Beijing Marathoners Brave the Smog

Pollution nearly 14 times the healthy limit

Oct 20, 2014
Outside Magazine

The number of micrograms of "particulate matter" in Beijing's air on the day of the marathon was 344; a healthy amount would be 25.    Hung_Chung_Chih/Thinkstock

Despite a government warning for people to avoid going outdoors due to heavy smog, roughly 30,000 participants ran in the 34th annual Beijing International Marathon on Sunday. 

According to the Atlantic, the Chinese capital registered 344 on the PM2.5 scale, which measures the micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter. The World Health Organization deems 25 micrograms to be a healthy level.

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center warned people to stay indoors, but race organizers determined it was too late to postpone the event, with 46 percent of competitors traveling from abroad and other parts of China to run. Given that smog levels were nearly 14 times the healthy limit, some runners wore face masks to guard themselves against the pollution. Race organizers also placed sponges at course stations so the participants could wash off their skin. CNN reports that several runners withdrew before and during the race out of fear for their health.

British runner Chas Pope dropped out after six miles because his mask was filthy, according to BBC News China. Pope also tweeted that the only warning of pollution from the organizers came late Saturday night, when they claimed there might be light to moderate haze. “It felt pretty ridiculous given we’re meant to be running for health and fitness,” he was quoted as saying by CNN.

Ethiopia’s Girhay Birhanu Gebru won the men’s race for the second year in a row with a time of 2 hours, 10 minutes, and 42 seconds, a little more than three minutes behind the course record. Fatuma Sado Dergo, also of Ethiopia, won the women’s competition in 2:30:03. So far, there have been no reports of serious health problems among the competitors.

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