'Ox routes' attracting herds of new runners

Xinhua | Updated: March 12, 2021

YINCHUAN-A route that traces the Chinese character for "ox" has recently become popular with thousands of running enthusiasts in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region. The distances and roads used in the "ox routes" change, and can be modified to suit a runner's fitness level.

"Running along an 'ox route' gives me an incredible sense of achievement and it is more fun than regular marathons. I have already done it four times with different people," said 49-year-old Guo Yayan after completing an ox route around Yinchuan People's Square along with 20 other runners. The 23.67-kilometer run took her 2 hours and 17 minutes.

According to Du Bin, an organizer of the Run Ningxia event, the activities, known as "Run and draw the Ox", are arranged by local runners. They design routes based on the Chinese character for ox and mark the names of streets so participants don't get lost. Since last month around 17,000 people have tackled ox routes in the region.

"Competition is the initial motivation for people to take up running,"Du said."Now, enthusiasts voluntarily organize a lot of regular activities, which contributes a great deal to improving public fitness."

Guo said she has changed a lot since she started running in 2016."I have become more cheerful and haven't caught a cold for a couple of years," she said. She uses her writing skills to create promotional material about the ox runs to try and get people to join in.

Li Shiheng, 33, leads a team that likes to tackle a 27-km ox route in Xixia district, Yinchuan. He has also designed other novelty routes for running enthusiasts.

"The route design should not be too long or involve any dead ends. Safety also needs to be taken into account," Li said.

A former soldier, Li now works at a State-owned enterprise and maps and running are his hobbies. After designing a route in the shape of the figures"2021" Li tried it out before inviting other runners to join in.

In 2010, he founded Dawn Steps, the very first running group in Ningxia. From only a few initial members, the group has expanded to more than 1,000 people who are scattered across the region."There are more running groups in Ningxia and running enthusiasts can be seen everywhere," Li said.

In terms of equipment, the sport just requires a pair of running shoes."However, only a small number of people can stick to it," Li said.

To encourage more people to get into running, Li organizes an activity called "Run on Contract" via his WeChat account. Enthusiasts pay a deposit that they can only redeem once they have completed a daily running routine.

Fun runs, which are more relaxed and friendly, have also played an important role in getting people into running.

Guo said every National Day people run a route in Jingcheng Park, Yinchuan, which traces the map of China to express their patriotism.

"My target last year was to run 2,020 kilometers. I eventually ran more than that and I think it will still be the case this year," she said.