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Photos: Ultra runners take sport and spending to rural China

Updated: Sep 08, 2018 20:16 IST

Participants compete during the Super Salmon ultra-marathon near the Longyangxia Reservoir in Qinghai province, China. This sleepy waterfront town of about 3,000 people, has in the last decade poured more than 1.6 billion yuan ($233 million), much of it from private investment, into bike tracks, scenic areas and refurbished hotels in an attempt to lure sporty travellers. (Thomas Peter / REUTERS)

At dawn one recent day last month, high on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, a Buddhist monk in saffron robes chanted blessings over limber athletes preparing to run 100 kilometres across sand dunes, rivers and ravines. The crowd of sporty, middle-class urbanites had spent thousands of yuan to travel to Longyangxia Reservoir. (Thomas Peter / REUTERS)

Trail runner Wang Yaoxing and his poodle Blackbean cross a stream that flows into the Longyangxia Reservoir. “When I arrived, I thought Longyangxia was quite remote; the scenery was beautiful but it was isolated and economically lagging,” said Ying Miyan, chairman of China’s largest salmon fishery, Qinghai Minze Longyangxia Ecological Aquaculture Co., which sponsored the challenge. (Thomas Peter / REUTERS)

Tibetan Buddhist monks wave to a participant. The race, in its first official year, brought in just over 500 runners, filling the town’s lone hotel, with some guests staying for a few days after the event. Ying’s company provided salmon for the athletes to eat, prize money of up to 15,000 yuan, and presented the male 100km winner with his body weight in salmon. (Thomas Peter / REUTERS)

State media articles have called efforts to use sporting events to attract tourists a success, saying they have brought 10,000 visitors to the lake so far this year, double the total for 2017. The National Sports Bureau recognised Longyangxia as a “sports and leisure speciality town” in 2017, Qinghai’s only town on the bureau’s list of 100. (Thomas Peter / REUTERS)

Participants eat cup noodles at a checkpoint. Beijing has called for 1,000 such towns by 2020 in a drive to develop sustainable industries in the hinterlands, but doubts remain over the pay off. The benefits to Longyangxia, for instance, are still mostly aspirational. The town centre is still a ring of empty buildings, the market street a pile of rubble. (Thomas Peter / REUTERS)

Then there are the runners. Many build their lives, and spending habits, around the sport. He Runyu, a business management professor at Beijing’s Science and Technology University, became serious about long-distance running around the same time he gave up meat and drinking. He now averages about 10 races a year, just for fun. (Thomas Peter / REUTERS)

Buddhist monks watch a participant refuel. China’s General Administration of Sports forecasts 10 million runners will take part in domestic races annually by 2020. Abroad, Chinese racers were the fifth-largest nationality at this year’s Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, which set up a special welcome party and commentary for them. (Thomas Peter / REUTERS)

The growing number of trail races - about 250 in the first half of this year, compared with less than 30 in all of 2015 - has also piqued the interest of specialist sports apparel brands that want to tap into the Chinese market. China net sales at Amer Sports Oyj, which owns the world’s biggest trail-running brand, Salomon, rose 23% in the first half this year, compared with 13% in 2017. (Thomas Peter / REUTERS)

Salomon’s premium running shoes account for 17% of its footwear sales in China, but only 3% of global sales. The company sponsors 20 elite athletes in China and more than 30 runs annually. As trail running prospers, international brands may face competition from local startups, Zhao Fan, Chinese distributor of US shoe-maker Altra Running said. But he added that it would be healthy for the industry. (Thomas Peter / REUTERS)

Professor He Runyu estimates he spends tens of thousands of yuan every year on running. At the Longyangxia race, he had to drop out with an ankle injury, but put more than 3,000 yuan into the trip. “Everyone always thinks that running is really cheap. Before I started I thought the same,” he said, adding that the main cost was the travel itself. (Thomas Peter / REUTERS)

When Dou Jianyun, 45, wanted more time for trail running, she took a job in sales at a Beijing-based sportswear startup. One of only three female runners to make it to the finish line for the race, she brought three GPS systems with her and new walking poles to guard against injury on the rocky trails. (Thomas Peter / REUTERS)

Runners cross the ultra-marathon finish line. While the government and companies anticipate gains from an adventure tourism boom in the country, participants are itching for opportunities. Some, like Professor He say they are drawn by scenic locations, others are like Dou who said she could still live if she couldn’t run, but just wouldn’t be happy. (Thomas Peter / REUTERS)

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