Runners hit their stride at the Ice and Snow Marathon in Changchun, Jilin province on Saturday. XINHUA
Government seeks to regulate races amid health, cheating concerns
With marathon running soaring in popularity in China, authorities have called for tighter regulation of the sport in a bid to keep it on the right track.
The proliferation of races on any given weekend is indicative of the running boom currently gripping the country, however it has also exposed management loopholes which can endanger runners.
The General Administration of Sport of China, with support from 10 other ministries, recently issued a long-term guideline for marathon development aimed at strengthening management by implementing nationwide standards on race organization, services, security, medical support and logistics over the next few years.
Over 500 marathons were staged in China last year, involving around five million participants. By 2020, the government envisages that around 1,900 races will attract 10 million runners annually.
The guideline report expects the distance-running industry to generate 120 billion yuan (about billion) from running-gear sales, training, broadcasting, endorsement and tourism.
However, the government wants to first raise public awareness of the risks involved in taking on the grueling 42.195 kilometer challenge.
"The guideline is tasked with raising the organizational standards and service level of the industry," said Shui Tao, head of the marathon department of the National Athletics Administrative Center.
"We are still struggling to keep pace with the roaring public demand for events, not only in numbers but also in services and organizational quality."
The rocketing application numbers for the Beijing Marathon, which has been staged since 1981, provides yet more evidence of the boom.
Last October's race attracted over 98,000 applicants for 30,000 starting places - a rise of 48 percent on the previous year which prompted the organizing committee to run an online lottery to decide the entries.
Marathon running is now highly fashionable with the country's fitness-conscious middle class, with some even reverting to underhand methods to gain entry to races.
During a half-marathon in Xiamen in December 2016, a runner, who was later found to be competing under someone else's name, died of a heart attack after first-aid treatment based on the original participant's information failed to work.
Similar illegal registration trades were exposed at last year's Beijing Marathon when a photo of three runners wearing vests with the same bib number went viral on social media.
To tackle the issue, the new guideline urges local sports administrators, running clubs and race organizers to establish a database of runners, which would contain their ID information, racing record and health condition.
"The development of the marathon industry should focus on quality rather than quantity," said Adam Zhang, founder of the Key-Solution sports marketing and consulting agency.
"Organizers should realize that better services to improve runners' all-round experience is critical for a race's reputation."