Smog marathon: Beijing runners put on masks for foggy race
19 October, 2014
Some 30,000 athletes took part in an International Marathon in China's capital on Sunday, with many participants wearing facemasks during the 42 kilometer (26 mile) course. Beijing was enveloped in smog, said to be 'hazardous' by monitors.
With severe air pollution being no news to China, organizers refused to cancel the event despite experts’ warnings, because they had invested a lot of effort preparing for the 34th annual race.
140,000 water-soaked sponges were handed out to athletes by the organizers, according to the Beijing News.
Runners were advised to clean their skin with sponges after exposure to the air.
The People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese government, cautioned athletes against participating in such bad conditions, reporting that Beijing’s air was "not suitable for outdoor activities."
While the organizers warned runners of slight or moderate smog, the air quality index announced by the US embassy, which independently monitors conditions in Beijing, said it was "hazardous" on the day of the marathon.
The level of pollution was nearly 14 times higher than safe air conditions recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). PM-2.5 particle level, linked to cancer and other health problems, reached 373 micrograms per cubic meter, against 25 micrograms considered safe by WHO.
"I was basically a vacuum cleaner," one of the participants told Bloomberg, after completing the full marathon in five hours. The 30-year-old man said the smog gave him a dry, itchy throat and stuffy nose, otherwise he could have run faster.
With tens of thousands gathered at smoggy Tiananmen Square at the start of the race, some athletes were later reported not to have battled with the conditions and had given up mid-course.
A Kenyan runner led the race in its first 12 miles, but quit midway, according to official China National Radio.
Runners from 54 countries participated in the race. Both male and female best times in the marathon were run by Ethiopian athletes. Girmay Birhanu Gebru completed the course in 2 hours 10 minutes and 42 seconds, while Fatuma Sado Dergo's 2 hours 30 minutes was the best among the women.