Running the world

Updated: 2016-04-29 08:24

By Matt Prichard, Yan Dongjie and Yu Yilei in Beijing and Wang Mingjie in London(China Daily Europe)

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Running the world

Well-off, fitness-focused Chinese are busy snapping sweaty selfies at international marathons

Xie Guoping had always kept in shape. The former real estate company owner from Shanghai hiked, climbed mountains and played badminton, and her friends did, too.

But the 50-year-old says that in 2013 her friends took up a new pursuit: running.

Soon she was completing marathons, and before too long she was flying around the globe to participate in the some of the world's best-known sporting events.  

 Running the world

Chinese runners are flying around the globe to participate in the some of the world's best-known marathon events, such as Xie Jun and his wife Qi Yingju, and Yu Minggui (right), who finished the Berlin Marathon last year. Photos Provided to China Daily

Xie and her friends are not alone. A growing interest in fitness has propelled running into a major sport in China. At the same time, expanding prosperity has meant Chinese runners have gone from being rare at international marathons to having a noticeable presence.

This year, 150 Chinese - 106 men and 44 women - registered for the April 24 London Marathon, a race that attracts 38,000 runners annually and is one of the six top marathons in the world.

That's a 417 percent increase from the 29 Chinese entrants - 22 men and seven women - last year, organizers say. And in 2014 there were only 11 - seven men and four women.

"This trend caught my attention about three years ago," says Du Mingrui, 34, general manager of ZX-Tour Co, who is also a keen runner. "The number of Chinese going abroad to run is growing tremendously."

Running the world

His company, which specializes in organizing training camps and tours, is among a number of enterprises serving the growing legion of Chinese runners.

Last year, just three Chinese people took part in the Jerusalem Marathon, including two who were local residents, according to Du. The number surged to 156 at this year's event, held on March 18.

More than 700 Chinese also entered the Berlin Marathon, one of the top international events, in September, he adds.

'Proud that I'm Chinese'

The Chinese presence at international marathons also is a point of pride as an emerging China makes its mark in many global spheres.

"I'm not representing myself but China and even Asia when running marathons," Xie says. "When I finish one, I stand there, and I feel so proud that I'm Chinese."

That presence also means people from other nations have greater exposure to, and camaraderie with, sophisticated and health-conscious Chinese people.

As for first impressions, "running is much better than (going abroad to) have a baby or purchase goods", says Wang Xiaogang, 40, a Beijing running coach and freelance journalist, who has frequently taken part in overseas marathons.

Xie says she had one such positive experience after crossing the finish line at the Boston Marathon on a cold, rainy day in April last year. "I was so cold that I stood on a manhole cover where steam was escaping. People from different countries did the same, and we stood close to each other to keep warm. It was a pretty interesting experience."

Running the world

One of the most compelling stories at the April 18 Boston Marathon this year was that of Lauren Woods, the 34-year-old Boston police officer who was running the marathon in memory of Lu Lingzi, a 23-year-old Chinese student who was one of three people killed in the 2013 bombings at the marathon finish line.

Woods was one of those who tended to Lu, a marathon fan and spectator at the event, as she lay dying. The young graduate student in mathematics and statistics was to have received her degree from Boston University last year.

"Lingzi Lu will never be forgotten," columnist Steve Buckley wrote in the Boston Herald on the eve of this year's marathon. "Certainly not in Boston. Certainly not tomorrow."

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