Five days before the Beijing Marathon, the air pollution level in Beijing was rated “very unhealthy” by the US Embassy, and buildings in the distance appeared obscured by haze.
Nonetheless, about 30,000 runners are gathering in the city on Sunday to run the race starting in Tiananmen Square, snaking through the city and eventually reaching the Olympic village and crossing the finish line at the “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium.
Despite an awareness of pollution levels in Beijing, many runners are not worried enough to stop them from taking part, feeling the immediate and concrete benefits of running outweigh the abstract potential risk.
“If I referred to the [pollution] index every day, then there would be very few days that I would go outside to run,” says Zhang Suhai, 44, who is running in Sunday’s marathon for the first time. Nonetheless, Zhang says he does refer to the air pollution index using his mobile phone app, a habit shared by many local runners.
“I do care about the air quality and if the air pollution is serious, I will stay at home or jog with a mask or handkerchief.”
Neil Fraser, a 25-year-old Englishman living in Beijing who takes part in weekly runs organized by the Beijing Hash House Harriers, says he personally has never had a problem with pollution here and doesn’t wear a mask. But he adds, “The running community in general is very aware of pollution levels. They check their iPhone apps [for pollution] and some wear masks when it’s particularly bad.”
He says he has noticed that when pollution is bad, “Westerners tend to stay away from outdoor training and wear protection [face masks], but the Chinese don’t seem to really mind and go on as usual.”