There is no doubt that Taiwan is paradise for runners. With more than 200km of riverside paths available to run in Taipei city alone, a plethora of mountains and trails coast to coast, this is arguably one of the best destinations for runners in Asia. Taiwan has caught the running fever and the pastime is more popular than ever. Taiwan’s running fever goes all the way back to the 80s and the craze has steadily grown to over 500 events per year. But despite this boost in events, one race’s prestige remains undeniably undiluted: the iconic Taipei International Marathon.
Named one of the best half marathon routes in Taipei, this classic marathon has been around since 2002 and is the biggest and most infamous road race in Taiwan. Circling the city center, this route gets a lot of attention not only because it passes most of the historic landmarks in the city, but also because it takes place on streets which are normally too busy to run. Roads are blocked and traffic is in disarray, but crowds are out in full force (and costume) to cheer on the more than 27,000 participants hailing from more than 30 countries worldwide and competing for the biggest payouts on offer in Taiwan.
Starting at the building which currently defines Taipei’s skyline, this race begins and ends at the ever-famous Taipei 101 in Xinyi (Taipei’s most modern business district). The marathon and half marathon begin together, commencing a brief loop of the area before heading down Ren’ai Rd in the direction of the presidential building. Ren’ai Rd is said to be one of the most beautiful boulevards in Taipei, the center of which is lined with palm trees and manicured garden beds on either side.
Just before turning to head North on JhongShan Rd, runners get a glimpse of the presidential building, which is just one of the architectural gems left from the Japanese occupation which ended more than 50 years ago. JhongShan Rd itself was built in 1944 during the Japanese occupation for the visiting emperor as a way to access the Grand Shrine (historically Japan’s biggest Shinto Shrine in Taiwan); today in its place stands the easily recognizable Grand Hotel. Running along JhongShan, participants also pass the beautifully maintained Taipei Expo Park on either side of the road which, in 2010-11, was host to one of the largest international flower expos to ever be held in Asia. If you look up, you might have the chance to see an aircraft preparing to land at Taipei’s centrally located SongShan Airport.
Crossing the bridge, the Grand Hotel can be spotted on the left; this was the tallest building in all of Taipei until 1981 and today remains one of the tallest Classical Chinese Buildings in the world. Continuing right, runners also go past the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine, which serves as a memorial to those who lost their lives protecting the Republic of China. It is fashioned after architecture found in Beijing’s Forbidden City.
From here, the half marathon and marathon routes are split, and the half marathon runners continue along the Keelung River around the district of Neihu before turning back to Taipei 101. Neihu is one of the most diverse districts in Taipei City, housing its own entertainment district, technology park, various hypermarkets, a 13 hectare lake and beautiful, easily accessible mountain trails. Taipei city is located in a basin between mountain ranges, and you’ll find this course relatively flat; the only elevation change is man-made. It is encountered as you round the outskirts of Neihu, climbing over the Mac Arthur 2nd Bridge and back to the start (and finish) at Taipei 101.
With this interesting and historic route, there is plenty to admire no matter what distance you choose at the Taipei International Marathon. The spirits are high and it draws some of the liveliest crowds you’ll find in big city marathons. And in quirky south east Asian style, some of the spectators might even be dressed as your favorite cartoon or anime character. So perhaps you aren’t a runner, but if you’d like to give it a try and join the craze, this might just be the route to take.