Time to run against the 'big boys'
Long-distance runner Mak Yun-leung has only run the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon twice, but he knows how to achieve good results: he was fourth in the elite junior 10km challenge in 2010 and last year brought home the trophy as elite junior half-marathon champion.
On February 5, he will be running the 10km race again - but this time, as he lines up, he will face a new challenge. For Yun-leung, who was born in 1993, is no longer a junior athlete. He is running the elite 10km race - an open category for senior athletes.
Yet Yun-leung, who competes for Tsuen Wan Athletic Club, is not worried about making the step up in competitions. The Form Seven student at the Assembly of God Hebron Secondary School, in Tai Po, is used to adapting to 'new challenges'.
He ran in his first half-marathon last year, only a month before the Standard Chartered race.
'My first taste of half-marathons was the Mizuno Hong Kong Half-Marathon Championships in January last year,' he says. 'I chose the wrong strategy, and I ran too fast at the beginning. I ran out of energy at the finish and came second.'
But this mistake taught him a good lesson and in the Standard Chartered half-marathon, he accelerated at the end. 'I didn't feel my time was very good, but I was able to win my first trophy,' he says.
These half-marathon successes marked the start of a fruitful year for Yun-leung. He broke the Hong Kong junior record in the 15km run and then was only 40seconds outside the half-marathon junior record.
At the Fubon Taipei Marathon in December, he clocked a personal-best time in the half-marathon. By the year's end, he was Hong Kong's number-one ranked junior over 10,000m.
Yun-leung, who will remain part of the Hong Kong junior team until July even though he cannot run junior races anymore, says he is not aiming too high in this year's Standard Chartered race. But he is probably being modest.
'I want to finish in the top five,' he says. 'But there are many really competitive runners in the race, including defending champion Mark Ryan. So it would be an achievement if I made the top five.'
As well as Ryan, Yun-leung will be taking on a more familiar rival - his coach, Chan Ka-ho.
'Ka-ho is one of the top long-distance runners in Hong Kong,' he says. 'I hope I can follow in his footsteps and be comparable to him one day,' he says.
As he trains to become a top-notch runner, Yun-leung finds he is often his own worst enemy. He says he has a couple of bad habits that are hindering his improvement.
'I stay up until 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning every day and then take a nap after school for two hours before training at night,' he says. 'I even do this on nights before a competition. My coach wants me to get rid of this unhealthy habit.'
Yun-leung, whose nickname in Cantonese is 'sausage', also spends hours playing games on his phone every day when he should be resting. But he plans to be more disciplined this year.
'Sometimes I look at my trophies and it reminds me how much effort my coach and I have put in,' he says. 'It makes me determined to keep fine-tuning myself as a runner.'