Worn to run: Get in gear for running Hong Kong's trails
What you wear and carry can have a huge impact on how you perform
Trail running is an uncomplicated activity, a philosophy largely inspired by the soul of the sport, which is all about nature and simplicity.
If you're new to the trails, you could get by with your road running gear. But if you want to get the most out of the sport, it is recommended get some trail-specific gear.
With the trail-running industry growing, sports gear manufacturers are rolling out new products quicker than a Krispy Kreme production line. You could spend a fortune on your trail wardrobe.
But there are only two essential items, says Jeremy Ritcey, owner of Lantau Base Camp store at Mui Wo and a top local trail runner - trail shoes and a hydration pack.
The most important thing is to match your gear to the terrain, climate, and conditions, says Kami Semick, one of the world's leading female trail runners who represents The North Face. Semick has several pairs of shoes and a hydration systems of varying capacities.
"For smoother trails in good condition, I will go for a lighter pair of shoes that have minimal tread," says the American, who is based in Hong Kong. "A lightweight minimal hydration pack will work for shorter runs. But when I am running several hours and require extra gear, I carry a pack that has more capacity."
TRAIL RUNNING SHOES
The main difference between trail and road shoes is the former have a more grippy outsole, a hidden rock plate in the sole and a toe bumper to protect against rocks and other obstacles on the trail, says Ritcey. "The rubber compound on the outsole of road shoes is made of a harder compound, which means they last longer but don't stick to the ground as well as the softer outsole compound that trail shoes generally have," he says.
But most of Hong Kong's trails are a mix of dirt, exposed rock and paved paths. "So you don't want anything with super big lugs, or it will be very slippery," says Ritcey. Once you work out what sort of terrain you'll spend the most time on, the next thing to consider, he says, is your body's biomechanics and structure - that is, your running style and how much support and cushioning you need.
"People who slam their heels down when running need more cushioning," he says. "And if you are slamming your heel, chances are you're over-pronating, which means you may need more support."
Pronation is the natural, inward roll of the foot when walking or running. When the heel contacts the ground, the foot rolls inward to absorb shock and finally transfers weight to the ball of the foot as it prepares to push off.
With over-pronation, the foot rolls inwards excessively. To prevent injury and put the foot in the proper track, a more supportive shoe is typically recommended. These shoes usually have plastic inserts called medial posts in the sole to provide rigid support.
But there are many opinions on running shoes and running styles. Some people swear by minimalist featherweight shoes with wisp cushioning and barely-there outsoles. Others prefer the other extreme: specifically, a brand called HOKA that's known for its super fat and plush cushioning.
"HOKA shoes are great for people who've suffered from lots of injuries in the past," says Ritcey, "but they provide no ground feel at all. What also scares me is they raise you so high off the ground that there's a higher risk of ankle sprains."
Between the two extremes are a multitude of shoes that cater to most trail runners. There is no right or wrong, only what's best for your individual requirements.
Eric LaHaie, a top trail runner and managing director of Stack Asia Pacific, says it's better to have a neutral shoe for trail running because pronation changes all the time on trail due to the uneven terrain. Also, the longer the race, the more cushioning you need.
For the upper shoe, LaHaie recommends one with technical uppers that doesn't retain water. "Look for something that drains and breathes well," says Ritcey.
Trail running shoes should fit a half size bigger than your typical shoes, says LaHaie, because going downhill tends to smash your toes. "You can wear two pairs of socks for longer races - that gives you more cushioning and prevents your toes from being crushed," he says.
Finally, don't judge a shoe by its price. "A cheap shoe is not necessarily worse than a more expensive shoe," says Ritcey.
Hydration is key to your success in finishing a trail race, says Clement Dumont, a top local trail runner with the HOKA/2XU team.
"Some runners prefer a waist pack that holds a bottle, while others a vest or backpack with a bladder. The latter allows you to drink more often without effort, while bottles can be refilled faster at the aid stations," he says. "You need to try both to decide which hydration system you prefer."
Some of the popular brands of hydration packs include CamelBak, Hydrapak, Mountain Hardwear, Nathan, Osprey, Raidlight, Salomon, The North Face, Ultimate Direction and UltrAspire. Each brand has models from minimalist handhelds to large capacity packs for long distance or multi-day events.
"Consider the distance of the race, your physical ability, the weather conditions and how much you can carry. It's a matter of personal preference," says LaHaie. "Look at the pack design and accessibility of pockets. Ensure there's nothing compressing on your diaphragm so that you can breathe better."
Increasingly, brands are offering hydration vests in sizes so the bag fits snugly on the body. But Ritcey says some people don't like the close fit of a vest and prefer to have a traditional hydration backpack. Such packs tend to be more affordable than vests, so are better if you're starting out or on a budget.
LaHaie owns seven backpacks and five waist packs, but his preference is a waist pack that can hold one 750ml water bottle.
For short races, Dumont prefers to have a bladder with enough water to last the distance so he doesn't need a refill stop. For a long distance race, he prefers a vest with bottle holders on the front straps to allow for different fluids (salty in one bottle and sweet in the other).
Ritcey likes to keep his hands free when running, and so avoids handheld hydration systems. He prefers to use a waist pack that can hold one water bottle for shorter races that offer an aid station every hour. For longer races or races with fewer aid stations, he uses a vest with room for a bladder and snacks.
NICE TO HAVE
Running tights: Whether long or short, they can help prevent chafing, which is a common problem among distance runners.
Lightweight packable jacket: to shield you from wind, rain and unpredictable mountain weather.
Multifunctional bandana: this long tube of cloth is highly versatile - put it on your head, around the arms or use it to cover your neck on a cold day.
Sports nutrition: you can get by with normal food, but sport-specific nutrition in the form of bars, gels, tablets and powders tend to be more convenient and could be easier on the stomach.
Trekking poles: these could be a lifesaver up steep inclines and treacherous descents. But consider the trade off between the benefits and the hassle of carrying them.
GPS watch: great for tracking your route, distance, speed and elevation gain on the trails. But a free mobile phone app that uses your phone's GPS, such as Strava, could work too.
Sports earphones: water-resistant ones if you can't live without music.
Sunglasses: to protect the eyes from sunrays and dust.
Watch: How to get the most out of trail running in Hong Kong