After completing a 55-day run last August from Hainan Province to Beijing, a distance of 3,558 kilometers, nine-year-old Zhang Huimin has started another journey to Tibet from Shanghai.
According to her father, the girl will spend 128 days running from Shanghai to Nyalam County, Tibet Autonomous Region. The whole journey will be about 5,800 kilometers.
Despite criticism from the public, her father, Zhang Jianmin, insists the girl likes running and he cares about her health more than anyone.
At 8:30 am on Friday, Zhang Huimin set off from People's Square. She will run along national highways and arrive in Tibet on July 28 if all goes according to plan. Before she left, the father asked people on the square to sign a banner, which he said would be presented to the Chinese Olympic Committee.
Some people who watched Zhang Huimin start her run expressed their concerns about the girl's health.
"She might be too young to adapt to the climate in Tibet, which could harm her body. In addition, I don't think running thousands of kilometers is appropriate for a nine-year-old," said a mother in her 30s.
It's not the first time Zhang Huimin's father has been criticized. Last summer, experts said the intense training his daughter had undertaken in preparation for a run from Hainan to Beijing threatened her future health.
Zhang Huimin's training routine includes a 30 to 40-kilometer run each morning and she does more exercises after school.
Critics say the father, a pig farmer, is trying to live out his athletic dream through his daughter.
In previous reports, the father said he saw his daughter's potential when she finished second in a marathon in Haikou, capital of Hainan Province, last year.
"I hope she can compete in the 2016 Olympic Games," he has been quoted as saying.
On Friday, her brother Zhang Di said the present journey would be her last outside Hainan Province. "Though she is a talented runner, she still needs to stay in school to finish her study."
(Shanghai Daily, March 31, 2008)