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March 16, 2010

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Running for thrills, health, love

EVERY morning, 23-year-old Jiang Chengcheng, a former professional runner, takes to the road with group of seniors on her campus, East China Normal University.

While more and more young city people go to gym nowadays to work out, running in the open air, as in parks or streets, seems a bit old-fashioned, something middle-aged or older people do in their morning routine,

"I used to run for the sake of running," says the Shanghai native, who once ran for the national team. "However, since I retired from the race track, I have gradually come to realize the happiness running brings me. It becomes part of my life."

On February 28, Jiang and her boyfriend, Zhang Xiwang, took part in the annual international marathon in Hong Kong, along with nearly 60,000 runners from around the world. Jiang won third place in the 10km Challenge Women's Overall.

Both Jiang and Zhang are on the NB 88 team, a group of Chinese runners sponsored by the footwear manufacturer New Balance to compete in the event.

They included students, professionals, young entrepreneurs and retired workers as well as New Balance staff. Each of them has a personal story about running.

"I'm so glad to have met many new friends of my age through the race," Jiang says. "I really hope that more young people back home would join us. Running is not at all tedious and monotonous as most people think. It is all about passion and persistence."

Pretty, cute, healthy - that's how most people describe Jia Zhenzhen. But never "fat."

"I used to be a fat girl," says the Beijing native, at ease. Three years ago, she weighed 75kg, which she called a "shame" for someone standing 1.67m.

"My weight caused many problems. I was depressed because I couldn't find clothes that fit and I wasn't confident enough to talk to guys that I liked."

One day she ran into a handsome, fit young man who was running in the neighborhood while she was taking a walk. In a fairytale scene, he stopped and invited her to run with him.

"So I accepted, timidly," recalls the 24-year-old. "We became running buddies, making circuits around the neighborhood, one after another, winter to summer."

One year later, Jia weighed 63kg. She couldn't believe it. She was part of the New Balance Beijing team in Hong Kong but earlier had taken part in training and races organized by New Balance in Beijing and other cities.

She ran the 10km Challenge Women's Overall, finishing in an hour and 18 minutes. She was thrilled.

"Everyone can run as long as you believe you can," she says. "To me, running is not only an exercise but also a life attitude. It brings me confidence and makes me think positively about life."

Zach Ebling was brought up in United States by a South Korean mother and a Spanish father. The 23-year-old is now headmaster of an English-language training school in Beijing.

A former American football player, Ebling was forced to withdraw because of a serious injury to his left ankle when he was 18. The doctor said at the time he might not be able to walk - forget about running.

"I was so sad and stayed in bed for three months until one day, I decided to take the challenge," he recalls.

With a strong belief that he must run again, Ebling started to practice walking slowly before going to the gym on a regular basis. Three years ago, he was relocated to Beijing to start a new chapter in life, where he attended a local running club and met a group of supportive friends.

"When I run, I'm immersed in my own little world," he says. "At the end of a good run you may be exhausted, but you feel great. It is an expression of the soul."

Thanks to his encouraging story, he was selected as the first member of the NB 88 team.

In 2006, Ebling ran in the Beijing International Marathon. This time in Hong Kong, he ran the Half Marathon Men's Overall in an hour and 38 minutes.

"Running has literally rebuilt me," he concludes. "I'm glad I took the challenge and I will keep on challenging myself to achieve more goals in the future."

Qi Wei has not only participated in many marathon challenges but raced in an eight-year "love marathon" as well.

The idea of proposing to his girlfriend at the finish line came to him when the Beijing native applied for the Half Marathon Men's Overall challenge in Hong Kong. He spent a whole week in planning.

"I'd like to ask her to accompany me in the other 'half' of my life," says the 32-year-old.

The woman didn't know anything about the plan. She burst out in tears when Qi, still in racing gear, went down on his knees and proposed. He took off the ring, which was tied to a red string on his neck. It had been running with him throughout the race.

The romantic happening attracted a large crowd. A young entrepreneur, Qi has been running three times a week for five years. He runs in the parks when the weather is warm, while in winter, he runs in the gym.

He says that running has helped him become more patient and persistent. "It is a good way to adjust yourself, to calm down especially when you get into a temper," he says.

"When I run, I usually listen to music and think of nothing," he adds. "But today, I had been thinking about the proposing moment while running. It was definitely the happiest ever running experience for me."


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