Teng Yun, a 37-year-old book editor living in Beijing, traveled to Changchun, capital of northeast China’s Jilin province, over the weekend to run the Changchun International Marathon. Teng beat her personal best in the race while enjoying her short stay in the city.
“People here in Changchun are warm. I was greeted with cheers all the way to the finish line,” said Teng. “I also learned a lot about the history, architecture and culture of the city.”
Over the past few years, Teng has finished 10 marathons, five of which were outside Beijing. Her race calendar has taken her to Guangdong, Henan, Shaanxi, Jilin and Zhejiang provinces. She left Beijing on Friday after work, and returned before Monday. Aside from running, she tried the local cuisine and dropped by some tourist attractions in the city.
Teng is part of a growing trend that has seen more marathon runners travel across the country to race since 2015. According to Chinese Athletic Association (CAA), nearly 5 million people participated in 1,102 marathon races in the country in 2017. The Changchun International Marathon 2018, held on Sunday, attracted 30,000 runners at home and abroad.
In the 2017 Beijing Marathon, China’s most renowned running event, 70 percent of all 98,687 registered runners were from outside Beijing. In the 2017 Wuxi Marathon, out-of-towners accounted for a staggering 90 percent.
“Marathons are a great catalyst for tourism, with tens of thousands of people traveling to, staying, dining and shopping in a single city over several days,” said Shui Tao, vice secretary general of the CAA.
For each marathon trip, Teng spends an average of 4,000 yuan (about 623 U.S. dollars). She said many runners spend much more. Travel agencies also hope to ride the momentum. Ctrip, China’s leading online travel agency, offers dozens of marathon tour packages covering sign-up fees, accommodation, and tickets to local tourist attractions.
Packages for domestic destinations usually cost a few hundred yuan, while packages for world famous events in cities like London and Tokyo can cost tens of thousands of yuan. Yan Bei, a senior executive at a Beijing-based securities firm, is the leader of Teng Yun’s running club. She is one of many Chinese runners to venture abroad to race.
In 2016, she went to Germany to run the famous Berlin Marathon, which attracted nearly 900 Chinese runners. Yan finished the race in 4 hours and 12 minutes, traveled to Cologne and Frankfurt, and reveled in German food. In 2017, she finished the Chicago Marathon, which saw nearly 2,000 Chinese runners take to the streets of the Windy City. Both trips cost her nearly 50,000 yuan, but Yan thinks the money was worth it.
“The events were like carnivals and everyone was having a good time,” said Yan. “The atmosphere and sporting culture are what marathons in China can really learn from.”
China, on the other hand, is also stepping up efforts to make its cities and events more attractive to runners. In December 2016, the country’s top tourism and sports administrations jointly issued guidelines to develop sports tourism, promising 100 sports-themed tourist destinations and 100 quality events by 2020.
In January, the General Administration of Sport of China, together with 10 ministries, issued an action plan on developing China’s marathon industry, calling for integration of marathons and tourism, as well as diversified running events based on the characteristics of different cities. Teng Yun’s next targets are the Wuhan Marathon and the Wuxi Marathon.
“The food in Wuhan is great and Wuxi is a great city, too,” she said.
As for Yan Bei, she is preparing for this year’s New York Marathon. Her ultimate target is to finish the Abbott World Marathon Majors — six annual races in Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City.
“Traveling across the world to race has enabled me to interact with different cultures and people, as well as open my mind and broaden my horizons,” she said.