'Fitness for all' motto fires up interest in running

Timothy Francis Hughes
Running is becoming a way of life in China as can be seen from the growing popularity of marathons staged in the country.
Timothy Francis Hughes
Dong Jun / SHINE

Participants in last year’s Shanghai International Marathon run along the Bund.

As Ding Bo, 48, sets off on his 12-kilometer run as part of his weekly regimen, he joins a growing number of Chinese who have taken up the sport of running. 

Ding, who took to running just four years ago, has now taken part in four full marathons in the past 14 months throughout China.

Interest in participating in long-distance running competitions has skyrocketed in China over the past few years. Shanghai is among a multitude of cities across the country to host their own marathons and other competitive races.

Nowhere is the interest in competing more apparent than at the Shanghai International Marathon. In its 22nd year, the event which was flagged off with 6,000 runners in 1996 will have a total of 38,000 this Sunday. 

The enthusiasm has been particularly great over the past two years when 126,000 runners applied for 35,000 available spots in 2015, and another 26,000 more the following year for roughly the same number of spots.

This year, over 86,000 hopeful runners applied for the 28,000 full-marathon spots after the organizers dropped the half-marathon. However, the simultaneously held 10km and 5km races remain.

With intense seal in running, the organizers of Shanghai International Marathon have introduced newer races known as the Shang Ma series, including multiple half-marathons and 10km races which are held throughout the fall and winter seasons.

But what could be the reason for the sudden spurt in running besides being a fitness phenomenon?

Yiqi Pao (literally “running together”) is one of the many running clubs in Shanghai. Meeting weekly at Pudong’s Century Park, Yiqi Pao members run clockwise around the park on specially designed running paths. 

Li Peigen has been running with them for five years. She believes the upsurge in running is due to three main reasons — the first being the government’s policy. After Beijing won the bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games, dazhong jianshen, or fitness for all, began to take shape, encouraging Chinese citizens to partake in all kinds of fitness and sports.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Running is becoming a way of life in China.

Dong Jun / SHINE

A group of young women participating in last year’s Shanghai Marathon warm themselves up for the run.

The second being China’s improved economy gave common people more time to focus on their bodies and health. An indicator of this is that there are more gyms in the country now than before. 

And finally, the simplicity of running. There is no need for specialized equipment or skill, making it possible for everyone to run.

According to Tian Hao, 25, a doctoral student at East China Normal University, many runners participating in marathons do so to meet new friends and give themselves personal challenges to overcome.

While he runs for the same reasons, he also enjoys competing in new locations to gain a better understanding of local people. Starting running two years ago, Tian has competed in two marathons and multiple other races, often times with his fellow classmates.

Ding, however, took to running to “lose weight.”

“I had tried other methods of losing weight but none of them worked until I picked up running,” insists Ding. He also found that some of his colleagues at work shared his passion for running. He no longer takes the Metro to work anymore, preferring instead to bike all the way.

While traveling to other cities to take part in marathons, Ding and his colleagues travel together while others in the office join in for fun and camaraderie. Having lost 20kg since taking up running, Ding is a prime example of the Chinese government’s efforts to ensure “fitness for all.”

Yiqi Pao members meet every Tuesday at around 7pm outside Century Park’s Exit 7.

The Shanghai International Marathon will be flagged off on Sunday at 7am at Zhongshan Road E1, running through the Puxi side of the city and finishing at Shanghai Stadium.


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