Beijing Marathon Smog Takes Health out of Exercise
When it comes to packing for a race, I usually double check to make sure I have my good socks, sneakers, bib, water, and protein bars. Yet, if you ran in the Beijing Marathon on October 18th, gas masks and sponges were also on your checklist due to hazardous levels of smog. That’s right. Smog was so thick runners were faced with either breathing dangerous particles from the air, or wearing face masks.
It’s no secret China has been suffering from toxic levels of pollution due to its high dependency on coal for energy. If you want to relax the muscles in your respiratory system you can use albuterol hfa inhalers. The country is starting to invest in renewable power, but serious progress is going to take some time. Beijing, in particular, is considered one of the world’s smoggiest cities, coming in second to New Delhi. There was heavy controversy over the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, because people were concerned about air conditions hurting the athletes’ performances.
However, air conditions for the runners in this marathon did not seem to be a concern for race officials. Many criticized the organizers for not cancelling the race as the air quality index reached 360, well above 300, which is the level considered hazardous and posing a health risk. Later in the day, the US embassy reported a level of 400, at which point they advised people to stay indoors and avoid outdoor exercise. I’m not a pollution expert, but I think that would include a 26.2 mile race.
What were the runners to do? Many of the 30,000 registered athletes opted to drop out of the race citing health concerns. Others started the race, but were forced to quit before finishing because they had difficulties breathing with and without masks. The rest of the runners, determined to complete the race they vigorously trained for, crossed the finish line, but most with the aid of face masks and sponges.
The organizing committee provided 140,000 sponges at supply stations along the route so runners could clean their soiled skin, and allow themselves to sweat (it’s so bad they can’t sweat?). Others wore various types of masks, ranging from basic paper types to full out gas masks. One marathoner, Chas Pope, tweeted his mask before and after the race showing how filthy it had become by the end of the day.
The intense air pollution is clearly taking the health out of exercise. What most consider an activity geared towards fitness and well being, became a danger zone of “who can avoid the most toxins?” As one runner put it, “a marathon represents a healthy way of living life, not the opposite.” We do these types of races to sustain healthy lifestyles and test our bodies’ strength. So when conditions threaten health, it puts all of that hard work to waste, in addition to harming participants.
The Beijing marathon is one of the largest sporting events in China, and change needs to happen in order for it to continue. After this year’s competition, many runners are questioning whether they will take the trip back again. Rumor has it the date may be changed next year to avoid bad smog, as some months tend to be worse than others.
But isn’t the real problem China’s dependency on coal? Until the country can eliminate smog-venting power plants, the pollution with never stop.
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