Shanghai International Marathon participants run from the start on the Bund yesterday.
At the starting line of the Dalian International Marathon, China's northeastern Liaoning province, runners were tuning up for the races in a fiesta atmosphere of dances and songs. Among some 30,000 runners, Tao Ni was full of vigor and couldn't wait to start her first half marathon on May 13, 2017.
"After I knew our group of runners will participate in this year's Dalian Marathon, I felt both excited and nervous. I knew nothing about marathon when I first joined in the group last year, but I got to know it bit by bit and love it day by day. And I've trained a long time for it. Now my dream comes true," said Tao, looking ahead at a sea of runners dressed in sporting shirts and shorts.
FEVER ACROSS CHINA
Tao is a new comer to marathon, and so is China. Six years ago, the most populous country only hosted 22 marathons nationwide, yet the number of marathons and road running races registered at the Chinese Athletics Association (CAA) reached 328 last year, a 150% increase compared to that of 2015.
The 328 events included 125 marathons, 128 half marathons and 75 other running races, sprawling across 133 cities in 30 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, attracting a total of 2.8 million participants, namely 1.3 million more than that of 2015.
According to CAA, more than 400 marathons will be staged across the country this year. Comparing to the 22 marathons in 2011, the number has been increased by 18 times.
In March, 2017, the Chongqing International Marathon even attracted some 120,000 applicants for its 31,000 slots, and the eventual runners were chosen by a lottery system. On the same day, many other marathons also took place in cities across the country, such as Shanghai, Chengdu and Qingyuan.
"We held our first Chongqing Marathon in 2011 when we had to call on the masses for their participation. But in 2017, only one fourth applicants can be granted. The past six years have witnessed the rapid development of marathon in China," said Li Wei, director of the Chongqing Nan'an District Sports Bureau.
ROOTS OF MARATHON HEAT
Despite of its long popularity around the world, marathon had its fever across China only during the recent years, but in a slapping pace, especially among the affluent Chinese people as China has been boasting of its rapid economic development over the decades.
According to the organizers of the Chongqing International Marathon, the main force of the marathon runners are the middle class, namely the white-collar workers, civil servants and businessmen.
Running is considered as the most accessible, cheapest and easiest sport for ordinary people. And its toughest race is marathon, which is a huge challenge to every participant both physically and mentally. The middle class in China is rapidly expanding and they are more than ever keen on leading a healthy lifestyle.
These factors combined to cater to the need of self recognition for those middle class people.
And marathon even becomes a new sense of fashion in China as many a runners are eager to share their running pictures on social media, which help promote marathon to a great extent.
IMAGES OF CONCERNED PARTIES
The marathon fever in China is also closely related to the local governments, according to Zhang Xin, deputy director of Chong Qing Sports Bureau, as most of them are held under the auspices of local governments, even as far as Lanzhou in the northwest Gansu province.
"As China is speeding up its urbanization in recent years, the municipal authorities are happy to have a sports event to further display and promote their cities," said Zhang.
Due to its large participation and nationwide media coverage, marathon has been considered by the local governments as an important carrier to enhance the images and influence of their cities.
Thus, many cities single out their unique routes across scenic spots and historical attractions, not only to boost the fitness for the people but also to promote their local tourism.