Beijing Marathon: Like a Scene from a Science Fiction Novel

I wasn’t going to write another running post until next week, when the training program gets significantly more intense. My run yesterday morning was my hardest yet, even though I had done the same run twice earlier this week. I just wasn’t quite awake yet. There was a brisk walk at the last cool-down, and during it I passed a grassy area that had lots of blackberries and other foliage. This happened as my playlist got to the Hobbit song “Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold,” a song that I love. Cold mountains in the gray morning also surrounded me. At the same time, a beautiful spitting rain washed over me. The nature, the cool rain, the music–these are great ways to finish a workout.

What prompted me to write about running today was this article at UK’s Telegraph: “Beijing is like a bonfire as runners are forced to complete marathon in gas masks”. A toxic smog in Chinese’s capital has made the air too hazardous to breathe. Whoa, what a juxtaposition to the fresh run I had in Canada. The article says:

Levels of PM2.5 – a miniscule airborne particulate that has been linked to hearth disease and cancer – hit 344 micrograms per cubic metre, the embassy reported. That is nearly 14 times higher than levels considered safe by the World Health Organisation.

One Chinese runner, who was not named, told the China Business News website he was pulling out of the race because of the smog. It was impossible to run for 26.2 miles without breathing through the mouth, the athlete noted.

As a writer who has imagined terrible scenarios that might take place in our future, due to our irresponsible behavior toward the thing that sustains us, our environment, I realize more and more that so many imaginary and terrible speculations are already real (some have been for quite some time).

This story of marathon runners risking their health to run seems like something out of a science fiction novel, doesn’t it? Wearing gas masks to run? I guess in today’s world, this is not even too surprising, but it should be. This is the kind of dystopia we should have learned to prevent already. We haven’t. It’s getting worse. The New York Times reports that cancer is China’s leading cause of death. We cannot say, “Oh, well I don’t live in China–why should I care?” The majority of things we consume come from China, and that manufacturing plays a part in why the air over Beijing is polluted. The NYT article also says:

Chinese leaders argue that the outside world is a partner in degrading the country’s environment. Chinese manufacturers that dump waste into rivers or pump smoke into the sky make the cheap products that fill stores in the United States and Europe. Often, these manufacturers subcontract for foreign companies — or are owned by them. In fact, foreign investment continues to rise as multinational corporations build more factories in China.

Much of the fault is with China too, just as any other country’s industrial revolution: mandatory limits on carbon emissions must be set, and environmental regulations must be a part of the process.

PM2.5 is particulate matter (aerosols) in the air; the particles can be solid or liquid, with the bigger particles being called PM10 and the smaller ones PM2.5. This matter has different sources. All these particles come from various pollutants; the smaller ones typically from: toxic organic compounds, heavy metals, car exhausts, burning plants (i.e. forest fires and yard waste burns), and smelting/processing metals (source: Air Info Now). Smaller particulate matter gets into the lungs easier than larger matter and causes respiratory illnesses. The runners were warned by health organizations to not run; thousands did anyway, donning gas masks. From photos at the article, you can see that many runners did not even wear a mask.

According to, these particulates contribute to climate change as well.

I love to run. I really do. It’s an act that is free and healthy. Humans have moved on foot from the beginning of time. It’s the most environmentally friendly transport we have (along with walking). Running does not require a lot of manufactured products, though as with any industry, there are plenty of accessories for runners; I try to avoid these. The more I think about running (this would include walking and hiking), it is the perfect sport. It is the one sport that can get us freely into nature, relies on our own energy, and strengthens our bodies and our will at the same time. The fact that running is dangerous anywhere in the world due to human pollution is unacceptable; the fact that breathing is dangerous is doubly unacceptable.

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