Albert Kao knows what it’s like for an anticipated race to fizzle into the unknown. His plan to run in the GO! St. Louis Marathon in March was derailed by the pandemic, an all-too-common experience for runners this year. With four half marathons under his belt, he’s gunning for his first full marathon.

In two days, he will be lacing up with 28,000 runners outside of Taipei City Plaza to race the Taipei Marathon.

Most marathons worldwide have been canceled or relegated to elite runners this year. Not the Taipei Marathon, which is able to celebrate its 24th year without interruption. It’s one of two International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) certified, and the only Bronze-certified road races in Taiwan.

The theme of this year’s marathon asks runners to #DareToBreathe — a gesture toward the pandemic. The theme takes on a double entendre in Mandarin, replacing the second character in the word meaning “brave” (yonggan, 勇敢) with the character for sense or feeling, gan (感).

Huang Hong-jia, a spokesperson at the Taipei City Government Sports Department said the intention is to encourage people to exercise outdoors and to show appreciation for all those working to keep Taiwan safe.

Heider Lai is running the half marathon event at the Taipei Marathon. While his friends have grown more inclined to stay home and play video games during the pandemic, he is pounding the road three to four days a week to train.

The number of registrants this year increased by almost 20%, according to Huang. This is driven by interest among local Taiwanese runners, as the number of foreign registrants declined from 3-4,000 in a normal year to just over 750 this year, which includes 12 elite international runners — some hailing from Japan, Kenya, and Algeria — who were invited.

Runners will receive temperature checks and wear masks at the start of the race until they can gain distance between each other. Spectators will also be encouraged to wear masks.


Photo Credit: Provided by Albert Kao

Albert Kao (second from left) and Joy Chiu (fourth from left) at the Taroko Gorge Marathon in November.

Less Daring, More Humbling

The Taipei Marathon, in many ways, is nothing special. It’s just one of many marathons and other large events — from exhibitions to rave concerts — that have taken place without a hiccup in Taiwan this year. If anything, it’s perhaps less daring than it is humbling to be running a marathon. Humbling to still experience the thrills of race day, humbling to submit to the practice of distance running, and humbling to share that experience together with thousands of runners.

Revital Shpangental has raced countless triathlons and half-marathons. This year was no exception. Though races in Taiwan were canceled in March and April, she admitted to racing “too much” this year, averaging once a month. Even for a serious — if obsessive — athlete like her, the pandemic in Taiwan has given her extra appreciation and motivation. If she struggles to get out of bed to train in the mornings, she gives herself a pep-talk, “Stop complaining! C’mon, some people can’t even go out!”

Joy Chiu is tackling her first marathon as someone who, she confessed, never used to run. “I love the feeling of challenging myself,” she said. Her year has not been without challenges — she graduated remotely in the midst of a pandemic and struggled to support her family’s mental health. In the uncertainty of this year, running has given her a cherished sense of control. With so much of life put on hiatus by Covid-19, Chiu said “it’s hard to make an excuse to not run, ‘cause all you need is your body and motivation.”

晚安台北半馬城市交流賽 柯文哲為跑者鳴笛

Photo Credit: CNA

The starting line of the Good Evening Taipei Ultra Half Marathon, Taipei, December 12, 2020.

“There’s so much going on with Covid and everything, it’s such a great way to just get your mind off of everything else and just focus on what’s ahead and reflect,” Kao said. In between attending online university classes and interviewing for banking jobs after graduation, running has been a gift to recenter and take his mind off from the stress.

Leaving from her home in New Taipei City, Chiu’s favorite part of training is exploring different parts of Taipei. Looking forward to race day, Kao is most excited to see the city and experience it stride by stride, rather than wheezing by it in the car or on the metro as usual. This year’s route is a panorama of the city, passing landmarks like The Red House Theater at its westernmost and the Nangang Exhibition Center at its easternmost, including a leisurely stretch by the Keelung River.

Training can be lonely, Chiu said. But when she raced the half-marathon at Taroko Gorge Marathon in November, it was exhilarating to “feel the energy of 6,000 people running together, of all ages,” as Chiu described. And she’s excited to share that energy again this Sunday.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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