A 'half-hearted' runner

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 September, 2012, 11:55am

It's impossible to do any better than Wan Cheuk-hei did when he ran in his first half-marathon at the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon in February: he won the junior title. Beginner's luck? Maybe, but Wan is too busy looking ahead as the new season starts next month.

Trained by local runner Gi Ka-man, Wan, known as "Little K" by his friends and other athletes, started running in Form Four. "I saw top runners at the school's athletic meets being cheered by my schoolmates," says Wan, 19. "Runners are very popular. I wanted to have that recognition, too, so I joined coach Gi's training."

He soon learned that running is more than getting applause from the crowd. "I have made many new friends," he says.

At first, Wan ran slowly in his major event, the 10km, and was surprised when Gi set higher goals for him. "I always asked him: 'Why would you set such a target? How can I reach that?' I doubted myself and thought his demand was impossible," Wan says.

"Nevertheless, I've improved my speed. I run times now that I could only have dreamed of before. I started to take him at his word, and now I don't ask why when he sets a target."

Wan first excelled in the 3,000-metre steeplechase and was ranked No1 among Hong Kong juniors last year - which earned him a spot on the Hong Kong athletics team.

And it all came about because he changed events. "I joined the junior 10km race of the [Hong Kong] Marathon in 2011 and didn't do so well," Wan says. "So my coach and I planned to have a try in the half-marathon, as there were too many strong rivals in the 10km race.

"To be frank, I was quite nervous before my first half-marathon. I spent a lot of time researching the competitors in the same race beforehand. During the race, I just kept telling myself there were other junior runners ahead, and I needed to chase them. It turned out I was the first young runner to cross the finish line."

His time was 1 hour, 16 minutes, 28 seconds.

Another junior athlete has since surpassed Wan's time in the steeplechase, but Wan is still No1 in the half-marathon rankings. "As only the senior No1 and junior No 1 can represent Hong Kong, my good performance in February saved me once again," he says.

Wan studied maths in the Yijin Project and then completed a pre-associate degree course. This month he will enter the associate degree programme in sport and recreation studies at Baptist University's College of International Education. He also plans to take part in university athletics and cross-country races, so his schedule will really be busy.

But his mind is focused. "My major mission is to break the Hong Kong junior record in the half-marathon - 1 hour, 15 minutes, 14 seconds - held by my schoolmate Yuen Ho-yin. "It's not an easy goal," Wan says. "How well I train will determine the result."