BEIJING – At the Yuyuantan Park in central Beijing, capital of China, an elderly runner Zhang Shun, skinny but energetic, resumed his regular training just four days after completing the 2022 Beijing Marathon on November 6 as the last finisher in the company of over 10 marathon pacemakers.
When he finished the race amid cheers from the crowd, the pacemakers bowed to the elderly runner to show their respect. “I intended to make a bow as well, but I was too weak to make it at that time. So, I would like to express my sincere gratitude here for their support,” Zhang noted. “I was really touched and appreciated.”
“The 86-year-old made a remarkable achievement, which is the best manifestation of the sports spirit,” the figure in blue sportswear caught the attention of the audience both online and offline. The inspiring moment will be definitely recorded in the history of Beijing Marathon. “If possible, I will keep running,” Zhang said.
“I made training plans in advance to prepare for the Beijing Marathon this year. I thought I could finish the race in about five and a half hours, but it took me more than six hours due to the diarrhea midway,” recalled Zhang, who felt a little disappointed with the result, yet still excited at his marathon journey.
Zhang was attracted by marathon more than 30 years ago. “Beijing Marathon runners passed by the street in front of my house in 1989. I hoped I could be a member of them some day,” he recalled.
Born in the capital’s northwest Yanqing district, Zhang attended a primary school about three kilometers away from his village. “I ran to the school every morning and came back at night. When I grew up, I joined the army, where running exercise of 10 or 20 kilometers became a part of my life,” Zhang said.
His outstanding physical condition helped him start the marathon career smoothly, and he participated in his first ever marathon in 2004, which was the 24th Beijing Marathon. Up till now, Zhang has taken part in 20 full and two half marathons in many cities across the nation, including Xiamen, Guilin and Wuxi.
“I made my personal best record, four hours, 17 minutes and 19 seconds, at the 2008 Beijing Marathon. The Olympic spirit inspired me,” Zhang said. “I was also honored to join in this year’s Beijing Marathon, the 40th edition since 1981, hosted by the dual Olympic city.”
Currently, the lowest temperature early morning in Beijing is close to zero, but Zhang still insists on running almost every day at the Yuyuantan Park. “Marathon requires courage and perseverance, so I need to keep training in order to realize my marathon dream,” he said.
Now, Zhang is a well-known runner at the Yuyuantan Park and a fitness model in many people’s eyes. “About 10 years ago, I first met him at the park and started running. He shared his running skills and stories with me, which helped me a lot,” said Wang Guoxiang, a 65-year-old runner.
“Running cultivated my optimistic attitude towards life. I am not afraid of any difficulties. No matter what happens, I will never give up,” Zhang said.
His daughter added, “My father is a dream chaser and brings our family a lot of positive energy. When I confront troubles, he will encourage me to forge ahead, just like what he did in marathon.”
As elderly runners, Zhang and Wang always exchange their own understandings of marathon and life. “A runner may feel hard to keep training initially, but will gradually be used to running on a regular basis, and finally enjoy the journey,” Wang said. “Running can improve physical fitness and mental strength.”
After retirement from work, Zhang had more time to attend professional training and joined the Beijing long distance running club. He kept a “running diary” in more than 30 notebooks, recording the wind, temperature, route, pace and distance, which represents his love and passion for life.
When he returns home after exercise every morning, his wife Yue Minying has made breakfast for him. She also prepares clothes and medicines for Zhang before training and marathon races.
“I know running is an indispensable part in his life. He likes it, and I support him,” Yue said. “The most important thing for me is to make sure that he stays safe and healthy.”
“My wife and I share the marathon medals,” Zhang smiled and said. “We understand each other. She loves travelling around, so I accompanied her to visit the famous resorts around the world.”
Zhang and Yue also climbed mountains together to improve fitness and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Yue introduced, “The running exercise over decades makes my husband look ‘young’ in many indicators of physical examination, which even amazed the doctors.”
Nowadays, an increasing number of the elderly runners like Zhang and Wang exercise at parks or by the river. “Marathon is not suitable for everyone, but each of us can find our own favorite sports. Physical training is not only necessary for the youth, but also conducive to keeping healthy for the aged,” Zhang said.
“Maybe one day, I will no longer join in the marathon, but I hope my story can inspire others to chase dream and embrace life. Never stop, keep running,” Zhang noted.