Shenzhen Marathon organisers said more than 250 competitors caught cheating in Sunday’s half-marathon will face penalties, with as many as 18 facing lifetime bans from the event.

Infractions included racers competing wearing fake bibs, running on behalf of other competitors and taking short-cuts.

Chinese state media on Thursday called the episode “deeply shameful”.

Culprits were caught out by traffic cameras and local photographers. One video showed a number of competitors emerging from a bush after shaving a vast section off the course.

One traffic camera caught racers performing a U-turn at least one kilometre before they were supposed to, potentially shaving about 10 per cent off the 21km race.

Xinhua quoted organisers as saying: “We deeply regret the violations that occurred during the event. Marathon running is not simply exercise, it is a metaphor for life, and every runner is responsible for him or herself.”

The report added: “No matter the participants or the organisers, they should reflect: What is the significance of participating in and holding marathons?

“Don’t run and forget why you run. Don’t let the marathon turn sour.”

Chinese marathon runner loses race after marshal tries to hand her national flag near finish line

Marathon and leisure running is growing fast in China despite the pollution which often blankets major cities, with participants donning the latest fashionable gear and wearable technology.

However, the sport has made unwelcome headlines in recent weeks.

Runner He Yinli unwittingly sparked a national debate about patriotism after an overly enthusiastic volunteer darted onto the course to hand her a Chinese flag as she vied for victory at the Suzhou Marathon earlier this month.

She briefly held onto it before letting it fall to the floor, explaining later that it had slipped from her grasp.

Some Chinese internet users questioned He’s patriotism for dropping the flag, but many others faulted the volunteer for interfering.

He Yinli was beaten to the line after the fiasco.

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Other events in China have attempted to tackle the problem of dishonest racers by using facial recognition technology to track runners, and installing electronic chips in the bibs of competitors that register each racer’s progress throughout the contest, allowing organisers to monitor and root out irregular timings.

In 2011 there were just 22 marathons, half-marathons or other running events in China, according to the Chinese Athletics Association (CAA).

However, that figure has skyrocketed to nearly 1,100 this year.

Additional reporting: Agence France-Presse