The 30,000-person field of the Beijing International Marathon sold out in hours. The Hong Kong and Guangzhou marathon's websites crashed when registration opened due to the enormous demand. The Shanghai Marathon, held on Dec. 1, boasted 35,000 participants, a record for the event.
The popularity of large-scale distance races in the middle kingdom has never been higher and shows little sign of stopping, according to a detailed report in The Global Times. This year a total of 38 marathons held in China, 35 of which were started since 2000, according to China Sports Review. And as the demand to participate in these events expands, the number of them is expected to increase as well.
Marathons in China have traditionally been marketed to international runners. Exotic events such as the Great Wall of China Marathon have small fields and high prices. The focus has changed in recent years to domestic participants as increasing affluence and a renewed interest in healthier lifestyles have made the events more attractive to native Chinese.
That has led to an explosion in the size of race fields. Seventeen of the 33 marathons held last year attracted more than 10,000 entrants and the Xiamen International Marathon in 2012 registered a record of 74,000 participants.
And many cities have become interested in the events as a promotional "calling card." Races are almost invariably labeled "international" in an effort to attract outside investment and promote the prestige of the events no matter how recently inaugurated.
There have been controversies. The dubious air quality is often a concern during endurance events and runners wearing face masks for protection are not uncommon. A limited number of toilets at this year's Beijing Marathon led many runners to relieve themselves along the route, including the walls of the imperial palace and the gardens of the Forbidden City.
But with the number of big-city races being offered in China tripling last year, there's little reason to expect the mania for marathons is in any danger of slowing down.