Race to the Finish: Shanghai Athletes' Insane Running Challenge

By Chris Thompson, October 30, 2020

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Reader Reports is a new series where That’s readers share worthwhile stories of their time in the Middle Kingdom.

A wig model-turned basketball coach; an ultra-trail runner who spends every weekend flying down the craziest trails she can find; and a mom who’s constantly on-the-go with her kids. What do these three people all have in common? They are all participants in the ‘+10 Kilometer Insanity Challenge’.

It all started on a January flight back to Shanghai with a group of friends. Jeroen van Zanden had an epiphany mid-flight, saying, “Let’s do one long run every month of 2020, with the distance of each run increasing by 10 kilometers each month.” In other words, a running challenge that starts with a 10-kilometer run in January and ends with a 120-kilometer run in December.


The rules are simple: You must complete your run within one calendar day, unless it’s an overnight race. In that case, it must be done within 24 hours, or in one go if it’s a race that lasts beyond 24 hours. Sounds easy enough, right?

After returning to Shanghai, they shared the idea to the Marcothon Challenge Finishers WeChat group, which included members who successfully ran 5 kilometers every single day in December. 

Most thought this new challenge was an excellent way to stay in shape, especially as many of the races in China were starting to be canceled due to COVID-19. The word eventually got out among more of Shanghai’s sports groups and, soon enough, 19 people from the city’s sports communities were signed up to take on the challenge.


One interesting dynamic from this group of athletes is that most do not have backgrounds in distance running and, for many, the 50-kilometer run in May was their longest run prior to the challenge. 

Almost all of the ‘Insanity Challengers,’ however, are well-known in Shanghai’s sporting communities and were up for the challenge, including Intersport’s Kate Hill and Robin Trebbe; RunnersHai’s Inigo Arocena, Leigh Hallam and Pedro Martins; F45’s Lauren Hogan; Trash Runners’ Kate Sogor; Xiaolongxia Swim Team’s Chavi Terren and Lauren Tininenko; FC Windmills and Tulips Football Team’s Jeroen van Zanden; Spinback’s Noureddine Sahibi; and FitFam’s Amy Chu, Charaf Oujgli, Cory Arth, David Chadsey, Konrad Hufmann, Paul Kunchinski, Rebecca Silver and Steven Lee.


Right from the beginning, the Insanity Challengers were crushing it by coming up with fun ways to overcome even the greatest of barriers: quarantine. 

In April over Zoom calls, a few of the participants helped Oujgli complete his 40-kilometer run in his apartment by taking turns running 5 kilometers with him at a time in their living rooms.

As the year progressed and the distance grew, the group started to up the ante. As if running April’s 40-kilometer challenge wasn’t hard enough, Terren, van Zanden, Hill, Sogor, Tininenko, Hallam and Lee decided to knock out their April run in a self-organized full Ironman triathlon, which consists of a 3.8-kilometer swim, a 180-kilometer bike ride and a full 42-kilometer marathon.


A couple months later, Hill, Hufmann, Martins and Trebbe challenged themselves to a ‘race with the sun.’ 

Starting at 11pm on June 21 – the shortest night of the year – these four challengers had five hours to run June’s 60-kilometer quota before sunrise. Despite facing torrential downpour, flooding from the bund and the stomach bug (for one challenger), everyone successfully finished their 60 kilometers that night.


A month later, Hill and Hufmann chose to fulfill their July 70-kilometer run with an 84-kilometer trail race at an elevation of 3,500 meters. (Apparently, running 70 kilometers on a flatter surface was too easy.) Both made the top four, with Hill placing first overall. Contrary to common belief, the hardest aspect of this challenge is not the physical component, but rather the mental perseverance. 


The monthly commitment is a full-day affair that can be both tedious and lonely. Thankfully, Shanghai’s running community offer a great remedy for athletes. 

Quite a few participants chose to knock out their runs by participating in many of Shanghai’s countless running programs. With FitFam, RunnersHai and Intersport’s monthly sports day offering a range of runs over the course of the day, the Insanity Challengers rarely had to run alone.

As the runs got longer, a few of the participants decided to incorporate other hobbies and interests – unrelated to running – into the challenge.

To help Tininenko achieve her September 90-kilometer run, Hufmann and Hill teamed up with her to complete the ‘Line4thon Race,’ a plogging challenge that requires participants to go to every metro station on Shanghai’s Line 4 and take a picture. But rather than just take a picture, the team decided to make a music video, which can be viewed below (VPN off): 

Within no time nearly 50 kilometers had been completed and the team met up with supporting friends to finish their run on the way to Disneyland, where they were rewarded with cheesecake and fireworks.


One of the most rewarding aspects of the +10 Kilometer Insanity Challenge has been the friendships formed among participants. Over the course of the year, these athletes have supported each other, found new unique ways to overcome their monthly runs together and have even teamed up to take on entirely new challenges. 

In June, Arocena, Hill, Tininenko, Trebbe and Caroline Bridges (a +10 Kilometer Insanity Challenge supporter) officially broke a Guinness World Record in the Linked Backwards Mile and are currently looking into their next mini challenge.


As of October, nine of the 19 participants are still in the game and they’ve already filled up their schedules with ultra runs planned for October and November as well as a self-organized ‘Big’s Backyard’ race for a challenge finale in December. (Part of the Barkley Marathon series, Big’s Backyard is a 4.167-mile loop done every hour on the hour until only one person is left standing.)

Until then, keep an eye out for Arocena, Hill, Sogor, Hufmann, Tininenko, Hallam, Sahibi, Trebbe and Lee on the streets and feel free to join them for part of their runs. 

We’re sure they’ll appreciate the company and support!

For more Reader Reports, click here.

[Images provided by Chris Thompson]

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