Wang Min, 53, has run in mara- thons in some of the biggest cities in the world, but last year he decided that those 42.195 kilometers would be more enjoy- able along green countryside than in the urban jungle.
Wang has founded a new marathon in Anji County in neighboring Zhejiang Province, an area celebrated for “China’s most beautiful villages.” It will be run on October 25.
“Most of the marathons I have run were in cities,” he said. “Why not return this sport back to the open fields, where an- cient marathons were originally held?”
Wang said the new marathon, sup- ported by the Anji government, will be the “greenest, healthiest, and most eco- logical marathon in China.” It will be staged in the town of Zhangwu, which is renowned for its bamboo forests.
The choice of location didn’t come eas- ily. Wang told Shanghai Daily that he did reconnaissance on many possible sites.
“I set some strict conditions for the lo- cation of this marathon,” he said. “First, the site must have villages, mountains and beautiful natural scenery. Then, it had to be a place of abundant plant life, fresh air and clean water. Lastly, I wanted a spot with some cultural and historical significance.”He knew he had found the spot when he visited Zhangwu last year.
“This tiny town caught my eye at once because of its environment, which is ideal for my marathon,” he said. “I suppose many people will wonder why I chose such a backwater to hold an in- ternational marathon. But I think it’s important that every runner in this mar- athon feel the joy of ‘running in a brand new world’ — somewhere off the beaten track of today’s modern metropolises. It creates an adventure.”
Indeed, this marathon will be unique. Runners will be able to inhale fresh air instead of vehicle fumes. They can mar- vel at natural scenery instead of concrete high rises. And they will be greeted by the quintessential smiles and warmth of villagers instead of the raucous noise of usual marathon crowds.
Wang and his team are arranging 18 different performances of local folk cul- ture, including dragon and lion dances, along the route, and “snack stops” will feature local food specialties. Some vil- lagers have volunteered their homes to be rest stops, where runners can catch their breath, drink water and use restrooms.
We will have 50 security guards, 50 medics and some 200 volunteers to as- sist any runners that need help,” Wang said.Aside from the Anji County govern- ment, support for the marathon has also come from local businesses.Wang’s green marathon project started with just himself and a partner named Jin Lan. Now, more than 300 people have become involved.
“In the beginning, it was hard to find sponsorships because no one could quite understand what we were trying to do in a rather remote, not wealthy location,” Wang said. “But eventually, with the local government’s backing, the idea beganto gain traction.” This inaugural event will be modest. It will comprise a half mara- thon and a mini marathon. Registration for the half marathon costs 100 yuan and the mini-run, 50 yuan.
Next year, Wang plans to expand the event to include a full marathon.
Runners wishing to participate are asked to gather in Anji on October 24, where organizers will help them book hotel rooms. Shuttle buses will be provided for those without private trans- portation. After the event, there will be a barbecue party with a live band.
“We aren’t focused on professional athletes,” Wang said. “Rather, we want to attract sports enthusiasts of all kinds, including white-collar workers and for- eigners. We already have students from the Shanghai American School and peo- ple from foreign consulates registered as participants.''
Marathons have become very popular in China as celebrities and commercial interests piled in to promote the trend. At the same time, government efforts to improve public health have encouraged sports like running.
Wang said an estimated 50 marathons or more were held across China last year, and this year the number is expected to reach nearly 140. Between 800,000 and 1,000,000 people have put on running shoes to participate. “Me? I became a dedicated runner after I participated in one running event,” Wang said. “I liked the feeling of new thoughts springing into my head. When I'm running, I talk to myself and observe what’s going on around me. It’s so much more satisfying than just sitting in a car.”
Wang said he has almost run on al- most every street in Shanghai, giving him the opportunity to experience the city’s soul.
“I am certainly much healthier than before,” he said. “And I want to share this great experience with more peo- ple. I think running should never be a short-lived fad but rather a long-term lifestyle.” Wang said there’s more to running than just throwing on running gear.
“It’s nice to see more and more people running,” he said, “but they have to learn to do it properly. If they run with the wrong posture, they may cause their bodies damage, especiallythe knees.” Running, he said, can also be danger- ous at night in the city. “If I need to run in the late evening, I often wear a vest with a fluorescent belt so that drivers can easily see me,” Wang said. “It would be nice if the city government could provide safe areas for night runners.” Another problem he sees is the lack of a formal marathon association in Shang- hai. That makes it hard for grassroots groups like his to organize running events. “A marathon usually involves compli- cated factors, such as providing security, medical facilities and traffic control,” Wang said. “That’s pretty hard for many grassroots groups to organize, and if they don’t, risks loom.”