How Hong Kong runner gets inspired by the great outdoors

Visual artist Elsa Jean de Dieu runs Hong Kong’s trails for enjoyment and to free her mind in order to let her creative juices flow

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 12:30pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 5:52pm

Elsa Jean de Dieu, a French painter and visual artist who has called Hong Kong home for almost 10 years, has two favourite canvases: walls and mountains.

Founder and lead artist of Elsa Jeandedieu Studio, she has decorated high-profile commercial and residential spaces all over the world, for clients including the French embassies in Brussels and Oslo, Delphine Arnault of LVMH Group, and Princess Caroline of Monaco. In Hong Kong, the latest creations of her three-woman artistic team include a mural for Pure Yoga, table tops for the new Tate Dining Room and Bar on Hollywood Road, and a street-style mural for The Pond restaurant in Elements.

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Jean De Dieu has also left her masterstrokes on the mountains. As a competitive trail runner with team UGlow, she has notched wins at The 9 Dragons 50 kilometre race, the Moontrekker 43km women’s pair event and the Translantau 50km in the past year.

Her work and play feed off each other. “Looking at the beauty of Mother Nature while running inspires me a lot creatively. I love the colours and my eye picks up many of the details around me – patterns, textures, shapes, etc. Trail running helps me make space in my mind to allow the flow of creative ideas.”

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It’s hard to believe that Jean De Dieu was not built for running. She was born with a misshapen meniscus (the shock-absorbing cartilage) in her right knee, which caused quite a lot of pain growing up and did not allow her to do much exercise until her late teens.

“This was quite frustrating because I have a very sporty family,” she says. “When I reached adulthood the pain was more bearable, which allowed me to start running.”

She began trail running when she moved to Hong Kong. But in 2011, during the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km, her meniscus broke into two. She could only run slowly for the next three years. In 2014, she started training and racing again, and her knee hasn’t bothered her since.

The injury taught her an important lesson. “Before, I would constantly push my body to the limit without listening to its warnings. Today, I try to be wiser and I’ve learned to respect and really listen to my body. I don’t focus on the competition now; the most important part of running for me is no longer the result, but more the journey and all the lessons that each race brings to help me grow.”

What’s a typical workday for you?

I don’t really have one. Some days I might be painting walls at a client’s venue, some days I might be in my workshop designing for upcoming projects or creating sample artworks, and in between I’m running to and from meetings with designers, contractors and clients.

How do you fit running into your day?

Normally I do a very gentle morning run by the Central Harbourfront three times a week with my UGlow teammates (a family business started by my brother), just to start off my day with the maximum amount of good vibes. After work, three or four times per week I like to clear my mind and recharge my energy by running up the Peak, or Hong Kong Trail, or the Twins in Tai Tam Country Park. During the weekends I try to do my long training sessions on Lantau, and when I can fit it in I also swim to help relax my muscles.

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You always run with music. What’s on your playlist?

I love running with music as it helps get me into the zone. My playlist is very eclectic as I like all kinds of rhythms from Parov Stelar to Armand Amar, Booka Shade, Bonobo, The Avener, Benjamin Clementine, Curtis Mayfield, Pupkulies and Rebecca, Rhye … the list is very long!

Which is more challenging: coming up with a creative idea for work or running an ultratrail?

Both are challenging: I need to go very deep into my own mind for either, to push away my ego and let the energy flow. My mental process is very similar. With creativity and ultratrail running, you can’t force it; you really have to let go and accept what comes without expectations. The more expectations or pressure you put on yourself, the more limited your creativity becomes and the easier it is to feel stuck when trying to run. The best is to be happy with whatever results come –that’s when you have the most beautiful results.

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What are your running goals?

I have absolutely no running goals; I just want to be happy and learn more about myself and others. I truly love running, and for me it’s not about setting goals but more about sharing amazing experiences with other runners. When I’m running I don’t think of the end result, I focus on what’s happening at the moment, and I truly believe in enjoying the power of now.