Great Strides: Hong Kong
Visitors to Hong Kong are usually familiar with the territory's food, shopping, high-density living and pollution. But few tourists - and even residents - think of Hong Kong as a running paradise. The fact is, wherever you are in this great city, you are just around the corner from a park or traffic-free running trail.
Hong Kong has been a very popular stopover city for athletes and teams passing by, in my experience as a sports travel manager for professional athletes.
Erin Densham, Olympic bronze medallist in the women's triathlon at this year's London Games, has been among my clients. She uses Hong Kong as a training-camp base. The cycling and running opportunities here are much better than those in other Asian cities.
The city's subtropical climate means high humidity from May to September, and this can make running a very sticky pastime. But there are many running races held from October to April, when the weather is cool and dry. "If you are serious you will run all year round," says Chris Wardlaw, 62, a former Australian Olympic runner and coach who lives in Hong Kong.
There's no shortage of such people in the running community in the city, so it's easy to find running buddies. Among the popular groups are the Hong Kong Hash House Harriers hkhash.com - known as drinkers with a running problem - and Hong Kong Trail Runners meetup.com/HKTrailRunners
Whether you are a tourist or resident, you are sure to enjoy the variety and accessibility of the running opportunities here.
Best Running Spots
Bowen Road: Hong Kong's most famous running route, and the hip place to be seen out jogging by locals and expats alike. The route goes from Magazine Gap Road, near The Peak Tram railway, and ends at a roundabout on Stubbs Road near Hong Kong Adventist Hospital. It is actually not a road route at all, so is almost completely traffic-free. Winding along the forested mountainside, you feel like you can reach out and touch Hong Kong's stunning skyline. Flat and shady, the out-and-back route is eight kilometres long.
Happy Valley Racecourse: It's not just for horses. This was the base for the Australian Beijing Olympic team's pre-departure camp. Here you can choose between the one-kilometre inner tartan track or the longer 1.4-kilometre inner cement road that runs inside the grass race track. Unless your name is Mo Farah or Usain Bolt, you are highly unlikely to get special permission to run on Hong Kong's hallowed grass turf, so best to keep off. Shower and locker facilities are available in the middle of the field, as well as a small store with drinks and snacks.
Tolo Harbour cycling track: This 10-kilometre path in the New Territories runs from the town centre of Sha Tin to Tai Po Market. The route is via the Hong Kong Science Park, extending to the Tai Po Waterfront Park and Tai Mei Tuk. It's popular with cyclists and joggers, as it is flat and traffic-free. The route hugs the coast, offering great views and a cooling sea breeze.
Dragon's Back: Voted Asia's best urban trail in Time magazine. The 8.5-kilometre trail takes you through bamboo and lush woodland, then along the rugged spinal ridge to Shek O called the Dragon's Back. "If you only try one run in Hong Kong, make it the Dragon's Back and Tai Tam Country Park," says Rasmus Holm, head of sales at Puma Asia-Pacific, and a regular runner. If trails are your thing, there are many routes through the northern New Territories, Sai Kung, Hong Kong Island, Lantau and Lamma Island. See the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department's "Enjoy Hiking" website hkwalkers.net
Kowloon Tsai Park: A tartan track with distance markers winds its way through lush manicured gardens in the north of Kowloon. The nearest MTR stop is Lok Fu.
Victoria Park: Located in the centre of Hong Kong Island near the busy Causeway Bay shopping district, this 55-year-old park has a 625-metre jogging trail with six fitness stations for circuit training.
The main event: Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon
The Hong Kong marathon is the territory's biggest sporting event.
In spite of a staggering 70,000 competitor quota, they still managed to completely sell out last year's event within one month of registration opening. The marathon, half-marathon, and 10-kilometre events all end at Victoria Park.
The routes have accurate kilometre markers, and there are sponges and drinks available along the course.
The marathon and half-marathon courses, which both begin on Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, have drawn much criticism for their rather lonely feel, as there are very few spectators. For much of the race, you are running on the sometimes winding freeways. The many bridges and tunnels don't allow for much rhythm, and there are relatively slow overall times.
But running through the harbour tunnel and across the island's many bridges gives a view of Hong Kong that very few get to experience.
- If you can't run like an elite runner, at least you can look like one. Try Escapade Sports shop in Central or Causeway Bay, or Racing The Planet in Sheung Wan, for specialist running gear.
- You will notice many massage shops in Hong Kong, but not all are equal. Invest in a quality foot or sports massage at Ten Feet Tall in Central tenfeettall.com.hk
- Keep refuelled with a selection of healthy salads, wraps, juices and smoothies from MIX located in various areas across Hong Kong Island. I recommend the "Organic Breakfast" - a great recovery shake after a morning run.
This is the final week of Great Strides, a series of city running guides by Troy de Haas, sports travel manager at Flight Centre and a former Australia representative in orienteering, mountain running and tower running