Road running in China is picking up pace again, three years after the COVID-19 pandemic control measures prevented people gathering in large numbers for events.
A total of 133 road races across the country have been registered for the first six months of the year, according to the 2023 Chinese Athletics Association Road Running Work Report released recently by the Chinese Athletics Association. The races include 61 marathons, the report said
Last Sunday marked a major comeback for marathons, with 26 held nationwide and more than 300,000 runners participating. Seventeen of the marathons featured fields of more than 10,000 runners.
The strong recovery in the number of marathons demonstrates the revival of social and regional development, said Luo Zibo, a professor with the China Tourism Academy's Yangtze River Tourism Research Base.
"There is a positive relationship between marathons and the level of economic development," Luo said. "Chinese people have made a historic leap from a subsistence existence to a relatively comfortable life through years of hard work, therefore, more and more Chinese people participate in marathons."
About 15,000 runners took part in the Lishui Marathon in Zhejiang province on Sunday morning after an almost three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Events included a full marathon, half-marathon, health run and family fun run, according to the organizing committee.
"I was deeply impressed by the beautiful route," said Yang Xiaojun from Jinhua, Zhejiang province, who was runner-up in the men's full marathon behind Cen Wanjiang, from Guizhou province, who claimed the men's title.
"We enjoyed the services and had a comfortable experience today. There were some changes in the course this year with more slopes, which made it more challenging for me."
Yang, 41, is well-known in Zhejiang marathon circles after taking up long-distance running at the age of 36.
After only three years in the sport, he broke the record for the fastest men's marathon in the province, when he recorded a time of 2 hours 24 minutes and 20 seconds. Both Yang and Cen improved on that time in this year's race.
Yang said he was excited to participate in marathons since the lifting of the COVID control measures, as over the past three years he had been restricted to running near his home in the morning.
The Lishui race is Yang's fourth marathon this year.
He is now preparing for the Xiamen Marathon in Fujian province scheduled for April 2, and has other races on his calendar. "I'm preparing to compete at Wuhan (Hubei province) and Shanghai soon. Next month is fully booked for marathons."
In 2019, Zhejiang held 365 marathon and road-running events, with over 800,000 participants, according to statistics from the Zhejiang Marathon and Running Association.
However, the past three years witnessed a sharp decrease in the number of events and participants due to the pandemic.
In 2020, a total of 155 events were organized with more than 300,000 runners taking part. The next year, the numbers plunged to 89 events and only 110,000 participants. In 2022, a total of 78 events were held, with 160,000 runners taking part.
The province is gearing up for a large number of marathons in the coming months, the running association said. In March and April, 18 events are scheduled with another 22 in the following months.
In addition to the Lishui Marathon, seven other marathons were held in Zhejiang last Sunday, attracting a large number of runners and boosting tourism.
Competitors flocked to Lin'an district of Hangzhou, the provincial capital, for a half-marathon on Sunday, according to Bao Chengcheng, an official with the district's bureau of culture and tourism. Many of them booked hotels for several days. "This demonstrates that sporting events such as marathons can give a boost to the local tourism industry," Bao said.
Shi Yigong, president of Westlake University in Hangzhou, said after participating in the event, "I just hope I can run through all the cities, areas and roads in Zhejiang".
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