Text and photos by KRISTOFER PURNELL
Tianzhong Marathon on its eighth year
Taiwan is like the Philippines in many ways. The weather is more or less the same, especially during the afternoon when the sun is blazing hot, though the Philippines could do without the humidity and have cooler nights like Taiwan does. Taipei isn’t just a central city for businesses and offices the way Makati is, it’s also a street food haven—one that could rival the likes of Maginhawa or downtown Manila, even Cebu and Bacolod.
But south of Taipei is the small town of Tianzhong, which boasts of being Taiwan’s Rice Heaven, and deservedly so. Beyond the outskirts of town are hectares of rice fields that spread so far out the high-speed train stations seem to be out of place (but it is the fastest way to get out of Taipei).
Because Tianzhong tones down the usual urban life you would find in Taipei or Taichung (the nearest major city) but maintains the excellent food choices within a fresh rural setting, its very own marathon is the best way to experience Taiwan outside the city.
Established in 2012 by the Changhua County Government, the Tianzhong Marathon was organized to encourage locals to run since it’s considered human instinct, rather than just sitting around all day. Last year with the theme “Born To Run,” the Tianzhong Marathon also organized a series of training camps so that trainees would “wake up” and revive their running instinct.
Now on it’s eighth year, the Tianzhong Marathon has gotten bigger and opened its doors to even more participants with around an astounding 16,000 people from all around Taiwan—and some from abroad—joining the full marathon, the half-marathon, and the quarter-marathon.
The marathon starts right in the heart of Tianzhong, near the County Township Office, just as the sun is about to rise. By the first kilometer, the town’s small buildings begin to give way to the rice fields that go on for miles—with one or two houses and mills in the way. Around the three-kilometer mark, runners will pass under the high-speed railway, still surrounded by hectares of rice fields that now look like a sea of green under the now-blazing sun. During this early of portion of the marathon is the best time to simply pause—if you’re no hurry—and experience why it’s called Taiwan’s Rice Heaven.
That’s not only sight to be seen during the run. At the halfway mark for the half-marathon and quarter-marathon, participants will get run alongside the Eight Fort Ditch, one of the oldest ditches in Taiwan and aptly named as it takes water from the Zhuoshi River to eight out of the 13 forts in the Changhua County. This portion of the marathon offers serene moments as participants run under Madagascar Almond trees with the green leaves beginning to turn golden yellow as winter approaches—not to mention the sound of the rushing water as runners pace themselves to push on with the race.
Of course a trip to Taiwan isn’t complete without tasting local food, and this is where the Tianzhong Marathon stands out compared to other marathons. Besides the typical water stations found every kilometer, volunteers are also handing out fruits like bananas, watermelons, lemons, and star fruits. Other cooked snacks to be found along the way, especially during the tailend of the marathon, are pancakes, shrimp, chicken-on-a-stick, lobsters, and ribs—one may need a bag because of all the freebies such as fans, caps, biscuits, and socks that are being handed out. Probably the most amusing freebies of all are the numerous cans of beer that are dished out as the runners finish the final kilometer.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
While major marathons like those held in Boston or London are competitively run, the Tianzhong Marathon falls more into a fun run category where runners aren’t pressured to finish as fast they can but to enjoy what they see along the way. While there is a maximum cap of runners allowed, there is no age limit—senior citizens and children can be found running, even parents pushing their babies in strollers! To literally put the “fun” in “fun run,” some participants even dress up in costume and cosplay, as if the Halloween fever still hasn’t died down.
Ximending Night Market
Graffiti art along Ximending District
Because of the great success and popularity of the 2019 Tianzhong Marathon, the local government has decided to promote it in its tourism efforts and invite more foreigners to join the run around the countryside. There will always be time to visit Taipei 101 or course through Ximending Night Market, Tianzhong will offer the same amount of hospitality but with the stunning scenery of its vast rice fields. Milk tea can be found all around Taiwan, so why not enjoy one as you run a maratho
Credit belongs to : Manila Bulletin