China’s 5 most scenic marathon events
China is a runner’s paradise -- you’d have to be brain dead not to get a thrill out of chugging through the country’s best scenery.
So why not catch a ride on your endorphins and get the workout of a lifetime?
Whether you’re up for a mini-marathon or a truly insane feat of human endurance, China’s destination runs are the ultimate excuse for your next vacation.
1. Toray Shanghai International Marathon (东丽杯上海国际马拉松赛)
Next event: December 4, 2011
The run: Participants in past races have complained that the course was boring, and organizers apparently took notice, livening up the route by sending runners through Shanghai’s most iconic districts.
The scenery: The 2011 course is more scenic than ever. Participants will race pass the Bund and old town and, instead of the Fuxing Lu Tunnel, cross Huangpu River on Nanpu Bridge, allowing runners to enjoy the Lujiazui skyline and the former Expo site on both sides.
After arriving om the Pudong side, the half-marathoner will head straight to the Oriental Sports Center, while the full marathon route will cut through the Expo Park then circle around the aforementioned sports center.
How to get there: This year’s starting line is at Chen Yi Square on the Bund, reached by Metro Line 2 or Line 10 Nanjing Dong Lu Station.
Toray Shanghai International Marathon opened for application from September 3. Apply through the official website.
Maximum applicant number is 6,000 for full marathon, 8,000 for half-marathon and 11,000 for healthy run. Registration will close when the quotas are reached.
More on CNNGo: 10 breathtaking cycling routes
2. Great Wall Marathon (长城马拉松)
Where: Jixian, Tianjin Municipality (天津蓟县)
Next event: May 19, 2012
The run: This run is very much geared toward the international set, with participants from more than 50 countries. It’s often included as part of vacation packages for foreign tourists, but a healthy contingent of expats and locals also participates each year.
China residents who wish to avoid being hauled along to a tour of the Ming Tombs or a “cloisonné factory” should contact organizers directly to make arrangements.
The scenery: In case you still haven’t made it up for a glimpse of this legitimately awesome bucket-list destination, now’s your chance.
The views may best be enjoyed prior to the race, since you’ll be watching your feet on the Great Wall itself as you pick your way up and down thousands of steps.
Full-marathoners will traverse the wall twice, in between passing through typical northern Chinese villages and rice fields.
How to get there: Depart for Jixian from Beijing. Take any of the standard Shanghai-Beijing flights, or better yet, check out the high-speed rail.
More on CNNGo: One night inside the Great Wall of China
3. Shangri-La Challenge (香格里拉挑战赛)
Where: Zhongdian area, Yunnan(云南中甸)
Next event: May 22-27, 2012
The run: This is a three-day, 70-kilometer mountain race through the Dêqên Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in northwestern Yunnan. It’s based in Zhongdian, renamed Shangri-La in 2001, after the fictional haven in British author James Hilton’s 1933 novel, “Lost Horizon.”
All participants must carry their own equipment and food for the duration of the challenge.
The scenery: The race begins in the small Tibetan mountain town of Geza. From here, runners descend through forests of fir and spruce to Shudu Lake, where they spend their first night.
Herds of yaks and goats graze beside the lake, and other wild animals, such as musk deer, bear and leopard also call the area home.
After a 300-meter climb, participants reach the course's highest elevation, at more than 4,000 meters.
Thankfully, it’s all downhill from here, through picturesque villages, for the remaining 45 kilometers.
How to get there: Fly out of Shanghai via Kunming to Dêqên Shangri-La Airport, also known as Diqing (迪庆).
More on CNNGo: The loneliest road in China
4. Gobi March (戈壁沙漠国际马拉松)
Where: Urumqi and Turpan areas, Xinjiang (新疆乌鲁木齐和吐鲁番)
Next event: Starts June 10, 2012
The run: When three female missionaries took off into the Gobi Desert in 1932, their colleagues wagged their heads.
“There are no fools like old fools,” they said, thinking they’d seen the last of them.
If you’re a young fool, you may want to follow in their footsteps for The Gobi March, which was founded in the group's honor.
It’s a punishing, 250-kilometer footrace through some of Xinjiang’s wildest terrain. As at the Shangri La Challenge, participants carry their own food and supplies (water is provided).
Those who still possess their sanity may prefer to volunteer.
The scenery: The Turpan Depression, which plunges to the second-lowest exposed elevation on earth, is the backdrop for this event.
Eroded rock gulleys rise up to form the Flaming Mountains, which hover in the distance.
As if sand dunes, salt flats and vineyards weren’t enough, the course also passes the ruins of the ancient city of Gaocheng (高城), a Silk Road oasis whose Buddhist stupa will send chills up your spine, even in the 40-degree heat.
How to get there: Grab a direct flight to Urumqi, event headquarters, from either Shanghai Pudong or Hongqiao Airport.
5. Genghis Khan Grassland Extreme Marathon (铁木真国际草原马拉松极限挑战赛)
Where: West Ujimqin (Xiwuqi), Inner Mongolia (内蒙西乌旗)
Next event: July 2012
The run: This race is an undiscovered gem that draws a few dozen participants each year.
The small numbers mean plenty of space on the trail, and since the vibe is more about recreation than competition, even first-timers have a good shot at cracking the top ten.
The full marathon is two laps around the half-marathon trail, which seems a bit anti-climactic, but the half-marathon and the 10k feel just right.
The scenery: The race kicks off in the town square of industrial Xiwuqi, but just two kilometers past the starting line, you find yourself in a lush green expanse of pure grassland.
Ascending over a hill, the town drops out of sight and there’s nothing but empty, gorgeous countryside and blue skies in sight.
Galloping horses in nearby pastures feel timed to provide a necessary boost of inspiration, before you head back into town.
You might even get a personal police escort as you finish the final stretch.
How to get there: Book air travel from Shanghai via Beijing to the city of Xilinhot. Tour company, NordicWays, will arrange onward transportation to Xiwuqi.