Going the distance for friendship and fellowship

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-10-06 11:32
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Runners set off from the start line in the 2021 BMW Hood to Coast Relay at Senado Field, Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, on Sept 25. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Hood to Coast endurance relay unites runners once more in 'celebration of shared values'

For the hardy souls that annually brave the BMW Hood to Coast Relay, the race's meaning goes way beyond a simple long-distance running event. More importantly, it is a celebration of the runners' shared values-both in life and sports.

As the fifth anniversary of the relay, this year's race started on Sept 25 at Senado Field in the grasslands of Zhangjiakou, the city in Hebei province that will co-host the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. The finish area was located in mountain terrain at Wanlong Paradise Resort.

"There are more and more runners coming to our relay, and we are working to allow more people to be able to participate in our race. So people can feel the buzz of the Hood to Coast, the power of teamwork and the beauty of nature," said Li Lu, the general manager of the event's promoter, Starz Sports Running Culture.

"Runners from across the nation gathered here in a celebration of our shared values, such as green living, fairness, charity, positive energy and teamwork."

A total of 351 five-man teams were challenged to complete the 145.6-kilometer test within 24 hours, with Yiju Marathon Club finishing as the fastest group in 8 hours, 12 minutes and 56 seconds.

Teams of five runners and one car take on the 24-hour test on a course that is divided into 16 sections. One team member is required to complete each section while the others travel by car and interchange at the end of every leg.

Zong Baoxi, who works as an anesthetist, has participated in all five editions of the relay. The 34-year-old has witnessed the growth of the race since 2017 when it made its debut in Zhangjiakou.

"This year what we runners wanted the most was to see the relay return following all the changes to everyday life brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic," Zong told China Daily.

"Unlike the sunny weather of the previous editions, this year the rain and chilly temperatures on the grasslands were the challenges, which in a way made us relish the event even more. One of the most precious moments for us this year was when we celebrated after crossing the finish line. The rain, sweat and tears all mixed together.

"The most precious thing I gained here is friendship. We are old teammates. From the first time we cooperated until now, the relay each year has been a reunion of friends. We showed the power of teamwork.

"Now the relay is growing fast with increasing popularity. I was simply happy to make the quota to participate in this year's event. Everything was in great order, and the runners have a much stronger sense of protecting nature."

When Zong participated in the event in 2017, there were just 805 runners. Despite challenges posed by the pandemic, last September's Hood to Coast Zhangjiakou race attracted over 2,000 runners from over 400 teams. In December, the relay's Hainan edition, which has been staged since 2019, also welcomed over 2,000 participants.

Office worker Xu Fenghua, of the PKU Running Fun team, completed the race for a third time, describing this year's event as "pretty different from previous editions".

"The participants are much more serious, and there are more and more high-level or even professional runners here, which showed the growing quality and popularity of the event," Xu, 44, told China Daily.

"Personally I have grown a lot through this event. Amid life's challenges, the relay is an escape for me. Each second on this course is full of unique experiences.

"Our teammates have shared values, we trust in each other's abilities, and we have developed a chemistry through the years. Such experiences are something you can never get when you run alone."

Xu also believes the uniqueness of the Hood to Coast is the secret behind its growing popularity.

"It's different from running events in which you run alone or compete against others. This is a battle that requires trust and confidence among the team.

"And leaving the city for this beautiful countryside and nature is also perfect for letting go of life's stresses and worries."

The success of the Hood to Coast is also attributable to the efforts of the organizers, who are always keen to make the experience as safe as possible for runners.

Comprehensive medical services, including ambulances and 70 first responders, were provided this year, while nothing was left to chance in regard to COVID-19.

All staff and volunteers were required to be vaccinated, while the start and finishing areas were thoroughly sanitized. Participants were required to report their recent travel history and show green health codes on their phones. In addition, runners needed to submit a negative COVID-19 test result at least 72 hours before their arrival. Each runner then had a second test, provided free by the organizers, just prior to setting off at the start line.

"We never worried about our safety, and the relay did a great job in organization and security. They had quick responses to all emergencies and were very professional, so this means runners can just focus on the relay," Zong added.

"The pandemic prevention work was also good this year. We needed to complete some procedures, but it was absolutely necessary for us. They shouldered their responsibility of protecting all participants."

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