This year’s Beijing marathon made headlines because it took place amid some of the city’s worst pollution. Many of the runners wore face masks to try to protect them from the smog.
Because of the health risks associated with air pollution and microscopic particulate matter, people are urged to refrain from vigorous physical activity on polluted days. The race organizing committee posted this warning a day before the race:
Participants in the race should only run if they feel capable of doing so. If there is anything wrong at any point, please stop running the race immediately.
And yet, despite the risks, they came. Southern Weekend reported of the 30,000 people who signed up, 26,000 showed up on race day. However, only 15,000 completed the course, which started at Tiananmen Square and wrapped up near the Bird’s Nest in northern Beijing.
Some runners said their throats felt “sticky” during the race. Professor Pan Xiaochuan of the Beijing University Medical Department Public Health Academy explained:
The sticky feeling is from the lungs working harder and the blood circulating faster due to exercising. At this same time, the body is inhaling many small (air pollution) particles and leading to this situation. The (health) risk is obviously higher.
When asked “Do you jog when there is smog?” 88.33 percent said “no”.
The high turnout was startling, consider a poll done by Southern Weekend showed 88 percent of runners said they will not go jogging if there is any smog.
When asked “Would you quit running the Beijing marathon this year due to smog?”, 60.71 percent of recent said “no”.
So why did they do it? Abe Yoshiharu from Tokyo said he felt he couldn’t quit the race because he felt he would let his country down. Nicole Kennedy from New York said she couldn’t give up because of what it means to give up a challenge in life. Yang Jin, who ran but eventually decided to pull out of the race, wanted to give the award for running the marathon to his baby. Liu Hexun served as a pacesetter, and said she couldn’t quit if she wanted.
Wang Heng said he has a burning desire to run. If smog hangs around for several days, he says it starts to feel “like I’ve been trapped… it’s like I haven’t bathed.” Wang first decided to skip the race when he saw the AQI had exceeded 400, but eventually ran because he was “compelled by excitement”.
Wang wore a 9002V model mask which he soon discarded because it was uncomfortable. Many others did the same, discovering that running while wearing a face mask isn’t exactly a pleasant experience. Tao Shaoming, a long-distance running coach, explains:
Good quality masks are not suitable for running as it’s hard enough to walk in them and breathe at the same time.
At the halfway point, runners said they didn’t feel as though the smog was affecting their performance. Ambulances along the route said they hadn’t received any cases of patients with breathing problems.
But about half of all runners didn’t make it to the finish line, chief among those being the Kenyan runner who quit the race at the half-way point after leading for 12 miles.
Beijing runners live by the slogan “you’ll only understand if you run”, but it looks like fewer will be taking the slogan to heart. After the smoggy marathon, many have vowed never again to run the Beijing marathon if it’s polluted.
When the race finished at 2pm, the AQI finally started to come down. The joke on social media was that the air was cleaner thanks to the thousands of runners working as a human air filter.
Photos: Wexin, Southern Daily