Changing the route could create a true city marathon

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 February, 2006, 12:00am

A marathon running through the heart of Hong Kong Island - is it a pipedream? To all those thousands of runners taking part in the odyssey of today's Standard Chartered Marathon, we ask: 'Would you prefer a far more fan-friendly route?'

A long-held criticism of the Hong Kong Marathon has been that unlike its more famous counterparts in London, New York or Boston, it does not wind its way through the streets of the city. Public participation - cheering fans encouraging tired legs and exhausted minds - is almost nil in Hong Kong.

'It makes such a huge difference to runners when they are cheered on by people along the route. Unfortunately, Hong Kong lacks this,' says veteran Hong Kong marathoner Gillian Castka.

Castka, who has run in half-a-dozen London Marathons ('I loved running through the West End of London through lunchtime and smelling all those great aromas'), firmly believes a route through the streets - rather than the pedestrian-free highways and bridges of Kowloon - is possible.

'Anything is possible in Hong Kong if the organisers put their minds to it. A street course will cause logistical problems, but it can be done,' says Castka.

Asked for their views on the possibility of a course, the latter half of it running through the streets of Hong Kong - when crowd support really matters - the immediate response from organisers and the police was 'no'.

Our suggested route began at Nathan Road, taking in the present half marathon route on Kowloon, emerging from the Western Harbour tunnel on to Central, continuing past Wan Chai on to the Eastern Corridor, making a turn at Chai Wan, and down to King's Road and following the tramlines back to the finish line at Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai.

'Hong Kong island is too small to run a marathon,' said Fung Wang-tak, the route co-ordinator of this year's race. 'We would have to close a lot of roads. We did a study some time ago and it was estimated we would have to close 800 side streets for almost half a day,' said Fung.

Steve Pau Ka-wai, a Senior Inspector of Police with Hong Kong Island Traffic, said closing roads would not be a problem. 'The problem will be the impact it will have on the general public. We try to minimise that impact. But if we have a race through the streets of Hong Kong Island, it will cause lots of problems.'

There may be problems, but nothing that cannot be solved, says Castka. 'One way to do it would be to split the current programme where you have the 10-kilometre race, which attracts the biggest participants, on another day, and only stage the marathon and half marathon together. In this way the numbers will be more manageable.'

Of the 40,000-strong field this year, less than 6,000 took part in the full marathon and around 10,150 in the half marathon. 'I suppose it can be done,' is the view of William Ko, chairman of the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association. 'Anything is possible in Hong Kong. But if we are going to change the route, we need the support of the public and the government.'

'Hong Kong Island is too small and over-populated. Unlike London or New York, Hong Kong's situation is different as we don't have alternate roads. If we were to change the route, we would have to close down the whole of Hong Kong Island and this would cause a lot of disruption to the public. But if the public were to support us, this idea would be great,' he said.

Li Ho-tung, an organiser of local long-distance races, said: 'A marathon going through the heart of the city with spectators cheering all the way is always attractive. But their will be a lot of inconvenience to the public. The residents and politicians may object to it. The event may involve only 40,000 people, but it may cause one million people inconvenience for one whole day. And will they like it?' he asked.