Running marathons helped me write my novel

The sport helped with my tenacity, and my creativity too

In my Chinese family, many of my older relatives are astonished when they learn I enjoy long-distance running. First, they assume “long distance” implies one or two miles. Then, when I tell them it’s actually 26.2, they stare at me as if I’ve forgotten how to count. The more traditional ones say something along the lines of, “Girls shouldn’t run so much.”

Over time, however, their complaints have lessened. In recent years, running has grown more mainstream in China, especially among the post-1980s generation. With the rise of the middle class and the influence of globalisation, running clubs have become more popular, as have recreational races. While for women, pale, youthful and slender remains the gold standard for beauty in China, there is also a divergent push for more expansive definitions – one that takes into account physical and mental wellbeing, rather than just thinness. For many of my runner friends, long-distance running is about more than exercise. It’s about endurance, independence and doing the thing we thought we couldn’t do. And as a writer, it’s about expanding the possibilities – the parameters of one’s imagination.

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