Letter from China: Marathon frenzy ignites sports consumption in China-Xinhua

Letter from China: Marathon frenzy ignites sports consumption in China

Source: Xinhua

Editor: huaxia

2024-05-03 16:50:15

by Xinhua writer Bai Ge

BEIJING, May 3 (Xinhua) -- Last week, I ran my first half-marathon in Weishanzhuang Town, located in the southern suburb of Beijing's Daxing District. Despite feeling exhausted, I emerged feeling refreshed.

Excitement electrified the atmosphere as about 6,000 runners, clad in vibrant tank tops, gathered early on race day, raring to go. At 7:30 a.m., the pistol fire echoed and I surged forward from the starting line with the spirited crowd.

Not long ago, the idea of participating in marathon races felt daunting and covering 21.0975 km appeared as self-inflicted suffering. However, witnessing more friends embrace the sport, I felt compelled to give it a try.

Running has become one of the most trendy sports in the country over the years. According to the research firm iResearch, China is poised to become the world's second-largest running market, with the number of elite and mass runners surpassing 100 million and 300 million, respectively.

The growing popularity of the sport has triggered a spike in registrations for Chinese marathons, with participants joking that securing a spot in top events is "as slim as winning the lottery."

On April 21, a remarkable 53 road marathon races took place across China, attracting over 470,000 runners on the same day, a record-high figure. Among them, the Shanghai Half Marathon, a world-class event, garnered over 87,600 applications, yet only 15,000 participants were able to run the race.

Despite being a physical and mental challenge, distance running can be fun and addictive, said Sandy, a Beijing-based running enthusiast. "As you hit your stride, your body releases endorphins, a 'happy hormone' that makes you feel good."

In 2020, Sandy established a non-profit club named "Just Run," providing a platform for collective training, motivation and camaraderie. Among the numerous running clubs in China, "Just Run" has amassed over 1,000 members since its inception.

The widespread popularity of running is often attributed to its accessibility; all you need is a pair of shoes and an open road. However, delving deeper reveals that running is not as inexpensive as commonly perceived, particularly for those aiming for a serious commitment to the sport.

Before the start of the race, I engaged in conversation with Zhao Yinning, a marathoner from Beijing, in the warm-up area. Zhao told me that he has been running for four years and invests at least 20,000 yuan (about 2,814 U.S. dollars) annually in his passion.

"To be frank, running can be quite costly. Take shoes as an example. A serious runner needs three or more pairs of trainers to rotate for long-tempo runs, speed work and easy runs. Footwear alone costs at least 3,000 yuan a year," Zhao said.

Even as a beginner, I echo his sentiment. Since I took up running three months ago, I've spent over 5,000 yuan on the sport. The expenses include a GPS smartwatch to track my pace and heart rate, a pair of cushioned training shoes, activewear, and a pair of bone-conduction headphones, all considered essentials for a comfortable run.

According to the Chinese Athletics Association, about 60 percent of runners spent at least 1,000 yuan on wearable devices such as sports watches, and over 30 percent invested more than 2,000 yuan in protective gear and accessories in 2023.

From running gear to supplements like electrolyte drinks and energy gels, the consumption of over 10 million amateur marathon runners in China is estimated to generate a market worth 100 billion yuan.

As the race progressed, just when fatigue began to set in around the 17 km marker, the course took a U-turn and zigzagged into a rose garden. Surrounded by endless greenery and the sweet fragrance of roses, I found myself momentarily distracted from the soreness in my muscles.

"By including tourism attractions like the rose garden into the course and offering local specialties like watermelons at aid stations, we aim for runners to experience the unique charm of our town so they may come back for more visits beyond the race," said Bai Yu, a member of the organizing committee.

As running marathons become a popular means for sports enthusiasts to discover a city, the nationwide marathon craze is fueling growth in the consumption market. Data shows that during the Wuxi Marathon held in east China's Jiangsu Province in March, the consumption of services such as catering, accommodation, tourism and transportation made by participants reached 282 million yuan, an increase of 45.5 percent compared with a year ago.

Pushing through the final stretch, I felt the weight of exhaustion in my legs with each stride. Yet, fueled by the encouraging cheers from the sidelines, I summoned every ounce of remaining energy and sprinted across the finish line.

Reflecting on my experience, the time and money I invested in running the marathon proved to be the most rewarding investment I've ever made. It allowed me to discover, perhaps for the first time, the depth of my strength, courage and resilience.