Sat, Nov 23, 2002 - Page 23 News List

Taroko's marathon still the world's only run in a gorge

By Jules Quartly  /  STAFF REPORTER , HUALIEN, TAIWAN

Twelve thousand men and women were set to run up Wensan Mountain in Hualien and back down again in the Taroko Gorge Marathon early this morning.

In what has quickly become an annual event after the first such marathon two years ago, local and international athletes were to climb around 500m over 20km in just over an hour and then race down the same route to the finish line.

Billed as the "world's only marathon held in a gorge," the long-distance road race is also claimed to be the "most beautiful marathon in the world" by the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee. They may be biassed but they could be right.

On the way up Wensan, runners pass the Eternal Spring Shrine, with its bright red roof and railings nestling in the lee of the mountain, before sweeping across Ningan Bridge. The route then goes up a spindly section of the Central Cross-Island Highway to one of Taiwan's hottest tourist spots, Swallow Grotto and the marble walls rising up across the river at Chulu Cliff. Then it's through the Tunnel of Nine Turns and then into the light and over Tzumu Bridge, before rapidly ascending the Lushui trail up to the temples and tea plantations of Tienhsiang, nestled among the gentle peaks of Wensan.

Hualien County commissioner Chang Fu-hsing (張福興), one of the originators of the idea for the marathon, said yesterday the aim of the race was to attract more people to visit "Formosa's last unspoiled land."

"We thought about a race through the gorge and it worked out well, so we've just got bigger and better every year. We have been encouraged by its success and believe it is becoming a major attraction," Chang said.

There were to be four races today: The classic 42.195km version, the 21km half marathon and a 5km fun run. Also, far from the maddening crowd of angry farmers and fishermen, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was expected to lead off a foot-borne race between civil service mandarins from various government agencies.

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