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Runners Brave ‘Hazardous’ Smog During Beijing Marathon

The amount of pollutants in the air was more than 16 times the recommended limit.

The amount of pollutants in the air was more than 16 times the recommended limit.

Mask-wearing runners braved smog so thick during Sunday’s Beijing Marathon that the U.S. Embassy in the Chinese city called the conditions “hazardous.”

Ethiopians Girmay Birhanu Gebru (2:10:42) and Fatuma Sado Dergo (2:30:03) were the men’s and women’s champions, but their victories were overshadowed by the poor air quality that plagued the race and forced many runners to don breathing masks and/or drop out.

Briton Chas Pope, 39, withdrew from the race after 10K despite wearing a mask that filtered out much of the pollution.

“When I looked at the state of the mask after 10 km I decided enough was enough,” he Tweeted, according to a CNN report. “It felt pretty ridiculous given we’re meant to be running for health and fitness.”

China is infamous for its air pollution, which is caused by a combination of coal plants and car exhaust. The pollution led to marathon great Haile Gebrselassie’s withdrawal from the Beijing Olympics marathon in 2008. He suffered from asthma and was worried about what the poor air would do to his lungs.

The smog contains particles called PM2.5, short for particulate matter that is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. Its small size means it can become embedded into the lungs. The World Health Organization says a PM2.5 level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter should be the highest amount humans should be exposed to in a 24-hour period. The levels during the Beijing Marathon were more than 405 micrograms per cubic meter, according to Beijing Air. That’s more than 16 times the recommended limit.

State Air, part of the U.S. Department of State, says a PM2.5 level of between 301-500 is considered “hazardous,” and that “everyone should avoid all outdoor exertion.”

As for the race, Ethiopian Abebe Negewo Degefa (2:10:54) was the second men’s finisher and Kenyan Solomon Bushendich Naibei (2:11:07) was third. Ethiopian Meseret Kitata Tolwak (2:31:08) was the women’s runner-up and China’s Gong Lihua (2:32:23) placed third.