Marathon runners are such a dedicated bunch that many fine-tune their breathing to maximize oxygen intake for the 26.2-mile race. But a 50-year-old Chinese man decided to take a more leisurely approach this month, chain-smoking his way through the Xin’anjiang Marathon in Jiande, China.
And he did it in under 3 1/2 hours.
Chen Bangxian, nicknamed “Uncle Chen,” finished the arduous 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 about 1,500.
His time was nearly an hour faster than the 4-hour, 29-minute average finishing time for marathoners worldwide, according to a 2021 study by Run Repeat.
Photos of the “grandpa” have since gone viral on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. They left digital onlookers in such disbelief that marathon organizers shared his finishing certificate online to lay the skepticism to rest.
Perhaps more surprising, Chen has successfully done this before. He ran the 2018 Guangzhou Marathon while smoking in 3 hours, 36 minutes — and even improved upon that the next year, finishing the 2019 Xiamen Marathon four minutes faster, according to Canadian Running.
While cigarettes certainly aren’t a performance-enhancing drug, some on Chinese social media questioned whether he was leaving his competitors in more than a cloud of dust.
Smoking “should be banned” from the race, wrote one Weibo commenter worried about the effects of secondhand smoke, according to a translation.
Cigarettes are widely known to cause shortness of breath, headaches, emphysema, lung cancer and heart problems, among other issues.