Running Boom Hits China

Marathons popular despite poor air quality

Shanghai Half Marathon 2011

Shanghai Half Marathon 2011.     Photo: Marc van der Chijs/Flickr

When a marathon in Hong Kong opened its online registration in October, the website crashed within five minutes because 30,000 people tried to register. Chinese marathons with servers that can handle the demand have been seeing their quotas filled in hours.

Just as running experienced an upsurge in popularity in the United States during the 1970s, running is becoming exponentially popular in China. On average, three marathon are held a month on the Chinese mainland. There were three time as many marathons in 2013 as there were in 2010.

Popularity continues to rise even when smog levels reach record highs.

Approximately 35,000 runners from 84 countries ran in the Shanghai International Marathon on December 1, according to the People's Daily newspaper. On the same day, Shanghai air levels reached record highs, surpassing "heavily polluted" and drifting into "severely polluted." The Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center reported pollutant levels as more than 10 times the World Health Organization's threshold.

U.S. citizen Bridget O'Donnell ran in the Shanghai Marathon and told Bloomberg News she noticed other runners wearing face masks for the first time.

"The sky was pretty bad," O'Donnell said the day after the race. "It didn't really affect me during the race but toward the end of the race I started to feel a little sick. After the race and today my lungs are really hurting."

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