New Hong Kong endurance race Gurkha Trailblazer honours soldiers’ sacrifice to city and the world

Charity trail race in northeast New Territories in January is a nod to the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker, first staged along city’s Maclehose Trail as a training run for Nepali soldiers in the British Army protecting Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 October, 2017, 7:15pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 October, 2017, 5:28pm

Organisers of the inaugural Gurkha Trailblazer race in Hong Kong’s New Territories say it is intended to commemorate Nepali soldiers who died in battle zones around the world – and those formerly based in Hong Kong, who played a key role in initiating the city’s biggest annual charity race.

How mass participation sports events ‘exploded’ in Hong Kong – and the challenges city faces to stay at the forefront

The first Gurkha Trailblazer charity race will take place on January 20, 2018. Open to 500 participants, it is being organised by the Gurkha Cemeteries Trust Hong Kong and Child Welfare Scheme (CWS).

“The Gurkhas made a significant contribution to maintaining social stability in Hong Kong during unsettling times, enabling it to become the world city it is today,” says Amod Rai, secretary of the trust.

“We have worked for more than a year with CWS, doing recces to decide on the route of this race, in areas where the Gurkhas used to train,” says Rai, whose grandfather was a Gurkha in Hong Kong.

“The Gurkha Trailblazer charity race was initiated to promote Gurkha history – to remember their contribution and sacrifice to the world and Hong Kong. It honours the bravest of the brave.”

I was overcome with nostalgia when we began to explore the area to figure out the route for the race
Khimding Ranta

From 1948 to 1997, Gurkha soldiers serving in the British Army in Hong Kong secured the border, provided humanitarian support during natural disasters, and handled bomb disposal, among other duties, Rai says. Their tough training regimen also left a lasting legacy.

The 100km Trailwalker race that follows the Maclehose Trail from east to west across the hills of Hong Kong’s New Territories was first staged in 1981 as a test of endurance for soldiers of the Queen’s Gurkha Signals regiment. The race evolved into an annual event and was opened up to civilians in 1986.

Now called the Oxfam Trailwalker and one of 15 such races held annually in 11 countries, it continues to generate millions of dollars a year for charitable causes.

In that same spirit, the Gurkha Trailblazer follows a circuit of 26km in the eastern New Territories beginning and ending at Lau Shui Heung Reservoir in Pat Sin Leng Country Park, where Gurkha regiments regularly took part in training exercises. There will also be a 12km race.

Khimding Ratna, formerly a Nepali soldier in Hong Kong with the 10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles regiment, helped plot the Trailblazer route. He says he regularly took part in week-long exercises in the area of the route that honed Gurkhas’ basic survival skills and featured orienteering, first aid practice, trench digging and combat training.

How a Nepali village girl became an ultramarathon champion via rebel army

“I also had an opportunity to take part in one of the toughest exercises designed for the infantry, known as ‘bulldog training’, in this area. The inter-platoon exercise required us to run through the treacherous Pat Sin Leng range, go back down to Hok Tau Reservoir and end at San Wai Firing Range with a shooting competition,” Ratna says. Bulldog training, he adds, required the soldiers to carry heavy packs and military equipment.

“I was overcome with nostalgia when we began to explore the area to figure out the route for the race. What was then a tough experience has now become a beautiful memory. Much has changed in Hong Kong since, but the area is well preserved, and I still recognise the streams and the trail,” Ratna says.

Organisers expect the race to become a popular addition to Hong Kong’s trail running calendar; the sport has exploded in popularity in recent years, attracting elite runners from all over the world. They have invited Nepalese hill racing champion Mira Rai to participate.

Eight memorable moments from 35 years of the Oxfam Trailwalker

The Gurkhas, who originate from the Himalayan mountain districts of Nepal, have a long-standing reputation for invincibility in hill racing. It was first put to the test against other soldiers in the Hill Race of 1890 in British India. Gurkha soldiers secured the first 33 places among all 133 runners.

Funds raised from registration fees for the Gurkha Trailblazer will help the Gurkha Cemeteries Trust pay for scholarships to help Hong Kong ethnic minority students complete online high school diplomas, and preserve and promote Gurkha history, Rai says.

Filipino domestic worker team to take on Hong Kong’s 100km Oxfam Trailwalker challenge

Proceeds will also benefit CWS’ Child Friendly Schools initiative, which plans to transform 48 schools in villages near Pokhara, in western Nepal.

“We need to make school buildings safe, and classrooms more engaging, so learning is fun for children,” says Jake McCauley, chief executive of CWS HK.

“This project also provides extra teacher training and teaching resources. We reach out to communities to involve parents and promote education, which increases the chances of children attending and staying in schools. [By doing so] children give themselves a better opportunity to lift themselves – and their families – out of poverty,” McCauley says.

“Education is also vital to support our anti-human-trafficking work and to make children aware of their rights.”

For registration and other race details, visit http://gurkhatrailblazer.com/