Arguably the most-coveted distance running race in China, the Beijing Marathon has cemented its status as a marquee event in Asia, being named the opening leg of the new Asian Premier Marathon (APM) series.
This year's Beijing Marathon, which starts at 7:30 am on Sept 17, will kick off the 2017-18 APM season, a continental multi-race marathon series which was launched in Beijing on Friday with approval from the Asian Athletic Association.
After the Beijing race, the APM series will continue its inaugural season in Lebanon at the Beirut Marathon in November, followed by the Seoul Marathon in March before returning to the Chinese capital to conclude at the 2018 Beijing Marathon.
As the first continental marathon series of its kind, the APM will help raise the competition standard and international appeal of each member race by sharing operational expertise, cultural elements and media exposure, organizers said.
"The popularity of marathons has grown remarkably fast in the past few years around the world. I believe that APM will undoubtedly further boost the appeal of marathons in Asia," Asian Athletics Association Dahlan Al-Hamad said.
According to the Chinese Athletic Association (CAA), there were nearly 400 marathon races, half and full length, held in China in 2016 with about 2.8 million participants.
The growing popularity of long-distance running among China's health-conscious urban people has forced some of the prestigious events, such as the Beijing Marathon, to run online lotteries to decide who will receive a place at the starting line.
This year's Beijing Marathon will open its online registration system for interested runners at 3 pm on Saturday with 30,000 bibs available. The system will close five days later and a ballot will be organized if there are too many applicants.
"As the running zeal spreads across the country, the new APM series will provide a broader platform for Chinese runners to experience events in other countries and exchange with their counterparts overseas," Wang Nan, vice president of CAA, said.
According to Infront China, the operating and promoting agency of the APM series, the races in Beirut and Seoul will reserve a certain number of entry places for Chinese runners, while an honor system will be established to award participants different levels of certificates based on their performance and the number of events they run.
"The official launch of APM today, after over a year of preparations, is the best proof of Infront China's professional strength and abundant resources worldwide. We will continue to focus on the mass participation market in sports and do our best to further boost the development of marathons in China and across Asia, " Anne Zhao, managing director of Infront China, said.