Marathon runners are such a dedicated bunch that many adjust their breathing to maximize oxygen delivery for the 26.2-mile race. But a 50-year-old Chinese man decided to take a more leisurely approach this month, chain-smoking through the Xin’anjiang Marathon in Jiande, China.
And he did it in less than 3.5 hours.
Chen Bangxian, nicknamed “Uncle Chen”, completed the strenuous race on Nov. 6 in 3 hours and 28 minutes, according to a certificate from race organizers first reported in English-language media by Canadian Running. Despite Chen’s apparent aversion to oxygen, he came in 574th place – out of around 1,500.
According to a 2021 study by Run Repeat, his time was almost an hour faster than the average time of 4 hours and 29 minutes for marathon runners worldwide.
The photos of the “grandfather” have since gone viral on Chinese social media platform Weibo. They left digital spectators in such disbelief that marathon organizers shared his finishing certificate online to dispel skepticism.
Perhaps more surprisingly, Chen has already done this successfully. He ran the 2018 Guangzhou Marathon while smoking in 3 hours and 36 minutes – and even improved on that the following year, finishing the 2019 Xiamen Marathon four minutes faster, according to Canadian Running.
While cigarettes are certainly not a performance-enhancing drug, some on Chinese social media have questioned whether it leaves competitors in more than a cloud of dust.
Smoking “should be banned” from the race, wrote a Weibo commenter worried about the effects of second-hand smoke, according to a translation.
Cigarettes are widely known to cause shortness of breath, headaches, emphysema, lung cancer, and heart problems, among other issues.