Sun con­tin­ues to rise

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By TANG YUE

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.”

GONG LEI FOR CHINA DAILY

Sun Yingjie at a sports event.

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