MILES OF SMILES
Feel-good factor abounds as Hood to Coast China returns for post-Olympics edition in Zhangjiakou
Long-distance running enthusiasts were once again in their element as the BMW Hood to Coast China relay returned for another edition in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, on Saturday.
The race’s rare mix of teamwork, a festival atmosphere and, of course, grueling miles has established it as a huge favorite on the Chinese running calendar.
And with National Fitness Day celebrated on Monday, this year’s relay was another example of the vast range of grassroots sports events taking place nationwide.
The race, in its sixth edition, started Friday midnight, when 2,500 runners from 500 teams — the biggest field since the inaugural race in 2017 — set off along the 145.6-kilometer course, which they were challenged to complete within 24 hours.
Starting from the picturesque grasslands of Senado Field, a party awaited finishers at another stunning location — the mountainous terrain of Wanlong Paradise Resort. The fastest team was Lujiazui Niubang Ehouse, who finished in 8 hours, 10 minutes and 13 seconds.
Teams of five runners and one car take on the 24-hour test on a course that is divided into 15 sections. One team member is required to complete each section while the others travel by car and interchange at the end of every leg.
“This is the fourth time I’ve participated in the Hood to Coast China relay, and I feel each year’s atmosphere is getting better and better,” said Jia’e Renjia, a member of this year’s winning team.
“The competition between the top teams was actually pretty intense. I think that’s the appeal of competitive sports. Last year’s edition was also really impressive, as we only managed to gain a slight advantage after the 10th leg.”
As well as amateur runners, the Hood to Coast China relay attracted many professionals. They included former Olympic and world champions like Wang Junxia, the 5,000m gold medalist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Wang Liping, the 20km race walk gold medalist at the 2000 Sydney Games, and Yang Jiayu, who won the 20km race walk title at the 2017 world championships.
“Race walking and long-distance running are not the same, and I’m excited to have such a new experience. This relay is great fun. I was the second runner for my team. I ran in the darkness of night until the first light of morning. What an experience!” enthused Yang.
Also gracing the field was retired Chinese sprinter Zhang Peimeng, who won a 4x100m relay silver at the 2015 worlds and now works as a lecturer at Tsinghua University.
“This is my first time taking part in the Hood to Coast China relay. I’ve never experienced anything like it before,” said Zhang.
“It’s a huge test of endurance. Long-distance running and sprinting are very different, so this is a big challenge for me, and I managed about 27 kilometers in total. Without the support of my teammates, I might not have been able to finish such a test.”
Zhang’s performance impressed his illustrious teammate, Chinese great Wang Junxia. The 49-year-old retired in 1996 but still holds the women’s 3,000m world record.
“I was a little surprised to see Zhang Peimeng, who was one of the best Chinese sprinters in the 100 meters,” said Wang Junxia.
“Initially, I didn’t think a sprinter could finish such a tough endurance test, but he proved me wrong and his performance was also pretty good.
“It just goes to show that long-distance running can be a great choice of exercise for many people.”
The Hood to Coast debuted in China at Zhangjiakou in 2017, while the race first visited Hainan in 2019. The original Hood to Coast relay, founded in 1982, takes place in the US state of Oregon every August. Now established as a firm favorite of the Chinese running community, the races regularly attract fields of about 2,000 runners of differing levels.
Building on their experience from past editions, organizers ensured all participants enjoyed top-class services and a safe competition environment. Approximately 80 doctors were stationed along the course, with 495 police officers and another 190 security personnel also on duty.
A 60-person team of first-responders was on call to deal with any emergencies, while 374 volunteers from across the nation also offered assistance to runners.
“Our relay has grown over the last six years. One of the runners summed it up well when he told me this race allows us to see nature, people and most importantly ourselves,” said Li Lu, the general manager of event promoter Starz Sports Running Culture.
“The runners gather together in nature, and they can discover a new self during this challenge. The Hood to Coast China is a grand party for all running groups across China. We all share the same running culture and positive energy.”
According to the General Administration of Sport of China, over 4,000 themed fitness and grassroots sports activities have been held in 31 provinces and municipalities in recent weeks to celebrate National Fitness Day this year. Another 100plus activities have been launched online.
Long-distance running events like the Hood to Coast have featured prominently in the festivities, while the likes of basketball, soccer, winter sports adapted for summer, and on-trend sports like skateboarding and frisbee have also proved popular.
“Nowadays people’s passion for sports and fitness is really high. The arrival of the Hood to Coast is of course a boost to the national fitness campaign,” said former Olympic race walk champion Wang Liping, who was taking part in the relay for the fourth time.
“Monday was National Fitness Day, and we hope such events can encourage and attract more people to sports and fitness.”
Wang Junxia reckons the increased participation numbers also boost elite sports. “More people embracing sports enlarges the talent pool in the professional ranks. It will benefit both the grassroots and the professional level,” she said.
Beijing 2022 legacy
Zhangjiakou’s success in co-hosting the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics made this year’s relay extra special.
Runners had the chance to visit Beijing 2022 venues, including the National Ski Jumping Centre, also known as “Snow Ruyi”, and the athletes’ village.
Fulfilling organizers’ pre-Games pledges, Beijing 2022 venues have opened to the public across all three competition zones — downtown Beijing, the capital’s northwest Yanqing district and Zhangjiakou.
The opening of these venues is a key part of the Games’ sustainability legacy, as well as facilitating the national fitness campaign and the development of winter sports.
“This is the first Hood to Coast China after the success of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics. I have been touched by the passion and energy of participants this year,” said Wang Junxia.
“Such passion serves to motivate one another. I saw the professionals and amateurs running on the same course, fighting for the same goal. This was the moment when I really felt the power of the national fitness campaign.”