The 2019 C&D Xiamen Marathon in southeast China sees 28,208 runners vie for the top prize on January 6.Ye Wei,who works at a state-owned enterprise in Xiamen, comes 12th among Chinese runners (COURTESY OF AOYODO.COM)
Ye Wei has been off to a running start in 2019, literally. The 35-year-old, who works at a state-owned enterprise (SOE), came 12th among Chinese runners at the 2019 Xiamen Marathon on January 6, clocking his personal best of 2:29 minutes. It showed how much his physical fitness has improved. The first time he took part in a full marathon in 2004, he couldn't even finish the over 42-km run.
"I reached the end by taking the aid car," Ye said. But 16 years of persistence has made him the best marathoner in Xiamen, the coastal city in southeast China's Fujian Province. Ye attributed his improved performance to persistent training and a newly introduced system in the marathon, the "wave start." It is a staggered start in which the top-seeded runners get off first, with the rest following in two waves. "The wave start allowed me to run with people who are really good at pacing," Ye told Beijing Review. The Xiamen Marathon became the first Chinese marathon to adopt the system last year.
The marathon was born out of a letter from a sports-loving resident, Ma Da. In 2002, Ma wrote to the local government, suggesting that a marathon be started on the renovated and greened Huandao Road, whose length equals the course of a full marathon. The government heeded the suggestion and the next year, the marathon was started with 11,988 runners.
Ye Wei and his father, Ye Han, both SOE employees, were among the first batches of runners. In 2003, Ye Wei took the 10-km race and his father took the full marathon. The next year, Ye Wei tried the full marathon, but failed to finish it. One year later, he accomplished his goal.
From then on, the Xiamen Marathon became a tradition for the Ye's, where the father and son duo ran side by side. In 2012, Ye's father got his permanent number for the event--A688—after taking part for the 10th time. Ye followed in his father's steps and got his own number, A689, one year later.
Every year, when the event approaches, people, including neighbors and even the community breakfast sellers, start asking him if he is ready for the event. "People in Xiamen now celebrate the Xiamen Marathon like the New Year or Spring Festival," Ye said.
In 2007, the Xiamen Marathon was recognized by the IAAF as a Gold Label Road Race and more and more runners and spectators began flocking to the coastal city in spring. "In the first years, few took part in the Xiamen Marathon. Now runners have to work hard to get an entry," Ye said.
More than 600,000 runners have taken part in the event and marathon visitors have become a driver of local tourism. According to Qi Bing, Chairman of the Xiamen Media Group Sports Co., in 2018, the marathon resulted in direct economic benefits worth 291 million yuan ($42.6 million). Because of the marathon, road races have become the most popular sport in Xiamen.
The Xiamen Marathon engages not only runners but also non-runners, who come to volunteer. This year, there were more than 5,000 volunteers and 80 cheering squads. "More and more citizens are volunteering for the event," Qi said. The marathon has become a local carnival where winners' family and friends can share the limelight as they are invited to put the medals around the victors' necks. All runners enjoy free transportation in Xiamen on the day of the marathon. "We hope that runners can feel the hospitality and warmth of the city," Wu said.
(Reporting from Xiamen)
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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