Record-high 500,000 runners participate in road races in one day, as ‘marathon frenzy’ sweeps China
Published: Apr 22, 2024 04:50 AM
He Jie crosses the finish line of Beijing Half Marathon on April 14, 2024. Photo: VCG

He Jie, one of China's top marathon runners, crosses the finish line of Beijing Half Marathon on April 14, 2024. Photo: VCG

On Sunday, the Chinese running community witnessed a near-crazy phenomenon with over 50 road marathon races and nearly 500,000 runners starting on the same day, which marked the highest number of marathon participants in Chinese history. 

Just a week prior on April 14, there were over 30 marathon races with nearly 300,000 runners, which set a new record. Just a week later, this record was surpassed.

What's more, the quality of these back-to-back "marathon weekends" did not seem to have been compromised. Alongside races like the Suzhou Marathon, Qingdao Marathon, and Nantong Marathon with 25,000 participants, there were also World Athletics Gold Label Road Races like the Shanghai Half Marathon. The enthusiasm of runners to participate in these events is a clear indication of the resurgence of marathon races.

According to The Paper, the Deputy Secretary-General of the Chinese Athletics Association Gao Shan stated that as of 2023, the number of certified races with over 800 participants has almost reached 90 percent of the number in 2019. The overall number of participants is also increasing, and their performance levels are improving.

The "2023 China Road Running Events Blue Book" published by the Chinese Athletics Association confirms that the average finish times for male and female marathon runners are 4:12:08 and 4:24:14, respectively, while the average finish time for a half marathon is 2:08:20.

Elite runners have been breaking records, with China’s top runner He Jie setting a new national men's marathon record of 2:06:57 at the Wuxi Marathon on March 24. This week, two elite runners also set new course records for the male and female categories at the Shanghai Half Marathon.

The breakthroughs of elite runners have led to an overall increase in speed, with 3423 runners breaking the three-hour mark at a recent race, ranking third globally in terms of the number of sub-three-hour finishers.

A seasoned runner Liu Juan described her participation in over a dozen races in 2024 as "crazy." She attributes her increased participation to the improved race environment and atmosphere, which has made her more willing to travel and participate in races across the country, as reported by The Paper.

Observers note that the frequent hosting of high-level marathons in China presents a "sweet dilemma" for runners and a competitive pressure for event organizers. It challenges them not only to attract runners but also to ensure the successful operation of the races. Many organizers have yet to meet top-tier standards, posing a test for the future development of marathons in China, said analysts.

In a recent scandal of a half marathon race on April 14, the winner He Jie and three African pace setters who appeared to finish as runners-up, have all been stripped of their trophies, medals and prize money, after public outrage was inflamed as footage showed that He won the race because the three African runners slowed down to let him cross the finish line first.

On Saturday, according to media reports, a trail running race in Zhaoqing, South China’s Guangdong Province, was hit by heavy rain and flash floods. Before the organizers called off the race, several participants were trapped and in danger. After the race, many participants questioned the organizers' decision-making and rescue capabilities.

Global Times