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Hard day's night

China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-21 10:25


Hard day's night

A runner crosses the finish line to cap his team's Yaopao 24-Hour City Relay Match in Beijing last weekend. [Photo/provided to China Daily]

Punishing 24-hour relay challenge proving huge hit with competitors

One runner described it as "a battle to break a wall in our heart."

Sound extreme? It is.

Welcome to the world of Yaopao 24-Hour City Relay Match, one of China's fastest growing endurance sports, in which pushing through the pain barrier is the name of the game.

The day-long 260 km challenge has captured the imagination of tens of thousands of runners since it was launched in 2014.

"There is a wall in every runner's heart; the wall can be our fear, cowardice or other limitations," said a runner from Team Chargers, who requested anonymity.

"Completing the 24-hour relay with our teammates will help us break the wall. Then we will be fearless. The wall represents the difficulties that people face."

Amid China's running boom, the event's popularity is soaring. Last weekend's Beijing leg in Longwan Camping Park attracted over 2,000 participants from 200 teams.

Xi'an, Shaanxi province, and Changsha, Hunan province, are also among the 10 host cities this year.

Unity is strength

In such a demanding event, teamwork is paramount.

The event permits two types of teams-Challenger level (seven to 12 runners) and Elite level (four to six runners).

"Although we are allowed to switch runners after each lap, the relay is still tough, especially in the final hours," explained a runner surnamed Zhao from the China Guangfa Bank team.

"The best way to get through it is to believe and rely on your teammates.

"It's an extra buzz to reach your limits when you are surrounded by your teammates. By sticking together, we can break what is unbreakable."

For a group of police officers from Beijing's Xicheng district, the relay is a perfect bonding exercise.

"There are 12 officers on our team from different divisions, including from SWAT," said an officer surnamed Sun.

"Unity means a lot for our team. By running a 24-hour relay, we are connected. To be more united is one of the most important reasons why we joined this competition.

"We actually have a psychological advantage, which is that we are together."

With multiple health benefits, the event offers a way to ante up the fitness stakes for seasoned runners.

"We want people to have healthier lives," said Zhu Xishan, leader of Beijing's Doctor Runners.

"All the members of our team are doctors in Beijing. We want to promote the idea and the knowledge of healthy living and to encourage people to run. Apart from this relay race, we are regular runners of marathons in Beijing."

Despite the sport's extreme nature, age is no barrier for many competitors.

"I'm 55 years old, the oldest runner in my team," said Wang Shiyin, a professor from the Hebei GEO University contingent.

"The average age of our team is 45. We are here for three reasons: the sense of unity, charity and our own health."

And already the baton is being passed to a new generation.

"I want her to do more sports when she gets older," said Wang Fangliang who took his three-year-old daughter to the relay.

"This is my third year of joining the relay. My daughter is too young to be a runner, but I want her to experience the atmosphere."

In keeping with the event's selfless nature, the relay, co-organized by the Chinese Athletic Association and Starz Sports, helps raise money for the Yao Foundation, established by retired NBA superstar Yao Ming, and foundations for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)-otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"We started this team for ALS patients because of the expensive treatment," said the leader of Team ALS, surnamed Liang. "We want society to pay more attention to ALS patients who are struggling to survive."

To promote the fundraising effort, organizers invited international ultra-marathon champion Xu Xiutao to finish the relay by himself.

Having already succeeded in completing the challenge in Xi'an, he approached the Beijing leg with slight trepidation.

"This is not going to be easy, and there are so many difficulties for me," Xu said before his 24-hour attempt.

"The reason I'm doing this is to help children in poverty. Hopefully, after the race, I can help the children in poor areas to build some running tracks."

Xu plans to complete the challenge in all of the relay's 10 stops this year in a bid to raise more money for the Yao Foundation to build running tracks at primary and middle schools in China's poverty-stricken areas.

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