Taiwan’s Marathon Tourism
Running the Gamut from Mountains to Sea
Here, you cover scenery as you cover ground on the race course. From sparkling coastal courses, to a stunning route wending through a marble gorge, and a marathon that feels like a banquet on foot; Taiwan hosts an incredible variety of races like nowhere else in the world.
Running the Gamut from Mountains to SeaBy Hao-jen Chen
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 650 )
For many runners, taking in the beautiful scenery along the way is motivation for toeing the starting line, and sometimes enduring to finish the race.
Although small in area, Taiwan is an island with a rich diversity of natural features and beauty. If you like mountains, there are well over a hundred peaks standing over 3,000 meters tall; if you prefer the sea, it embraces the island on all sides; if pastoral fields are more to your taste, Taiwan’s countryside has an advanced agricultural industry.
For marathon runners in Taiwan, the Wan Jin Shi Marathon offers spectacular coastal views.The Taroko Gorge Marathon covers jaw-dropping mountain terrain, and the Tianzhong Marathon is a fabulous choice for pastoral countryside. Runners looking to check all of these boxes will find that the Changbin King Kong Marathon’s varied terrain and scenery more than delivers.
In addition to beautiful and varied scenery, Taiwan’s marathons offer many different types of courses.
For runners looking to test their mettle against top talent from around the world, Taiwan boasts a newly accredited IAAF Silver Label race in the Wan Jin Shi Marathon. Taiwan also has marathons famous for the incredible variety of refreshments served along the course at aid stations.
Taiwan’s Own Gold Coast Marathon
Recalling the race route along the coast, the vast azure sea stretching out as far as the eye can see, triathlon and endurance sport veteran Lai Hsiao-chun says, “It’s so close to the sea. The section along the coast from Jinshan to Shimen is stunningly beautiful, like the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia.”
The only marathon in Taiwan to receive IAAF Silver Label accreditation, the Wan Jin Shi Marathon has long enjoyed a strong international reputation.
“After receiving IAAF Silver Label accreditation in late 2014, the Wan Jin Shi Marathon was formally entered onto the IAAF’s annual event calendar from 2015,” says Hung Yu-ling, director of the New Taipei City Sports Office.
Starting from the Howard Green Bay Resort Hotel at Green Bay and proceeding towards Jinshan and Shimen, runners participating in the truncated seven- or 14-kilometer events diverge from the full marathon course before entering the tunnel at Wanli.
Continuing along a descent, the runners enter the well-known Guihou Fishing Port, where they are met with a small, modern fishing village lined with fresh seafood shops and restaurants. On this day, middle-aged women usually seen here showering tourists with hospitality are the most enthusiastic cheerleaders along the route.
Image: Ming-Tang Huang
With one turn after passing through the fishing village, the Venus Coast—a coastal stretch only the non-marathon runners get to see—comes into view.
Hugging the coast, on a clear day runners pass along azure seas. In the distance to their right they can see Keelung Island as well as the nearby peaks of Wanli.
Although full marathon distance runners (marathoners) miss out on this stunning coastal stretch, over 20 kilometers of coast, from the surfing hotbed of Shazhu Bay all the way to Shimen Cave and back, is their exclusive domain to enjoy.
As triathlon veteran Lai Hsiao-chun describes it, this stretch of scenic coast is one of Taiwan’s most exceptional race routes. “It’s comparable to the Gold Coast,” he says.
Following the race, not far from the starting area, the Guihou Fishing Port the non-marathon runners pass along the route is a fabulous place to refuel.
There, the morning’s catch is laid out at the Fisherman’s Market, awaiting the runners to indulge their substantial appetites.
“Anyone running the coastal Wan Jin Shi Marathon shouldn’t miss dining on crabs and other seafood,” says Hung Yu-ling. Wanli crabs in particular are a treat, she says.
Other than seafood, Jinshan duck and the Shimen wrapped glutinous rice dumplings (zongzi) near the Temple of the 18 Lords are culinary delights that visitors to the north coast area simply must try.
Leaving the majestic coastal Wan Jin Shi Marathon, runners with an affinity for mountain scenery can get their fill of stunning mountains and gorges at the Taroko Gorge International Marathon.
Image: Ming-Tang Huang
Taroko Gorge - One of the World’s Most Stunning Marathons
“The Taroko Gorge Marathon is renowned worldwide as having exceptional natural beauty,” says Taroko Marathon executive director Chang Chih-chiang, proudly noting that his race was Taiwan’s first marathon to pass through a gorge.
The journey, from the East-West Cross-Island Highway archway that marks the entrance to the gorge all the way to the village of Tianxiang, stretches the full length of Taiwan’s stunning Taroko Gorge.
Each year on race day the road between the Taroko Gorge entrance and Tianxiang is completely closed to vehicle traffic. “It’s a big luxury for runners or joggers to have a national park area to themselves, free from interruption from traffic for an entire day,” says Chang.
One unique aspect of the Taroko Gorge Marathon, in addition to having many shaded areas, is the updraft of cool air that rises from the gorge along the race route, making running there a pleasure.
Along the race route, runners can enjoy various natural features of Taroko Gorge.
As you emerge from the Tunnel of Nine Turns, do not forget to look up at the sky. If your eyes are sharp enough you will see the sky embraced on both sides by the canyon walls, which happen to form an outline similar to the shape of a map of Taiwan.
“Taroko Gorge’s scenery and topography areis incredibly varied, which makes it quite iconic,” adds Lai Hsiao-chun.
Whatever you do, do not just rush away after you are done running the Taroko Gorge Marathon. There is much more to see and do.
“There are around 18 different tribes with their own distinctive characteristics worth visiting in the Hualien area,” says Chang Chih-chiang. Leaving Hualien right after the race would be a shame, and staying an additional one or two days for more in-depth touring can make the trip even more worthwhile.
Next to coastal and mountain scenery, pastoral fields are another major feature of the Taiwanese countryside. If you love to eat, you simply must experience the Tianzhong Marathon.
Foodie’s Delight, Fine Food and Beer
Known throughout Taiwan for the fare at its aid stations and afterparty, the Tianzhong Marathon, situated in Taiwan’s rice-growing region, can easily take the crown as the favorite marathon of foodies.
Even after completing over one hundred triathlons, Lai Hsiao-chun still gets excited when talking about the Tianzhong Marathon. “If you’re looking to get your fill at a marathon, the Tianzhong Marathon is definitely your best bet,” he says.
Offerings include roast suckling pig, stir-fried rice noodles, goat’s milk ice cream, and even beer. At the unofficial aid stations that local residents, clubs, or businesses apply to operate, any of these items or dishes could end up on an aid station table for the runners to enjoy to their heart’s content.
“These unofficial aid stations give the athletes a lot of different local Taiwanese snacks,” says Tianzhong village chieftan Hsieh Wen-hsien. Locals always look forward to this race, and some are so enthusiastic that they set fruit out on their doorstep for runners to enjoy.
Image: Tianzhong Township Office
The warmth and hospitality of Tianzhong locals is not just on display on race day.
The day before the race, the Tianzhong Village Office hosts a street fair reminiscent of Carnival in Brazil, for which all athletes are invited to march in a parade and revel in the celebrations.
The evening prior to the race, the village office puts on a welcome party for athletes. With local performance groups front and center, it has a concert atmosphere.
“On the eve of the race, Tianzhong practically stays up all night,” says Hsieh Wen-hsien. During the festivities, athletes can groove to the music while sampling local delicacies provided by the village office.
The race is always held during the second week of November, just when Tianzhong is ready for the year’s second rice harvest.
Image: Tianzhong Township Office
At that point, the fields have been covered for some time with plump golden rice shoots, shimmering gold and green rippling colorfully with the breeze.
Apart from eating, whether jogging or running, enjoying the beauty of Taiwan’s countryside among the fields is one of the main features of the Tianzhong Marathon.
Of course, if that is still not enough, then the scenic coastlines, mountains, and glimmering fields all featured along the route of the King Kong Marathon in Changbin would surely satisfy anyone’s yearning for natural beauty.
Unrivaled Scenery, from Tropical to Subtropical
From mountains and sea to fields and even river canyons, the King Kong Marathon has it all. And since the Tropic of Cancer bisects the course, runners technically run from a tropical climate to a subtropical climate.
“You can see the mountains and sea, and many green fields. The scenery is beautiful,” says Patrick Scott-Graham, a British athlete teaching at Fenglin Junior High School outside Hualien. For him, the scenery lifts his spirits while he is running.
The race starts bright and early at 5:30 A.M., just as the sky is starting to glow with the light of dawn.
Following the route past the enthusiastic supporters of the Zhongyong settlement, runners ascend a rise. As they turn onto King Kong Boulevard, they are met with the spectacular sight of the morning sun coming through the clouds, casting beams of golden light onto the surface of the sea in the distance.
Image: Ming-Tang Huang
Gazing over the marathon course stretching along the entire length of King Kong Boulevard, the road is bordered on both sides by verdant green rice steppes.
If time allows a glimpse back, King Kong Mountain (more commonly referred to as “Jingang Mountain” in Chinese) rises out of the mist like a mythical peak from a Chinese swordsman novel, home to martial arts practitioners training in isolation.
Moving onto Provincial Highway 11, an endless stretch of mountains snakes along the coast on one side, with the boundless Pacific Ocean on the other. Right at the half-marathon turnaround point, one can see the Bahsien Caves, Taiwan’s most ancient prehistoric ruins dating from the local Changbin Culture.
Further along, a long uphill grade leads up to just before the full marathon turnaround point, after which runners enter the Jingpu indigenous settlement, decorated everywhere with sun totems. If the Greek islands’ iconic colors are white and marine blue, the Jingpu settlement’s color is the sunset orange painted on the roofs of many buildings here.
Bahsien Caves (Image: Ming-Tang Huang)
Diverse, undiluted indigenous tribal cultural is an especially notable feature of the King Kong Marathon course.
In addition to the visual stimulation of the natural beauty along the marathon course on race day, the athletes’ welcome party the night before the race is practically worth the price of admission on its own.
Led by township chief Pan Shu-fang and supported by all 17 businesses throughout the township, the athletes’ welcome dinner and party, often referred to as the “Changbin Block Party,” lets King Kong Marathon runners sample 18 different local dishes in a bustling outdoor banquet arrangement.
“We really want to greet our friends coming here from all around to take part in the race with the same infectious atmosphere of neighborhood banquets in the countryside,” says Pan Shu-fang.
The Changbin block party not only satisfies athletes’ appetites, it showcases some exceptional food, like an appetizer that matches the skin of the mambo fish with roselle flower. Soaked in roselle tea, the chewy skin of the mambo fish is tart, sweet, and refreshing.
If not for the occasion of running a marathon, many people might never have the chance to see these beautiful places and enjoy such unusual experiences.
Thanks to marathon races around Taiwan, we can gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the distinctive human and natural landscape along the way.
“Since sports has become part of my life, races are a big part of it, and I try to learn all about each place the races are held,” says Lai Hsiao-chun, adding that “sports and tourism is a fantastic combination!”
Translated from the Chinese Article by David Toman
Edited by Shawn Chou