Good preparation gives soldiers an edge

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 November, 2009, 12:00am

Preparation paid off for two teams from the People's Liberation Army who scooped the first two places in the Oxfam Trailwalker last night in the Hong Kong garrison's first attempt at the gruelling slog over the MacLehose Trail.

Deputy garrison commander Major General Wang Junli said they had been training since August for the race, which the first team finished in 12 hours and 17 minutes.

Although that was longer than the previous record of 11 hours and 52 minutes, set by a Gurkha team last year, this year's race from Sai Kung to Yuen Long for the first time used a slightly longer route with a testing uphill section at the finish.

The eight PLA soldiers, with an average age of 20, were cheered by the crowd as they crossed the finishing line in camouflage T-shirts and head lamps. The first team finished at 9.17pm, with the second team following closely at 9.35pm. Their performance recalled the earlier dominance of the race by Gurkha teams, members of the British forces during colonial days, who also kept up a winning record in recent years.

The North Face Greater China team came in third at 9.40pm.

Earlier one of the competitors, Sergeant Liu Liangjin, 20, said the PLA teams had familiarised themselves with the route from Sai Kung to Yuen Long during practice sessions.

He would not say how long the soldiers expected to take, but said they would do their best to complete it for charity - a vow they kept.

Disciplined services members also ran in the race, including 17 teams from the Correctional Services Department, one of which was led by Commissioner Kwok Leung-ming.

From the private sector, two teams from Macquarie Group (HK) creatively named 'My Knees Hurt' and the 'Incredible Bulk' joined the race, bringing with them about HK$100,000 worth of sponsorship. Team member Nick Hodges said he had completed the walk in less than 20 hours last year.

They had been training every weekend for the past five months. 'Some of the guys have lost five, six kilos and they're still quite fat,' said another member Llew Jones.

'My Knees Hurt' hoped to finish within 18 hours and the 'Incredible Bulk' aimed to finish within 24 hours.

'Kellygang', a team from Westpac, arrived from Sydney on Wednesday to help raise money. It is their first such walk in Hong Kong. Westpac Institutional Bank chief executive Rob Whitfield said the name was a tribute to both the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly and Westpac chief executive Gail Kelly.