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Business trends

42km fever grips Chinese runners

Marathon bug has amateur enthusiasts spending more on gear and training

A Nike running shop in Dalian

Marathon fever has gripped China, and it shows no sign of fading.

"The boom in amateur marathons began in China in 2015 and continued into 2016," said Lin, who works for Nike's Chinese unit. The number of these 42km races held in the country more than doubled from 53 in 2014 to 134 in 2015, with over 2 million runners signing up. Last year, 200 races were held, and the figure is expected to swell beyond 500 in 2020.

All that trotting around is translating into big business. In 2015, Chinese runners -- most of whom fall between 25 and 45 -- spent an average of 2,524 yuan ($365) per person on running goods. Of that amount, 851 yuan went toward clothes, 753 yuan was spent on shoes and the remaining 920 yuan was used for other items. Given that the total figure is only about 60% of what the average American runner spends, there is still a lot of room for growth in China.

Big brands as such Nike and Adidas are popular in China and their running shops are mushrooming across the nation. Adidas has opened many stores specifically for women, who are taking up the sport with particular enthusiasm. Adidas' sales there have been growing at a double-digit clip.

So popular has the sport become that training camps -- once the domain of pros -- have become fashionable. A group called heyrunning offers a two-month training camp that meets three times a week. The camps are held four to six times a year. Each session costs about 20 yuan.

Sporting-goods companies are tapping the opportunity by offering regular training events. Though most of the events are free, they give companies an opportunity to promote their products. Lin said such gatherings are a popular way for people to learn about running and training methods, as well as to build up networks among fellow runners. Running groups are springing up across the country. One of them, Running8.com, has over 100,000 registered members.

Running apps are also popular. They enable enthusiasts to share their running records and information about races, gear and training methods. Some apps use location information to help runners connect with each other and train together.

On the sidelines of last year's Beijing Marathon, related running events for families attracted a lot of participants.

With all that interest, the Tokyo Marathon may soon find itself being swarmed by Chinese runners.

Kosuke Okame is a Shanghai-based business and market research consultant.

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