Champion trail runner shares his experience of conquering mountains in Hong Kong and tips for beginners
Written by South China Morning Post (Morning Studio)
Hong Kong’s spectacular scenery of undulating green hills, craggy cliffs and island-dotted bays makes it a popular location among nature-loving hikers — and trail runners.
Running enthusiasts can test their endurance on a wide range of hiking trails in the city — sometimes for hundreds of kilometres at a time. But there is also plenty of scope for beginners in the sport, too, says Law Chor Kin, a 45-year-old Hong Kong champion trail runner, who has competed in more than 100 ultra-distance races over the past 22 years, and once conquered Hong Kong’s 100 tallest peaks over a three-day period.
“Hong Kong’s trail running scene is now thriving compared with when I first started,” he says. The sport has grown in popularity, especially among those who love to explore nature while competing around the world.
Hong Kong’s trail races are typically between 50 km and 100 km, which are shorter than those held abroad, he says. Many have gained entry to international events by running in Hong Kong races. “The trails here are more beginner-friendly as they are usually clearly signposted, so it’s hard to get lost.”
“With Hong Kong’s hot and humid climate, trail running can be quite strenuous,” Law says. “However, today’s sports gear and supplies are a lot more advanced. For instance, energy gels and portable sustenance packs can offer more readily absorbed energy boosts.”
“There are now more coaches focused on the sport, too,” he adds, “So, beginners can get a lot more out of their training.”
Law, who works as a survey officer for the Hong Kong Government’s Land Registry, regularly competed in marathons until 2000, when he first raced in Hong Kong’s annual Oxfam Trailwalker — one of the world’s most popular international trail running events. Raising funds for poverty relief in Africa and Asia, the sponsored competition has four-member teams trying to complete the 100 km-long MacLehose Trail in the New Territories in under 48 hours.
Law instantly fell in love with trail running during that first race. “I have taken part in Hong Kong’s Trailwalker every year since then,” he says. On top of being a member of the 2015 competition’s winning team, Law has also won five other 100 km Oxfam Trailwalker team events in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. He has raced in areas with extreme climates including the Gobi Desert in northern China and Death Valley in California.
“Before I came across trail running, I found it hard to imagine that someone could run such long distances non-stop, for so many hours,” he says. “But it’s OK once you’ve trained your body adequately. What brings me the most joy is being able to complete something I didn’t think I would be able to accomplish.”
Trail running often involves running very long distances alone, but whenever possible, Law prefers training with like-minded friends at weekends, when they can focus on specific goals, such as improving speed, hill work or endurance. Law regularly trains on the 10 km ridgeline section of the Wilson Trail in Pat Sin Leng Country Park in northeastern New Territories, which takes him up and down eight different peaks, known in Chinese folklore as the ‘Eight Immortals’.
The trail up to Tai Mo Shan, the city’s highest peak, provides a breathtaking panorama of the city skyline and the Victoria Harbour, which always makes him come back for more, he says. “The city and the sea together are a sight you won’t be able to find anywhere else.”
Trail runners can also enjoy spectacular views of Lantau, Hong Kong’s largest island, during another annual competition, TransLantau by UTMB. It offers races of different distances to suit runners of all abilities.
“Every time I ran in the TransLantau, I had to start at night, when I would be a little sleepy,” Law says. “The sight of Lantau Peak shrouded by clouds during the race was unforgettable; it was like I was entering some kind of heavenly paradise.”
He says the trails featured in TransLantau by UTMB offer participants the chance to admire the island’s stunning craggy coastal scenery, including landmarks around Tai O, colloquially known as the ‘four guardian beasts’ — Cheung Shan (Elephant Hill), Fu Shan (Tiger Hill), Sze Shan (Lion Hill) and Tsim Fung Shan (Phoenix Hill).
“The most challenging section is probably from Keung Shan to Tai O,” he says. “Travelling along the ridge at high speed is challenging; it takes a lot of energy and determination.”
“I also love exploring the island’s many interesting rocks,” he adds. “Near Lion Hill, there’s one that looks like a chicken and a dog having a face-off. Around beautiful Sunset Peak you’ll find the Diving Board Rock, which looks just like what its name suggests, and is an Instagram favourite.”
Law encourages adventurous runners who wish to see more of Hong Kong’s wilderness to put on their running shoes and head out on some of the countryside trails. “After 22 years there are still a lot of places that I want to explore,” he says. “I keep on finding newness in the sport, as well as meeting new people.”
5 tips from Law Chor Kin for trail running beginners
Hong Kong’s trails are mainly formed with concrete; it can be punishing on your knees and leg muscles, so you must train properly.
Make sure you do enough training to help improve your recovery rate as you run from hill to hill.
Study your race route well before your first trail running event, as overlapping trails may make you lose your way.
When training for an event, be sure to familiarise yourself with the final section of the trail, as runners often get tired near the end when their performance level drops.
Conserve your energy early on so you have the stamina to cope with unexpected changes that may affect your progress, such as bad weather, or muscle cramps.
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