Marathon fever has swept across China. In a bid to promote healthy development of the sport of marathon and better serve event organizers, Nielsen, together with the Chinese Athletic Association, has recently released the country’s first systematic study report on Chinese marathon runners.

The survey result, which is based on 3,459 samples collected among runners in 31 Chinese provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions between Nov 19 and Dec 21, reveals that long-distance running has become a craze among the increasingly affluent and health-conscious Chinese people. In addition, Chinese consumers are willing to invest a lot in the sport.

“The growing number of marathon runners nationwide is due to the country’s economic development and rapid expansion of a middle class that is more than ever keen on staying healthy and fit,” says Lynn Zhang, vice-president of Nielsen China.

“Marathon is a mass sport, people engaged in this game are from various backgrounds, only through the study of different groups of runners, we can better understand their specific needs, so as to development workable proposals for its future development, and drive people’s enthusiasm toward it.”


Participating in marathon races has long been popular around the world, but it’s only in recent years that the sport has gained wide popularity in China. It has even become a fashion icon and the “new cool” for many Chinese. But who are these active runners?

The Nielsen report shows that a large proportion of this expanding group of marathoners are from the country’s exploding middle class, young and well-off.

As for the distribution of runners, it reveals that people living in the country’s affluent north, east and south regions are more engaged in the sport. People in highly developed mega cities like Beijing and Shanghai have, the largest number of runners, which accounts for 17.1% and 11.6% respectively. People in the less developed west and central China have the lowest participation of only 9.5% and 5.4%.

When it comes to people’s participation rate, the report says those with higher educational levels, higher professional positions and more assets are more likely to run. Twenty-four percent of core runners, which refers to people who run at least twice a week in no less than three months, and complete a full marathon over the past three years, have education at Master’s level or above. Thirty-six percent of core marathoners are in the middle and senior management positions. Fifty-four percent of core runners own cars and 42% of them are VIP at banks.

Almost ninety percent (86%) of core marathon runners are men. However, the number of female core marathon runners are expected to grow, as 38% of potential runners are women. These female runners are active exercisers who run once a week for over three months and engage in sports activities twice a week.

Ninety-eight percent of surveyed core runners plan to complete full marathon in the coming year, and 37% percent are considering ultramarathon, cross-country running or trail marathon. Eighty-six percent of recreational runners plan to complete a half marathon, and 66% of them plan to attempt a full marathon. About 55% of potential runners will attempt a half-marathon this year.


Some people are attracted to the sport because it is simple and almost free. They may believe in the adage, “All you need is a pair of shoes.” But is this really true?

The answer is no. You will be surprised to find taking a marathon is more like taking a fashion show, where runners, in an attempt to improve their results and show off their personality, equip themselves with trendy and high-tech gear of all colors and designs. The Nielsen report finds Chinese runners spend an average of 3,601 yuan, and the more experienced runners tend to spend more to upgrade their performance. Survey data shows that core runners spend an average of 4,594 yuan, far more than 2,333 yuan of potential runners. Ordinary runners spend the most on purchasing basic running sportswear like clothes, shoes, socks and pants, but veteran runners are more tech-savvy and spend the most on high-end devices and professional equipment, such as sports watch, tight jackets and bottles, with 81% of them using smart phones, 91% using smart watches, and 57% using electronic wristband devices to log their movement data.

Apart from splurging on sportswear and equipment, runners also spend a lot on travel to different places to compete with other athletes, in addition to expenditure such as entry fees, transportation and accommodation. Nielsen’s data shows that excluding transportation fees, spending of veteran runners hits 3,746 yuan. They traveled an average of 3.7 times a year to join races and spent 6,935 yuan on expenses. Ninety percent of veteran runners say they had the experience of taking part into competitions away from home, with 9% travelling overseas.


As the sport gains momentum, host cities try to take advantage of organizing marathons to boost fitness while simultaneously promoting their city’s image. Eighty-eight percent of core runners say they have a more positive impression of the host city after participating in a race.

Marathons also mean increased opportunities for businesses. Accompanying the exploding number of marathon runners are business opportunities and benefits that are yet to be fully tapped in China. Its popularity has attracted the attention of companies that want to promote their brands’ image and appeal to consumers.

“It is believed sponsorship deals will bring sponsors more publicity and closer contact with clients,” says Lynn Zhang.

According to the survey, about 60 %60% respondents say they were left with a better impression of the sponsor brand; 68 % said the sponsor brand has a greater appeal to them than before, and 70 % said they are more likely to buy the sponsor’s’ products.

Although the majority of sponsors are sports apparel and automobile manufacturers, the marathon fad has attracted catering and jewelry brands as well. However, they are less impressive to runners compared to traditional sponsors.


Nielsen was awarded “China Marathon Partner” designation on Jan 9 by the General Administration of Sports, giving credit for Nielsen’s long-term contribution to the development of China’s marathon sport. Nielsen works closely with the Chinese Athletic Association on the study of Chinese marathon runners. The survey was conducted between Nov 19 and Dec 21, and polled 3,459 runners in 31 Chinese provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions. This report is a comprehensive study of Chinese long-distance runners from multiple perspectives, including the race evolvement, jogging behavior, running equipment, event participation and evaluation, sponsor evaluation, running knowledge, living conditions and so on. To download a copy of the full report, please visit Nielsen’s website at