Runner's World SA
China Is Obsessed With Running And The Trend Could Transform The Country Image Credit: Runner's World SA
China Is Obsessed With Running And The Trend Could Transform The Country Image Credit: Runner's World SA

China Is Obsessed With Running - And The Trend Could Transform The Country

IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, A RUNNING BOOM HAS HIT THE WORLD’S MOST POPULOUS NATION. UPWARDS OF 20 MILLION CHINESE ARE EXUBERANTLY TAKING TO URBAN STREETS AND VILLAGE TRAILS, AND GRADUALLY SHIFTING THE IDENTITY OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC IN THE PROCESS.

Will Ford

CHINA’S MOST ANTICIPATED NEW TRAIL RACE BEGAN WITH TECHNO JAZZERCISING.

It was five in the morning, and the starting line felt like a nightclub. Runners gathered behind a traditional Chinese gate doing jumping jacks and toe touches, syncing their stretches to thumping bass music. An instructor covered in spandex led the calisthenics, shouting through a headset. Smoke machines exploded in rhythm with the music, and floodlights lit up a banner hung from the gate: Gaoligong by UTMB.

A Chinese runner nodded to me in approval. “Not bad at all, the vibe here.”

EDM pulsed for the next half hour, until Li Zhaohui, the event’s emcee and broadcaster at the Beijing Olympics’ track-and-field events, took the stage. That morning, he donned a vintage American Air Force flight jacket, embroidered with the emblem of the Flying Tigers, the U.S. squadron that fought alongside the Chinese in this region, just north of the Myanmar border in Yunnan Province, during World War II. Strapped around his forehead were retro 1940s flight goggles.

“We are here... in Tengchong, the most beautiful city!” he proclaimed, first in Chinese, then in heavily accented English.

“You can conquer the mountain… of Gaoligong! You can fly. You… can touch the sky… like an eagle! You are all heroes! It is… amazing!” The runners, nearly 400 strong, cheered along with the crowd.

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