Opinion / Huang Xiangyang

Comeliness of a long distance runner

By Huang Xiangyang (China Daily) Updated: 2014-10-20 13:56

All of a sudden marathon seems to have become the talk of the times.

On Sunday the annual Beijing Marathon kicked off with the capital shrouded in heavy smog. Surprisingly the participants, many of whom wore kinds of masks, bravely achieved their excellent performance in the sports gala.

Competing in the once insipid and grueling sport is now a badge of honor, coveted by a growing number of ordinary Chinese - men and women, young and old - so much so that luck now matters more than a strong mind and body if you want to stand behind the start line for a run that not very long ago was taken to be mission impossible.

Quotas for major races in China are often snapped up within hours, although this year will see about 50 marathons being run, more than double the number of two years ago. During last month's online registration for the Shanghai Marathon, more than 2 million hits were recorded when only 18,000 full and half race spots were available. A few days later, the registration system for the Hangzhou Marathon crashed because of heavy traffic.

Why this marathon mania?

Conventional wisdom has it that as people's wallets swell, so do the desire for physical fitness. The same craze once swept Japan, South Korea and Taiwan from the late 1960s through the 1980s - the years of their economic boom. Now, with the Chinese mainland's per capita GDP surpassing $6,000, it is no surprise that people here are following in their Asian peers' footsteps.

Ask a runner why he loves to run, chances are that you will get an educational course on all the pros of the sport. Some want to flatten their bellies because running is the fastest way to burn calories. Others yearn to keep the doctor away as exercise makes the immune system more active. Besides, running is simple - if you can walk, you can run. Running is free - you can even hit the road barefoot. And physiologically, running makes you happy thanks to a gush of feel-good endorphins released in the brain that comes along with physical exhaustion. The list is unending.

For me, running has more to do with my ego. Having been an underdog for most part of my life, I like the feeling of being wowed by others. Being a runner gives me that chance. It is a matter of glory for me to show off the medals I have won at the marathons in the past two years. I have 18 of them and want more.

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