“The Running Man,” a profile of ultra-marathoner Bai Bin’s 433-day run from the South to the North Pole, was a story from our issue “Wild Rides.” In it, Bai refers being kidnapped and taken to a gang’s headquarters in Mexico. We have reproduced this harrowing portion of our interview with Bai below, edited for length and clarity, along with a collection of photos from Bai’s trip.
“This place is very dangerous, you shouldn’t run here. But especially don’t run at night,” a Mexican police officer told me and my team as we approached Monterrey. But I didn’t take heed.
Throughout my run, I was assisted by a member of my team who drove behind me. The volunteer let me run about 5 kilometers, caught up with me to see if I needed anything, and then stopped the car to let me run another 5 kilometers. So, one day, when a car pulled alongside me, I thought it was the volunteer. Instead, it was four huge men with tattoos, all pointing guns at me.
They forced me into their car. They spoke Spanish, so I couldn’t understand anything they were saying. They pulled my T-shirt up over my head, so I couldn’t see anything.
I was taken to the gang’s headquarters. Because I was so afraid, I didn’t look around; but in my line of vision, there were some 40 to 50 people. They all had guns; really big ones. AK-47s or something like that. I thought for sure I was going to die in that building.
It got to be about lunchtime, so the gang decided to give me so food: a Mexican burrito. I don’t like Mexican food; but what was I to do? I wanted to develop good relationships with my captors, so I acted like I was very happy with the burrito. I gave them a big smile and a thumbs-up.
I was taken by the gang to see their boss in another room, who was lounging on a military-style cot. He took away my phone and began to flip through it with the others. They were all laughing as they looked at the photos and videos from my run. I hoped that this might allow me to get closer to the gangsters, and perhaps they would spare my life.
The boss then asked me three fateful questions.
The first was: “Do you know how to do kung fu?” The question made me nervous. I actually know kung fu, but I was afraid that if I said “yes,” they might want me to join their gang to teach them kung fu, so that they could beat up all of the other gangsters. So, I lied and told them that the only sport I knew how to do was running.
The second was actually more of a command than a question: they told me to call up all of my friends, to ask for ransom I suppose. I immediately started calling up my team members; but nobody picked up. Just as I was thinking about calling up contacts in China, my phone ran out of battery.
Then, the boss asked me a third question: “Why did you run here?” I knew that this question could be really tricky. I had sponsors back at home. I was also afraid to mention the Chinese government because they might believe the government is really rich and would try to ask for ransom money. So, I just told them that running was my hobby and that running from the South Pole to the North Pole had always been my dream.
My interrogation probably only lasted 20 minutes. I guess, they decided that it wasn’t worth it to keep me. But at the time, I had no idea of this. The first sign I had that I was going to get out of there alive was when the boss gave me a sports drink. I had no idea what to do or how to thank them in Spanish; so I just started repeating “thank you very much” over and over again in English. I kind of bowed to them and gave them the zuoyi (作揖, fist joined with palm) hand gesture as a sign of respect and appreciation.
The same four men who kidnapped me took me back into the car. While driving back, they took a bunch of selfies with me. It was kind of crazy; just earlier that day, I was a captive and suddenly they were treating me like some idol.
The men dropped me off at the same place they picked me up. Even though it seemed I was in the clear, I was afraid that maybe the gangsters wanted to throw out a long line just so they can have the fun of reeling me in again. So I didn’t try to contact my friends directly. I ran for a long while, to make sure that the gangsters didn’t make a U-turn.
As I think back on my run, the most important thing I learned is not to treat your life as a joke. There are many uncertainties and dangers in the world. After this kidnapping incident, I was terrified whenever I heard a car coming up on me, which was literally all the time. I realize how lucky I was. And luck matters.—As told to Emily Conrad and Jessica Zhang (章诗倩)
Photos from Bai Bin