I kicked off my Spring Break with a phone call from one of my buddies at 8am reminding me it was time to wake up and head out to glimpse Xiamen’s biggest event of the year: the Xiamen Marathon.
Having never been to one before, I can’t really draw accurate comparisons between Xiamen’s and other city’s marathons. However, I can comment on the local’s high levels of enthusiasm. Going into its 5th year, the marathon has become a huge draw for local industry and is always listed as one of the major highlights Xiamen has to offer. In fact, the McDonald’s down the street has completely decorated its upstairs with giant pictures of past year’s marathons.
Some of the local friends I’ve made were actually participating in the event. None of them were trained for the professional 45 km run, but it was impressive to see these young locals being excited and proud to be taking time to run the initial 5k length. Outside of Mr. Ault, my badass High School chemistry teacher, I can’t think of a single person I know stateside who runs marathons for fun, while in my short time here I’ve met 4 people my age who are doing it, 3 of which are girls!
It’s an interesting note, and I think it’s a good example of what I mean when I say this marathon is a BIG DEAL here in Xiamen. The Chinese are active people by nature. I’ve yet to meet a person who drives their own car, they all rely on public transportation, bikes, and walking from place to place. I walk everywhere here and sometimes catch myself complaining, while the locals I’m with simply remind me, “but it’s good for you.” Judging from the extreme lack of overweight people here, I’m beginning to take their advice very seriously.
The marathon takes place on the main ring road that wraps itself around Xiamen (it is an island after all). Luckily, our campus is very near the water and it was only a 10 minute walk to the south gate where we could watch the runners go by. As you can see by the pictures, they just kept coming and coming. I’m going to try to find some official numbers, as I’m curious to compare how many participants their were as opposed to some of the larger marathons run in the states.
After watching that vantage point for awhile, the three of us grabbed a bus and headed to Jung Shan Road, one of the major shopping streets in Xiamen. We were there to investigate some pirated video game retailers and grab some brunch. While eating in this one cafeteria-like restaurant (famous for it’s Peanut Soup), we were lucky enough to catch the end of the marathon on tv.
The entire upstairs dining area was clamored around the television watching in anticipation. Two runners were out front with no one else in sight. One was a local runner, the other was an African runner. Talking with some friends before the start of the race, I had learned that in all 4 previous years, African runners had won first place. These runners are some of the best trained running machines in the world, and the Xiamen marathon is one of the highlights on their annual circuit.
So to see one Chinese person left running just a step in front of this expected winner was enough to get the locals in the restaurant very excited. We sat and took our time eating as we watched the final 3km on TV.
The Chinaman looked very tired, and on the verge of passing out, while the African looked almost bored and as if he may just be warming up. Maybe it was the legions of cheering fans running alongside the local, but somehow, in that final 1km stretch, the Chinaman managed to actually increase his lead over the favorite. It was a moving sight to see and very exciting for everyone involved.
When the new local champion crossed through the banner cheers shot up through our entire restaurant, as well as could be heard in the streets (televisions line the streets on Jung Shan Road). It was pretty moving and a very satisfying ending to a much hyped event. Although we couldn’t help but wonder if the African had been paid off by the government or something…haha no just kidding.