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Hardy souls hit Hainan for annual winter warmer

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-12-08 09:28
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For long-distance running enthusiasts, the BMW Hood to Coast China-Hainan Relay has become an annual winter-warming treat on the southern tropical island.

The event returns to Hainan on Saturday, starting from picturesque Tonggu Mountain at midnight, with five-person teams challenged to complete the 156.4-kilometer course within 24 hours.

The route takes in the cities of Wenchang, Qionghai and Wanning, with a party awaiting at the finish line at Shimei Bay. The course comprises 15 sections, each of which needs to be completed by one team member. While that person is running, the other team members travel by car and interchange at the end of every leg.

"We have included many Hainan tourist attractions in our course this year. Hood to Coast is more than just a relay. It's a gathering of interesting, like-minded people," said Li Lu, the general manager of event promoter Starz Sports Running Culture.

"Together with the runners, we want to create a special sports experience. We aim to provide the highest quality sports resources, and we hope to contribute to sports tourism in Hainan."

With the COVID-19 pandemic still a major concern, the safety of all participants remains a top priority this year.

"Based on the local regulations in Hainan, we have comprehensive pandemic prevention plans working closely with local authorities. We will streamline the celebration and make sure all runners compete in a safe environment," Li added.

The original Hood to Coast Relay, founded in 1982, takes place in the US state of Oregon every August. The series debuted in China at Zhangjiakou, the co-host city of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in Hebei province, in 2017 when 805 runners participated. The annual Zhangjiakou relay traverses through tough mountain terrain and scenic grasslands.

The race first visited Hainan in 2019 when 2,000 runners took part. Despite the pandemic, over 2,000 hardy souls braved last year's Hainan relay. This year's Zhangjiakou relay was staged on Sept 25 at Senado Field in the grasslands surrounding the city, with 351 five-man teams taking on a 145.6-kilometer course.

Boosting Hainan's tourism and economy, the relay enjoys huge support from the island's local government.

"The BMW Hood to Coast relay has successfully been staged in Hainan for the last two years. Its special format ensures a really challenging experience-running from night to daytime and boasting a rich athletic culture. So, thousands of runners are attracted to the race each year," said Yang Xinli, the deputy director of Hainan's Department of Tourism, Culture, Radio, Television and Sports.

"To keep upgrading the experience of the runners, this year's course combines many tourist attractions in east Hainan. The runners will enjoy a very comfortable race experience.

"As the event organizer, we will work closely with the local authorities of the three cities to provide comprehensive support to runners, including medical support, security, transportation, electricity, voluntary work and pandemic prevention. The relay contributes to Hainan's development into an international tourism and sports hub."

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the relay in China, and Starz Sports Running Culture hopes it kicks off an exciting new chapter in its development.

"The theme of our fifth anniversary is Hi FIVE, which stands for friends, inspiration, victory and embracing," explained Li.

"We want to show gratitude and respect to all the runners. For the past five years, everyone who has participated in the relay has created the spirit of Hi FIVE together.

"The race's profile continues to grow fast. Topics related to the Hood to Coast relay on social media platform Weibo were viewed over 800 million times in five years. The live broadcast audience of each Hood to Coast relay can be up to 10 million."

Li added that part of the relay's charm is how it has nurtured a sense of community.

"Hood to Coast has formed its own culture, which covers topics ranging from environmental protection, observing rules, charity, positive energy and teamwork," said Li. "All these positive values are spreading among our runners. And the race is becoming more inclusive. We attract the nation's top marathon runners, female running groups, and teams from a wide variety of professions and universities. So, the relay has become their unique sports experience."

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