While the daily grind took its toll on their bod­ies, their spir­its were buoyed by the mes­sages of sup­port they re­ceived on­line. ‘Lots of [peo­ple] told me about their lives and say that through our project they’ve found the courage and de­ter­mi­na­tion to ful­fil their own life goals or dreams,’

says Kai. ‘They told me things such as, “For the first time in my life, I’ve run three kilo­me­tres,” or, “At last I’ve made my­self change and com­pete.” That was a great source of mo­ti­va­tion for me.’

Their en­coun­ters on the jour­ney were also a source of in­spi­ra­tion. ‘When Vic­tor stopped at the edge of the road, peo­ple would come up to chat,’ says Kai. ‘That was great fun – and a fan­tas­tic feel­ing to talk to peo­ple about what in­spires us, even if it means the breaks end up longer than planned. This is what I mean when I talk about build­ing a bridge be­tween cul­tures: con­nect­ing with peo­ple on the spot so that we can im­prove mu­tual un­der­stand­ing. I’m glad to be able to dis­pel a lit­tle bit of pi­geon­hole think­ing.’

The gen­eros­ity Kai and Vic­tor en­joyed en route was over­whelm­ing. ‘Peo­ple in­vited us into their homes to charge up the trailer, of­fered us their own bed­rooms and made way for us by sleep­ing on the sofa them­selves,’ says Kai. ‘For us, it was an un­be­liev­able gift, be­cause we’re talk­ing about peo­ple who had no sew­er­age sys­tem in their own house and hardly had enough in­come for them­selves.’

The land­scape also pro­vided its fair share of high­lights. The first time they saw the moun­tains of China from Pamir in Kyr­gyzs­tan was a huge lift and ‘felt like be­ing near home’, says Kai. How­ever, the great­est com­pli­ments are re­served for Vic­tor, who only agreed to come on the trip at the last minute. ‘I’m so proud of him,’ says Kai. ‘Not only did he make his de­ci­sion to come for the whole trip, he has per­formed be­yond ev­ery­one’s ex­pec­ta­tions, in­clud­ing his own. We are not just run­ners; we are dream­ers.’

Kai and Vic­tor have been tak­ing stock of the jour­ney and the lessons learned along the way. ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way to com­mu­ni­cate,’ says Kai. ‘Given the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal land­scape, it’s never been more im­por­tant to build bridges, and the run has been a ve­hi­cle to trans­port this idea. Ev­ery­body can run and ev­ery­body un­der­stands run­ning, wher­ever they are in the world.’

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