No mountain too high for Hong Kong charity runner Stephen Pau – how he trains for endurance trail races and marathons

Fund manager donates monthly to selected charities and raises thousands more from running trail and road races. He tells us about how he gets in shape to run up to 171km, and the extra motivation he gets from fund-raising

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 March, 2017, 12:32pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 March, 2017, 5:21pm

When Stephen Pau is not in the office advising ultra-high-net-worth families about their finances, you may find him running along Hong Kong’s many trails, training for his next ultramarathon. But Pau isn’t training to finish first or to set a new personal best – he’s putting his best foot forward to help charities raise funds.

Pau’s story begins in the 1990s when, as a student in Britain, he ran mostly cross-country races with the occasional half marathon. While he did not consider himself a runner he still participated in competitions, keeping himself fit through a relaxed training regimen.

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During his time abroad Pau also began making charitable contributions. He selected several non-profits in the UK and became a recurring monthly donor.

When he returned to Hong Kong in 2001 he continued to run, but it wasn’t until he ran in his first Oxfam Trailwalker – a 100km race along the MacLehose Trail through the city’s rural New Territories – that he saw how he could combine his charitable donations with his love of trail running and have a larger impact on his fitness and the organisations he was already supporting.

Ever since that first Oxfam Trailwalker a decade ago, Pau has been signing up for knee-crushing trail runs across the globe, most recently in Gran Canaria, Germany, and France, fundraising for Oxfam, Orbis, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and the Hong Kong Adventure Corps (HKAC).

What is the longest race you ever ran?

The longest was the one I have just done, the Transgrancanaria, 125km. It took me 28 hours and 39 minutes. I ran for Médecins Sans Frontières. I felt it was one of the biggest challenges I had ever encountered. The elevation is big, the cut-off time is tight, and I encountered a temperature change because in the nighttime it is very cold and in the afternoon it would come back to quite warm.

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What makes you feel a sense of winning when you do these races?

My goal is to finish the race and raise money for the charitable organisation.

You just ran in Gran Canaria, and you have a “warm-up run” in Germany before your next fundraising run at Mont-Blanc this September. Do you pay for all of this travel and expenses?

Yes, I pay for myself: all the travelling expenses, accommodation, signing up fees, everything. And 100 per cent of the donations go to the charity.

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What was your most memorable fundraising run?

The Tarawera Ultramarathon in New Zealand. I met the cut-off time and I was doing okay at 70km. Then I started having diarrhoea. You have to stop running, and this happened about 18-19 times. So it wastes a lot of time. You lose a lot of fluids. Lots of vitamins. I was raising money for Orbis, so I thought to myself I need to finish it. I’m not going to give up because of this. If I quit I could always find an excuse for myself, but I said , I need to have discipline. So I finished the race. It took me about 18 hours, and I came in last. But, looking back, I felt I did the right thing.

What’s your regimen?

I have a trainer and I train with him once a week one-to-one. I tell him about my next race and he prepares a programme for me. On Monday, I may need to do 10km on a trail. On Tuesday I may need to do more, on Wednesday I may need to run another 5km. Every day I need to run, plus I do some strength work or a bit of yoga. Having a trainer means I don’t need to think about how many kilometres I need to do each week in order to fulfil the target. Also if I were to design something for me to do after work I’d tend to just run 5km, so it helps me push as well.

Where do you train in Hong Kong?

Sometimes I do it in Wan Chai in the steep, hilly areas. For the other trail runs I will do it near where I live, Mount Butler near Quarry Bay. I tend not to go very far because, I know in Sai Kung or maybe in Yuen Long there are good places, but the travelling time is too long. So I tend to go somewhere near where I live, even though I have to do it [many] times, and it’s boring. I have to do night running too, because a lot of the races start at night. The Transgrancanaria I started at 11pm. So you need to accustom yourself to the environment as well. You need to feel comfortable about it.

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How important is having fundraising as an inspiration for you?

Very. I support the charities through monthly donations. I am running and raise money for them because I know they are great charities with low overhead costs. Then while I am doing the donation I am doing some events, talking to my friends and family, in order to raise money, I would like to bring the awareness to them. For instance, take MSF. A lot of people say they are a good cause but don’t know what they do. You bring awareness and a lot of people learn more about this. So people get more understanding about their work.

Pau is still accepting donations to MSF for his Transgrancanaria 125km run last month through JustGiving website https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Stephen-Pau-1. He will also raise funds in September when he runs the 171km Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB). Donations can be made through JustGiving here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Stephen-Pau-2