Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, is home to one of China’s great spicy cuisines, traditional Sichuan savoir vivre in modern garb – and the Chengdu marathon.
The Chengdu marathon is a candidate for the Abbott World Marathon Majors alongside the likes of Berlin, London, New York, Tokyo.
I absolutely wanted to run here while working nearby, and to show you what running a marathon in China is like in Chengdu, too.
Chengdu Marathon Registration
Registering for the Chengdu Marathon was relatively easy; there was an English-language registration page for non-Chinese.
Of course, the fee was considerably higher than if I had registered as residing in China, but I figured this would at least give me better chances at getting in, should they need to use a lottery system.
It was also necessary to upload race results from another marathon, run in a certain (recent) time period. It had to be a race diploma, not “only” online results, whatever sense that was supposed to make.
The only recent marathon for which I could get something like this was the Prague Marathon which was a little outside the time window called for. I wondered if they’d accept.
I registered around the beginning of summer, when the registration window opened.
I had my confirmation that I was in, meaning they had also accepted what I had uploaded as race diploma, at the end of summer.
In typical China fashion, days before the race, there was still no notification about the marathon expo and the race number pickup.
There was info about the race souvenirs already (in Chinese) and that seemed to obliquely mention the place to go to, but that was it.
Two or three days before the race, as I was already on my way to Chengdu and as the marathon expo was already getting under way, the info finally arrived online, in both Chinese and English.
Head to the Chengdu International Exhibition Center, bring the ID with which you registered for the race, get your stuff.
Finding the way was, as so often, a rather easy matter: Just follow the masses, walk where people with a typical starter bag already come back.
The organization, to get one’s ID checked and a slip for picking up the bib and starter bag and participant T-shirt was well-organized.
Enough people who spoke English, instructions easy enough to follow even without hearing them in English or knowing much Chinese.
Getting to the Start
Getting to the start on race day had worried me a bit, too.
The start was at 8 a.m., subways only start operating at 6:30 or thereabouts!
It was enough to have had me take a room for the night before which was close by.
Well, it actually turned out not quite as close as I would have liked; but it also turned out that subways started earlier on that day, just for the marathon!
The starting bag drop-off was easy to find; the starting corral not entirely so, but it was less of an issue than it had been at the beginning of the year, in Prague.
The Chengdu Marathon Experience
The Chengdu Marathon tricked me a bit.
Seeing so few parts of the course that went out-and-back, I had thought that this race had less of this annoyance.
Actually, things are a bit different…
The Race Course
The Chengdu Marathon’s Fascinating First Half
The first half is all through central Chengdu. This bit is very interesting; there are several museums and sights along the way.
I always like seeing such things not just by visiting one place here, another place there, taking a subway in between, but rather connecting them all on foot.
The Slog of the Chengdu Marathon’s Second Half
The second half of the marathon, however, is basically one long run south along a major road… and then around and right back on the northbound set of lanes.
For kilometers upon kilometers, mile upon mile.
At the beginning of that, some of the very fastest runners were on the opposite part of the course.
By the time I finally got there myself, the buses and clean-up vehicles that marked the end of the allowed time had already come past on what was then the opposite side.
That part was, as usual, an exercise in running meditation.
Left-right, left-right, pace yourself, don’t think about too much but the running.
Then, there is another turn off those roads, onto the Green Belt parkways through this part of Chengdu, near the Exhibition Center(s) again.
Fascinating architecture, a nice mix of urban running trails and people cheering one on, a bit of an up and down…
An aid station that offers typical, spicy, Sichuan snacks!
And quite suddenly, in the middle of this running that felt just like a run in the park again, off the long straight roads, there was the finish!
Here in Chengdu, the finish is a little anticlimactic at first.
You aren’t immediately met with your medal, the way many marathons do it; you can hardly even tell where exactly you went over the finish line.
A bit farther on, though, you get your medal – which is a pretty impressive one (if you care about such things).
Then, there’s also a finisher bag, which is one of the most useful I’ve yet seen.
There’s some edibles in there, funnily some Pixian doubanjiang. But also, first of all, some plastic slippers and a Chengdu Marathon-themed towel, which come in pretty handy at the end of such a run. And later on.
Back into the exhibition center hall where the marathon expo had taken place, the luggage trucks await. And if you’ve pre-ordered a finisher T-shirt, you can also go and pick that up in there, off to the side.
Then, it’s out and on your way, back to the subway, back to your hotel… richer in another sightrunning experience.
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