Yesterday, Sunday September 20th 2015, the Beijing Marathon kicked off at 7:30 am and swaths of participants snaked their way around the capital from the Forbidden City to the iconic Bird’s Nest where contestants arrived at the finish of the 35th incarnation of this contest in Beijing. The Beijing Marathon’s first non-Ethiopian winner since 2011, 41 year-old Mariko Kipchumba crossed the finish line with a time of 2 hours and 11 minutes. Berhanu Tolcha of Ethiopia came second and Wirimai Juwawo of Zimbabwe took third place. In the women’s competition Ethiopian runner Betelhem Cherenet took first with a time of 2 hours and 27 minutes followed by Abebech Bekele also of Ethiopia and Sin Yong Sun from DPR Korea.
After the September 3 Military Parade, the Hyundai-sponsored Marathon marks Beijing’s second major event this September. Still, the 30,000 runners who participated did not enjoy quite the same air quality as Putin and other heads of state experienced on the third. Skies were gray, and the AQI index listed the city at slightly under 200—considered “unhealthy” and actually considerably higher than the Saturday that proceeded the race. While still a marked improvement from conditions experienced the previous year, many contestants remained less than impressed.
Many newspapers were keen to pick up on and report the poor air quality of the race. For example, the South China Morning Post ran an article bearing the headline “Six runners and race official suffer heart attacks during Beijing Marathon amid ‘unhealthy’ pollution” drawing stark attention to the effects of the capital’s polluted skies. While some Chinese media outlets simply ignored the issue and others simply glazed over it (Xinhua news’ tweet “Beijing marathon much like a carnival. No smog mask needed, runners wear facemasks for fun as air improves this year”) other Chinese news outlets gave a more in-depth report of the situation. For example, a report of the marathon by Shanghai based media outlet The Paper gave a detailed account of those hospitalized due to the race: two were due to low blood sugar, two due to dehydration, and two the result of a heart attack. Other publications questioned the legitimacy of such shocking claims circulating news sources.
Ryan Pravato, an American non-professional participant in the race, said that despite the pollution, the course they ran had no shortage of trees or shade. That said, during the end of the race he found water hard to come by: “They should have had more water available directly after the finish line so people could catch their breath and get some more liquids. You had to wait in a line for about half an hour.” Mishaps aside, the race generally seemed welcomed by participants and citizens of Beijing alike. As one onlooker near the mid-portion of the race commented, “I should be working, but I want to watch the marathon.” She’d been standing there for twenty minutes.