On track for a healthy 2020

Runners of all ages started the year by getting the blood pumping at Shanghai’s Formula One circuit

Around 10,000 hardy souls got 2020 off to an energetic start at the Run the Track half-marathon in Shanghai on Wednesday.

First staged in 2015, the annual race around Shanghai International Circuit, the home of Formula One’s Chinese Grand Prix, is one of the hottest tickets in town on New Year’s Day.

The first runner signed up for this year’s event just 29 seconds after registration had opened, with the race fully booked up within 50 minutes.

Run the Track attracts runners of all ages-the youngest this year was 5 years old, while the oldest was 81. Runners could choose from four different levels-an elite 21.6-kilometer race with a two-hour time limit, a regular 21.6km run, a 5.4km experience run and a 3km family run.

Despite the debut of the elite race, Run the Track remains primarily a fun-focused event, with the emphasis on promoting healthy living.

The 400 spots (double that of last year) for the family race sold out in just 16 minutes. The category was open to kids aged between 5 and 10 years old accompanied by at least one parent.

For participants like Tu Wenrui and his son, the event has become an annual bonding session.

"The first time we were here, I had to drag him to finish line," said Tu. "Last year, he was already faster than me and did not leave me behind. He knew to look after me. He stopped and asked me if I can make it, and that’s when I knew he had grown up."

Tu’s son is now studying abroad as a high school student, and this year the teenager had his dad’s persistence to thank for making it to the start line.

"Due to the slow net speed, I failed to register for this year’s event and I could sense my son’s disappointment when I told him," said Tu, who was awarded entry into the race after explaining the situation to organizers. "How it worked out was beyond our expectation!" he added.

The hot demand for places now was unthinkable for organizers five years ago.

"I still remember the registration of the inaugural edition in 2015 when we opened 8,000 spots for runners. It took about two days for all the spots to become booked up," said George Wei, the general manager of co-organizer Bright PR Shanghai.

"After the first morning, there were at most 2,000 people registered, and the process was quite agonizing for us. We were not even sure if there would be enough runners to make the event feasible."

F1 pilgrimage

For F1 fans, of course, Run the Track is an extra special treat, with hardcore petrol heads particularly in abundance in the earlier editions of the race.

"It was true that most of the runners of the first year were F1 fans who only watched F1 races on TV, so it was a dream come true for them to run the track," Wei said.

"We even had a Michael Schumacher fan who had memorized how Schumacher made every turn in Shanghai. So he followed Schumacher’s racing-car route on the track, instead of keeping to the inner ring like the other runners."

Nowadays, Run the Track attracts a more diverse cross-section of participants.

"The key to our growing popularity is the comprehensive service we have been providing and runners’ quality experience during the event," said Wei. "Honestly speaking, the proportion of F1 fans among our runners is decreasing.

"The uniqueness of our event is attracting people who have never had such an experience of running an auto racing track.

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"The Shanghai circuit is shaped like the Chinese character ‘Shang’, which means up and growing. So, many runners hope to finish Run the Track to bring more luck for the New Year."

Lu Beilu was one of those initially attracted to the event because of its Formula One association.

"I really love F1 and Kimi Raikkonen. The Finnish ‘Iceman’ has always been my favorite driver," said Lu, who has run each edition since 2015. "So it’s a great privilege for me to run on the F1 track that my hero competes on each year."

When Lu signed up for her first Run the Track, she had barely any experience of long-distance running. And having now developed into a regular runner, she feels a close connection to Run the Track for igniting her passion for fitness.

"I’ve only participated in long-distance running for six years-not long," said Lu. "There’s an event that I joined from the first edition, which is pretty meaningful for me. I’ll keep coming to run as long as this race continues to be staged on New Year’s Day."

Upping the pace

This year Lu chose to run as a pacemaker, known as a ‘rabbit’.

"As someone who has never missed a Run the Track event, this year I signed up as a pacer," said Lu.

"I was very happy when I was selected as a pacer and I tried my best to finish all the training. The whole process is about double the effort of a regular runner’s preparation work."

Next year, Lu is planning to run with her 8-year-old daughter.

"My daughter was too young when I first started running, so I have not taken her to any official events yet," added Lu. "Next year, I’d like to take her to experience Run the Track’s family race. It’s about time for her to start."

The popularity of Run the Track is typical of China’s ongoing long-distance running boom.

According to the Chinese Athletics Association, a total of 1,581 marathon events, each with fields of over 800 runners, were staged in 285 cities nationwide in 2018, attracting at total of 5.83 million entries.

Over 120,000 people ran full marathons for the first time in 2018, while there were about 400,000 newcomers to half-marathons.

Meanwhile, Chinese running enthusiasts are increasingly seeking to test themselves in prestigious international events. The Abbott World Marathon Majors series said that, in 2018, 6,155 runners from China ran its illustrious races in Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York.

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