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Health and wellness

How a women-only Hong Kong race empowers female runners in a male-dominated sport

There were smiles all round as the all-female participants crossed the finish line at last Saturday’s Women’s Five event, the culmination of a five-week programme designed for women to support and inspire each other

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 6:15pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 7:20pm

When it comes to running in Hong Kong, there is a definite gender gap in race participation. Just this month, for example, less than a third of runners (29 per cent) at the Asics Hong Kong Island 10K City Race were women. An even lower 22 per cent participated in last weekend’s Oxfam Trailwalker. But there is one event that is attempting to redress the balance.

The Women’s Five recently held its second, exclusively for women, five-week development programme of the year, culminating in a 5km race last Saturday on the Ma On Shan Promenade.

“I had never done anything like it before,” said participant Maja Howard. “I didn’t know what to expect. But it was so well organised, it was amazing. Everyone was so supportive.”

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The organisers say their aim is to create an event for women to support, empower and inspire each other. Howard’s experience of the programme, which includes yoga, running, and health and wellness classes, backs that up.

“I think some people maybe find it easier to open up when it’s all women, knowing that all the women go through similar things,” she said.

Howard grew up in Hong Kong, but began running when she went to China to learn kung fu.

“I went there because I had a back injury, a slipped disc, and the doctors couldn’t fix it,” she said. “The way to fix it was physiotherapy, acupuncture and movement.”

She stayed in China for six months, first doing tai chi and receiving acupuncture as she regained her strength before moving on to kung fu.

“But my back still wasn’t quite right, so I came back. The doctor said I needed surgery but my reiki master fixed it within 10 days. I began to run properly again,” she said.

“I’ve not had any major injuries since, so I thought the 5km was a nice goal to set.”

Howard, an advocate of Eastern medicine, finished the 5km in 27 minutes, beating her personal best by one minute.

She said she wanted to continue to run short distances of around 5km or 10km and improve her time, but ultimately running is not her sport.

“Kung fu is what I want to do,” she said. “My goal is to get to black belt over the next two years.”

Men and women have different speeds and it would be awkward to have loads of men flying past me
Zofia Guranova

Zofia Guranova from Slovakia signed up to the Women’s Five to gain more confidence in her running ability. Last weekend’s run was her second Women’s Five of the year, with the first one – in April – also being her first ever running race.

“It was important to me that [the first race] was just women,” she said. “Men and women have different speeds and it would be awkward to have loads of men flying past me. It would have been demotivating.

“I have [since] done races with men and I’m OK with it, but for my first race, I wanted to feel more comfortable.”

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The pre-race programme allowed Guranova to create a network of new friends. Since the first event, she has stayed in contact with many of her new running partners.

“I also did the Green Race in Deep Water Bay,” Guranova said. “I like when a race has a theme – the Green Race’s was environmental while the Women’s Five tries to make women more aware of themselves.”

Guranova finished the race in 24 minutes and said that she loved the atmosphere. “I really appreciate that there is a race just for women. It makes it very unique and special.”

The 5km race was won by Sarah McMillan in 20 minutes 20 seconds, followed by Kathrin Polke (20:24) and Grace Drake (20:55).