Today’s Running The World comes from the enormous, humongous country of China! It measures 9.6 million square km. With a population of over 1.35 billion people, it’s the most populous country in the world and has an illustrious sporting history.
I never intend each individual interview to sum up a nation’s running scene, that would be impossible. They’re intended more to give a snapshot of the running community there. This has never been the case more than here, with China. It would be impossible to talk comprehensively about the running scene in China. So instead, settle back and enjoy a tiny glimpse into the life of one Chinese runner.
From what I’d heard, finding an english-speaking, female Chinese runner would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. And somehow, I found that needle. I found Yuxi via a load of googling, which landed me somehow at Heyrobics Beijing. Heyrobics is a Swedish exercise phenomenon but their website also had a tab called Heyrunning. I dropped them an email and asked if they knew anyone who would fit my bill and soon after I had a super-exciting email from Yuxi…and here we go.
Hi! Tell us a little about yourself!
Ahem… My name is Yuxi Liu (a.k.a Diana) and I was born and raised in Beijing, China. I just graduated from high school in BJ and will continue studying at UC Santa Barbara from this September.! I love sport, listening to music, and running on trails, especially exploring mountains by foot.
How did you get into running?
A year ago, a friend of mine dragged me to a gym to exercise with her. I found nothing to do, but running on a treadmill to wait for her. I’ve never run more than 1K before, but that day, I ran 5k! And I was surprised by myself. Since that day, I started running to challenge myself, wondering how much longer I can run, but gradually, running became an indispensable part of my life.
How popular is running in China, these days?
Running in China is an explosive trend. More people run for health and for fun, more people are turning up at marathons and trail running races. Last year, the Beijing Marathon sold out after one day. And some popular small trail races also sell out after a few hours. It’s becoming easier to run into another runner on a street or a mountain trail. Many friends of mine have even started their own running club or running organization to help people get into running.
Is this a recent thing or does China have a history of running?
To be honest, China does have a lot of history of running, showed on documentary records, legends, and paintings, but it’s only got really popular in recent years.
China is a big country – do you have any idea about running’s popularity in different parts of the country?
Even though the data shows that the number of Chinese runners has been growing tremendously quickly recently, there is still a big difference in different parts of country. It depends on the geography (high altitude), weather (extremely hot or cold) and tradition.
How does running’s popularity differ in the rural areas versus the cities?
Running is far more popular in cities than in rural areas, since cities are more populated and have a lot of parks. People like to find a nearby place to run and relax. Even though some ex-pats are living in the rural areas due to the extremely high price housing in cities, they are too tired after a day’s work to run outside.
What kind of people are running in China, these days?
Nearly everyone is running: kids, older people, men, and women. However, there are always more men than women in every race, no matter whether it’s a marathon, trail running or a race over a shorter distance. There aren’t certain social classes in running here because as long as you have a pair of shoes, shorts, and a shirt, you can run. And the registration fee for marathon is pretty cheap in China, usually about less than 100rmb. (Cat’s note: ‘The renminbi is the official currency of China – 100 rmb is roughly $16 or 9GBP). If you are running another city’s race, you can choose to take the high-speed railway in China. It’s pretty fast and cheap.
How popular is running amongst Chinese women in particular?
There are not so many female runners in China. Usually, most mothers are busy taking care of their kids and family after work, most girls are busy studying at and outside school, and some females avoid running to avoid from the pollution.
However, some female who pay more attention to their health and fitness would run, and some housewives would go for a run when they are free during the day.
Speaking of the driving factor, I think it’s the surrounding environment. Friends, health, and fitness are equally important. Friends will convince you to run, health problem will push you to exercise, and beauty will forward you to keep fit by doing aerobics exercise, like running.
How safe do you feel when you run?
It’s pretty safe to run with a friend or a group of people in parks or on street, even if you run by yourself. You can meet a lot of runners at a park where runners usually go. However, it’s not that safe when you run at night alone, girls especially should avoid running on the streets.
Are there any particular issues regarding women running? (cultural, generational)
Most races give fewer rewards to women, whether money or the prizes available.
How popular is racing?
There are about 100 races in China, including the short distances(10k,5k). And if you hesitate when registering for some races, well there won’t be any spots left for you!
Who organizes the races?
Most races are held be some big companies, approved by local government. Still, local running clubs organize a few races within the running community. For example, there is a half marathon in Yunnan this year, quite small, but organized by a runner’s family and his running club. They only accept around 500 runners on this race. (Cat’s note: seriously, check that link out. I would LOVE to run there).
How expensive are they (both in terms of actual prices but also in terms of proportion of income)?
It’s very cheap to run in a marathon. Usually the price is around 100rmb ($16) – the average salary in China is about 7,000rmb ($1,138). However, some popular races, like the BJ International marathon cost more – (200rmb/$32 for full marathon,120rmb/$19 for half marathon).
What distances are popular?
Half marathon, 10K, Mini marathon (usually about 5K) are popular since a lot of runners have just started running recently and couldn’t yet tackle the full marathon. What’s more, the half marathon and other short distance are not as ‘torturous’ to people as the full marathons.
Which are the most important races in China?
Which are your own personal favorites?
The Genghis Khan MTB Adventure & Grassland Extreme Marathon is my favorite! Though running on grassland is more difficult than running on road and will cost me more on transportation and accommodation, the marathon and three days cycling there along with the amazing view gave me an unforgettable experience. If I have time next year, I would go again!
If you could encourage a traveller to do any Chinese race, which would it be?
Definitely the Genghis Khan MTB Adventure & Grassland Extreme Marathon! You can’t imagine how cool it is to run on the grassland under the beautiful blue sky. Along the way, you can even meet a flock of sheep, cows, or the local people riding horse galloping on grasslands! If you are not fully satisfied by the marathon and want to see more view about the amazing grassland, you can choose one, two or three days MTB riding. Cycling over a longer distance to explore deeper into the grassland would give you a new and more invaluable experience of this race!
What is becoming popular in Chinese running circles?
More training sessions and running camps organized by clubs are coming up within the running community. Some specific sessions and camps are even organized by the race organizer to help runners become well prepared for a particular race. Plus, more people like to find an effective way to improve their speed and decrease the possibility of injury. Also, finding a camp or a club to train with a bunch of new friends would be more interesting than training by themselves.
Is trail running popular in China? Any particular regions?
Are there any particular dangers/amazing things about running trails in China?
The amazing thing is the gorgeous nature you can see along the trails!! The most dangerous thing about trail running in China is the great temperature difference in some places, and mountains with steep drops, but every runner has to carry the required necessities to ensure their safety.
Do you know anything about the ultra scene there?
We have a few races here in China. Most are 50k or 100k. The TNF 50/100k in BJ, HK100K, HK168K are the most famous ultra Endurance Races. Compared to marathons, Ultra Endurance Races are rare in China, and usually a normal race would have around 500 runners. Some popular ones would have more on the race.
What clothes/shoes/nutrition/equipment brands are popular?
For marathons, the popular running shoes are Asics, Mizuno, NB, Adidas, Nike. For trail runs, it’s Salomon, Tecnica). For clothing, Kalenji, X-bionic, Skins and Compressport are popular and as regards nutrition, PowerBar, GU, Nuun are taking off. Finally, for equipment, it’s all about Salomon, Oakley, Zamst, Garmin, Compressport.
Where do people buy their running things?
We usually buy those things except running shoes online. We’ll go directly to a shop to buy those. Each individual brand tends to have its own store – we go there.
Who are the running heroes in China?
Kevin Lin, from Taiwan, spent 111 days successfully crossing the Sahara Desert on foot. After a few years, he did a big run again: running the silk road in 150 days, crossing Istanbul, Turkey and travelling through Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and China.
Penbin Chen, who used to be a fisherman on an island has now almost finished the Seven Continents Ultra Marathon Grand Slam this year (he has one race left: the South Pole 100k Race). If successful, he will be the first person to finish the Seven Continents Ultra Marathon Grand Slam in the world. Even though his background is so simple, he is working so hard on training and has won a lot of awards around the world. (Cat’s note: the link on his name goes to a Vimeo video about his running.)
What do Chinese runners use to fuel when running?
Some professional runner or who know a lot about running usually use Energy gel and Saltstick while running, along with the electrolyte water. Still, some of the runners like to fuel simply, having banana or some Energy Bar provided at the check points, along with sports drinks.
Any Chinese specialities?
We like having noodles with some vegetables for several days before a big run, along with some sweet fruits during the day.
Is Twitter/Blogging big within the Chinese running community?
It’s not that big within the Chinese running community, however, we use different media, like Weibo(pretty much like FB), qq/Wechat(an app to chat online), and some specific websites – some running communities are official or sponsored by sports brands, they have their own websites.
Any cool blogs/twitterers that we should follow?
On Instagram, try HeyRunning
What magazines/podcasts are popular?
For magazines: Runner’s World China.
Online – Weibo(a media somehow like FB), qq/Wechat(Apps people can chat in a group and share info about running)
If I landed in your city/country, where would you send me to find out about the local running routes, group runs, and local races?
If you wanted to find a running group, definitely try HeyRunning because it’s the biggest international running community in Beijing and can give you the most fun, effective and simple way of running here. HeyRunning always welcomes visitors, you can stop by any session to join them or ask questions. Some big running groups have their own websites but they’re mainly in Chinese.
Parks are always the best place to run during the day. Popular parks include Olympic Forest Park, Chaoyang Park and Temple Ofraven Park. Remember not to run on roads in the morning as there are usually traffic jams – the cars and exhausts will make you sick.
What is the best thing about running in China?
China has abundant resources of mountains, forest parks, which provides runners great places to run and train for races. As running grow more popular in some cities, it’s easier to find a group or a club near where you run. There is a group I know that they now have up to 500 people! And you can apply to be in different groups or clubs, this way you can find all running events around you and choose your favorite one.
What is the worst thing?
For the runner? The pollution is the worst thing. You have to avoid pollution days, otherwise, your health would be affected if you insisted on running outside.
Yuxi, thank you so much for chatting with us and good luck with your big move to Santa Barbara! You can follow Yuxi (aka Diana) on Facebook HERE.
For more Running The World interviews, click HERE.