The Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, which started in 1997 with a humble 1,000 runners, has grown into a running festival for the city, with 73,000 racers expected to take part next year. To celebrate the city's passion for the sport, we'll be featuring one inspirational local runner each week until the race on February 16.
For years Zara Horner ran to keep fit, healthy and the extra pounds at bay. But running gained a new purpose seven years ago when she faced a heart-wrenching diagnosis that her seven-year-old had an aggressive form of throat cancer.
Horner, a personal trainer, found solace in her long runs, as well as the strength to fight back against the illness ravaging her only son’s body. In 2009, she ran the 50 kilometre Greenpower Hike and raised HK$112,000 in the process.
Her son, Hugo, has been cancer-free for five years. To celebrate, Horner raced a total of 131 kilometres last month: a 100 kilometre trail race in Nepal, and a half-marathon and 10k in Hong Kong. She has raised HK$76,000 out of her HK$300,000 goal for Kidscan, a children’s cancer research charity.
For the last three months I’ve logged between 70 and 110 kilometres a week on the road and trails. It has been really hard and really lonely, and honestly I can’t say I have enjoyed it too much as I am not as fit or strong as I have been or would like to be. It has been a real slog with lots of pain and injury. But I kept saying to myself: “Pain is weakness leaving your body.”
I started running when I hit 40; running seemed the easiest way to maintain fitness. I am not a natural runner, but after conquering the treadmill and doing a couple of road races, I hit the trails and my love affair with trail running began. I never run with music; I thoroughly enjoy having to be completely present. It is almost zen-like for me. I still participate in 10 kilometre races and half-marathons on the road, but longer trail runs is where my heart lies.
My favourite place to run is stage one to five of the MacLehose trail.
I schedule my runs to make sure I get my training in. I actually write in my diary when, where and how long I will run. That’s an appointment I don’t break. I tell my clients that you are no good to your family sick or unwell. You owe it to your loved ones to be the healthiest and happiest you can be.
I have never experienced instant bonding in the way I have with running. Last year I trained eight ladies to do the Mount Kinabalu trail in Malaysia. After making it to the summit [at 4,095 metres], we descended via ferrata [a type of climbing via steel cables] in what was dubbed “extreme conditions”. Bringing people together with completely different levels of fitness, goals and personalities, achieving so much and having such fun while we did it – that will stay with me forever.
I run for more than just fitness. I love the camaraderie and the connection you make when running with someone or in a group. When running on my own I love feeling the mind-body connection, putting myself to the test and not letting myself down.
My first thought on completion of my 131-kilometre goal was of thanks: to the nurses and doctors at the hospital who helped Hugo and continue to help the children and their families battling this awful disease; to my friends and family for their unstinting love and support and especially thanks for Hugo and my husband Steve, the loves of my life.
If I didn’t run I would walk until I felt like running again.
Donate to Horner’s GottaBeMad project