Hongjian Wang didn’t begin running until he was 25.
“I started running for fun,” said Hongjian, who goes by the nickname, Migao. He stuck with it and watched his times drop in each race, which encouraged him to try longer and longer distances. Eventually, he jumped in a half marathon, but never thought he was someone who could run a full, 26.2 mile marathon.
“When I learned how far a marathon was I was shocked,” he said. “How can people run that far? When I did my first half marathon in 2012, I couldn’t imagine doing that distance twice.”
However, Migao remained committed to conquering distance and chasing his marathon dream. He found stability and consistency with a running group and a coach. In 2015, he ran a 1:23 half marathon and the following year, he accomplished what he thought was impossible and ran a 2:58 at the 2016 Wuxi Marathon.
However, it was what Migao discovered while training for a marathon that truly changed his life.
“In 2014, I happened to watch a local triathlon race on the internet,” he said. “I was so excited to realize that triathlon is my real sport. I love swimming, biking, and running, so to discover that I could do all three together was exciting.”
Migao joined a local triathlon club in Shanghai and focused on Olympic distance triathlon races. He also began to hit the trails outside of Shanghai after competing in a trail run in 2014.
“I love trail running,” said Migao. “But sadly, there aren’t any mountains in Shanghai, so I can’t train on the dirt every day. But as soon as I’m out of the city, I gravitate towards the trails.”
Last year, former XTERRA World Champ and current technical director for the XTERRA European Tour, Nico Lebrun, visited China and took Migao mountain biking.
“I had never been on a mountain bike before until I rode with Nico, but I was up for the challenge,” said Migao. “The scenery on a mountain bike is incredible and I loved the terrain and the climbs. It was fantastic.”
While Lebrun was in China, Migao attended his XTERRA Coach Training Camp.
“The XTERRA team was so impressive, professional, and passionate,” said Migao. “From Nico, I learned that I must prepare for a race very carefully. It leads to success and builds trust with my athletes as I prepare them step by step so they can experience success.”
In addition to his demanding job as a software engineer, Migao also coaches his local running club, which has over 500 athletes.
“Now I design the training plans and the weekly track workouts,” said Migao. “We have about 100 athletes at every workout.”
Migao also personally coaches four athletes – two marathon runners and two triathletes. He has them on a training plan with four to ten races a year and is encouraging them to join him in XTERRA. Because he has experienced the peace of riding and running in nature, he wants to share the experience. And as a coach, he fully understands that some of his athletes have the talent and commitment needed to compete on an international level off-road, provided they obtain the exposure and training on the dirt.
“My two triathletes are hesitant about mountain biking, because it’s new. I hope that I can be a good model for them by entering XTERRA Kunming. When you go out of the city and ride and run on trails, it feels like a vacation, and I want my athletes to experience that. And I fully believe that Chinese athletes are good enough to win international trail runs and mountain bike races. We just haven’t had the experience yet to catch up to athletes in Europe and the US.”
Off-road sports are still in their infancy in Asia, but judging how many runners have taken to the trails in the last five years, there is no doubt that XTERRA will be as popular in China as it is in the rest of the world. Beijing now has a cross-country race trail that has garnered respect for its technicality. Because it’s an open park, it’s also giving locals a taste for the off-road.
“I think we just need a little time to give people a sense of what real trails are like,” said Migao, about off-road sports in China. “And just like everywhere else in the world, athletes will love it.”
At XTERRA Kunming on the weekend of September 21st, Migao will be competing and hoping to inspire his friends and the athletes he coaches.
“For sure, many are interested in XTERRA, and I hope I can give them the inspiration to experience the beauty of the trails and the Live More lifestyle.”