Sun continues to rise
Sun Ying jie is a leading force in Chinese marathon running. In her pomp, she won the Beijing International Marathon, the country’s most prestigious long-distance event, three years in a row (2003 to 2005), and her 2003 winning time of 2 hours, 19 minutes and 39 seconds remains a national record.
Now, the 37-year-old participates in about 12 full races every year as an amateur, and attends a marathon event almost every weekend as an ambassador for the sport. Meanwhile, the running club she established in Beijing several years ago now has eight branches nationwide with more than 5,000 members.
“Back then, running meant extremely intensive training, great pressure and being isolated from society. I didn’t enjoy running — I only ran to win,” Sun said, adding that she sometimes ran 600 km a week during training.
“Today, I run for health, for fun and to help more people run in a more scientific way. I’ve rediscovered the joy of running I had as a kid, and the sense of achievement is no less than that of any other athlete.”
She said the years of rigid training mean that many high-level Chinese marathon runners actually hate running, and refuse to run at all when they retire from the national or international arena.
“The best job we could imagine was to be an official at a local sports bureau or a sports teacher at a school. Unlike ball games, running was not very popular a decade ago, and it was impossible to start a club,” she said.
Sun’s teammate, Ai Dongmei, winner of the Beijing International Marathon in 1999, announced the sale of dozens of her medals in 2007 because she was unable to find work after retiring from the sport.
Sun also suffered financial difficulties when she retired in 2009, and starting her running club in 2014 presented another challenge.
“I knew nothing about management and marketing, but I knew I had a lot to offer amateur runners in terms of running expertise. Nothing could be more difficult than my years as an athlete, so there was nothing to be afraid of,” she said.
Her clubs now provide full- and part-time jobs for more than 100 former long-distance runners across the country. The one she established in Beijing has more than 200 members, and the annual membership fee is 12,000 yuan ($1,736).
“It’s not all about money. It has made me a different person,” she said. “Before, I won a lot of races but I was also very uptight and shy. I knew nothing except training and competing. Now, I enjoy sharing and exploring. The marathon of my life has just started.”
Sun Yingjie at a sports event.