Some 30,000 runners participated in the 2024 Xiamen Marathon on January 7 in East China's Fujian Province as the first World Athletics Platinum Label road race raised the curtain for a new year packed with marathon events in China.
Over the past year, the number of marathon events and participants across China has enjoyed rapid growth, signaling a robust resurgence of the "marathon craze." The road running events across the country have become a crucial means for various areas to build their brands and foster the development of local culture and tourism industries.
The Xiamen Marathon gained the World Athletics Platinum Label in 2021, becoming the second Chinese marathon race to win this label following the Shanghai Marathon.
In 2023, the Xiamen Marathon celebrated its 20th anniversary. At the outset of the next two decades, the 2024 Xiamen Marathon sprinted into new realms of speed.
During this edition of the race, Chinese male athlete Dong Guojian finished with an impressive time of 2 hours, 10 minutes, and 38 seconds. This achievement set a new record for the best domestic performance in the Xiamen Marathon and secured Dong the champion among Chinese participants. Reflecting on his success, Dong said he was happy with his performance on a challenging course, noting that this was his second time running in the Xiamen Marathon.
From the end of 2023 to the beginning of 2024, Chinese marathon runners have made a succession of breakthroughs. In December, Yang Shaohui shattered the national record for men's marathon with a time of 2 hours, 7 minutes, and 9 seconds. The previous record had remained untouched for 15 years until another Chinese athlete, He Jie, broke it at the Wuxi Marathon in March 2023.
With two national records broken in a single year, a revitalizing force has been injected into the development of Chinese marathons. On the one hand, the optimization of training methods for elite athletes has led to a collective advantage among high-level runners, sparking breakthrough performances.
On the other hand, the surge in both quantity and quality of road racing events has propelled nationwide fitness fervor, promoting both the recreational participation and professional excellence.
As the year's opening event, the Xiamen Marathon set the stage for the entire year of road racing events, fueling the fervor for marathons in 2024.
Jockey for a spot
Statistics reveal that over the past year, a total of 580 road races have been held nationwide with the total number of participants reaching 5.5 million. Among them, there were over 300 events certified by the Chinese Athletics Association.
On many weekends, more than 20 marathons simultaneously took place across the country. Some new events such as trail running and quarter marathons also got into full swing.
On the city landscape, more than 170 cities hosted marathons in 2023, with cities such as Chongqing, Beijing, Suzhou, and Hangzhou organizing over 10 marathon races throughout the year. In 2023, the strong resurgence of marathon events in China was evident, and the enthusiasm of "everyone trying marathons" stood out as a crucial indicator. The Shanghai Marathon saw a pre-registration number of 170,000, and the Chongqing Marathon witnessed a single-day registration exceeding 100,000. Registration numbers for these events consistently reached new highs, making it "difficult to secure a spot" at many marathons.
Meanwhile, the runners have made steady progress in setting new personal best. This indicates that an increasing number of enthusiasts are not only running for fun but also achieving noteworthy results. In the 2023 Beijing Marathon, 2,402 participants completed the full marathon in less than three hours, setting a new record for the number of individuals achieving a sub-three-hour time in domestic marathons.
While the spotlight is on major events, many small and distinctive marathons are also gaining new popularity. Many of these events are gradually maturing in terms of enhancing participants' experiences and ensuring safety. They attract runners from various areas seeking unique experiences and contribute to the development of local cultures, tourism, and other related industries.
Li Xiaoping, director of the Sports Bureau of East China's Jiangxi Province said at the recently held 2023 China Sports Culture Expo that Jiangxi organized over 20 urban marathons in 2023 including Nanchang's Hero Marathon and the Lushan Marathon in Jiujiang. The Nanchang Marathon alone generated various business revenues totaling 125 million yuan ($17.6 million).
He said that marathon events exert a strong influence on the consumption in the overall cultural, tourism, and commercial sectors, serving as a driving force for economic and social development.
"A marathon helps you get to know a city." In recent years, an increasing number of cities have embraced events as a means of urban development, viewing marathons as a valuable opportunity to enhance city images and drive economic growth.
Building city brand
According to the "2023 China Road Race Events High-Quality Development Research Report" released by the Research Institute of the People's Daily Online, many cities utilize road races to spark enthusiasm for mass fitness and invigorate urban development. These events serve as platforms for sports-related consumer festivals, tourism events, expos, and more, showcasing local cultural landscapes, beautiful ecological environments, and thoughtful public services. This approach has garnered widespread attention and discussion.
Guizhou Marathon participants can enjoy free access to 10 popular tourist attractions within Guiyang, Southwest China's Guizhou Province. Suzhou Marathon in East China's Jiangsu Province delves into cultural elements, with the race route featuring Kunqu, Pingtan, a type of storytelling and ballad in local dialect, and traditional water town dances. Chongqing Marathon in Southwest China introduces the "marathon hot pot" as a highlight of the Chongqing International Consumer Festival, promoting the hot pot culture. Wuxi Marathon in East China's Jiangsu Province offers exclusive business travel services for participants, allowing them to check out as late as 3:00 pm on race day. After completing the race, participants can freshen up and rest before catching high-speed trains or flights.
Under the strategic guidance of a national fitness agenda, the concept of engaging in physical exercise is gradually becoming widespread, and participation in road races has become a spontaneous demand for the Chinese people. Cities across the country are leveraging the marathon platform for publicity and promotion; and with increasing experience in event operations, the overall experience and satisfaction of runners kept improving, according to experts.
According to the report by the People's Daily Online, the outlook for road racing events is bullish, as sustainable development featuring diversified events and international standard will become a benchmark.
In the future, large-scale races leveraging brand effects will mature further, attracting more resources.
Meanwhile, the appeal of "small and beautiful" events in rural areas will draw a wider audience due to their distinctive features.
Marathons will not only integrate with urban settings, but also extend their reach into rural areas. This integration aims to empower rural revitalization, allowing marathons to fully realize their value in diverse contexts.