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Noora J. Ronkainen, Amanda Shuman and Lin Xu

Distance running is a rapidly growing leisure practice among urban Chinese adults. This study explores female runners’ experiences in Shanghai through life story interviews with 14 female runners. We analyzed their stories for cultural narrative resources and gendered life scripts used in the construction of running identities and practices. Although all interviewees constructed running within narratives of health, ideal body and achievement, women also storied running as a liberating and autonomy-boosting activity. Yet, despite their privileged status as educated urban citizens, they had to negotiate essentialist gender discourses and initially lacked self-confidence in sports. They constructed their achievements as exceptional, rather than as something that all Chinese women could do.