Why Hong Kong’s trails are some of the best in the world for running
Ben Swee, a Singapore running coach and fitness trainer, recently made two trips to Hong Kong in the span of three weeks. Unlike most visitors here, however, the main draw wasn’t the food, the finance hub, of the famed Lan Kwai Fong parties. It was the running.
Swee was among the around 150-strong Singapore contingent that participated at the RaidLight Lantau 100km trail race in Hong Kong on March 16. The month before, he ran his third straight Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, standing out in the record 72,000-strong field in a Batman suit.
He’s quick to list a slew of positives that keeps him coming back to the territory: “The amazing scenery and skyline, the nature not too far from the city, challenging undulating terrain, easy accessibility to places, amazing food, and cool weather. Plus, great shopping for outdoor stuff.”
Swee is among a growing population of tourists making Hong Kong a destination for runners. At the RaidLight race, 300 of the 1,200 runners travelled in for the race from a total of 15 countries, says race director Clement Dumont.
Participation is also growing: the RaidLight race, which offered 100km, 50km and 15km distances, doubled its sign ups from last year’s inaugural race. "We have had to limit the participation as it grew too fast," says Dumont, who's also one of Hong Kong's top trail runners. The third edition of the Vibram Hong Kong 100km trail race in January had 1,200 runners from 30 countries, says race organiser Steve Brammar, up from 250 in 2011.
All this, as the number of races keeps increasing. Race directors are finding it more difficult to schedule their events because of the packed calendar. Two weekends ago, more than 800 runners took part in the inaugural Salomon ToTheTop trail race (30km and 10km events) which went up Hong Kong’s highest peak, Tai Mo Shan. The next day, more than 400 took part in the first leg of the Bonaqua Mountain Hardwear Action Sprint adventure race series in Mui Wo. The 12km race involved 7 km of trail running on Lantau trail, 1km beach run, 4 km of rock scrambling on ocean coastlines and river gullies for a total of 12 km finishing at Pui O beach, South Lantau.
Hong Kong has some of the best and most accessible trail running terrain in the world, according to Keith Noyes, race director of King of the Hills, a series of off-road races held in Hong Kong since 1984. "It is no wonder that people want to get out and enjoy it,” he says.
Eric LaHaie, a top Hong Kong trail runner and founder of sports media company Stack Asia, agrees. “You don’t have that in other big cities, such as New York or London. It’s so easy to find a trail and a running group in Hong Kong. And the races are easy to sign up for and get to, and have a very relaxed atmosphere.”
I have certainly been bitten by the trail running bug since moving here from Singapore in February 2011. Fortunate to have met one of Hong Kong’s veteran trail runners in church, I was introduced to the thrills of the trail early on. Within my first month here I’d done my first race – the 21km Hysan Healthy Hike & Run at Tai Lam Country Park organised by Action Asia Events – and won it.
In my second month here, I did the annual AVOHK (Athletic Veterans of Hong Kong) 65km Round The Island race. It was the perfect introduction to the trails on Hong Kong Island, which up till then I was too afraid to explore on my own for fear of getting lost or chased by monkeys (which happens a lot on the trails at MacRitchie Reservoir in Singapore).
More than two years on, I now know that there are no monkeys on the trails on Hong Kong Island – only porcupines, wild hogs, snakes and spiders. I have also run all four long trails in the territory (Hong Kong, Lantau, Maclehose and Wilson) and know many trails (and secret routes) very well. I have participated in countless races including all the “marquee ones” – Oxfam Trailwalker, Vibram Hong Kong 100, King of the Hills series, MSIG series, RaidLight Lantau 50k, MoonTrekker, countless Action Asia Events…
And yet, I am still finding new trails – both well-trodden and overgrown – as I explore the country parks on a regular basis. Hong Kong is indeed a trailrunner’s and hiker’s paradise. I hope to share my adventures with you in this blog. Being extremely snap-happy while on the trails, I have also built up quite a collection of photos on Instagram: search for “jeanettewang”.