Bored with Bowen Road runs? Craving a little adventure? Try the Bonaqua Mountain Hardwear Action Sprint series.
Now in its 10th year, the annual series - the brainchild of Action Asia Events director Michael Maddess - has built up a strong following of fitness enthusiasts looking for fun that literally takes them off the beaten track. Think scrambling over rocky outcrops, scurrying down river gullies, climbing up steep hills and down waterfalls, ocean swims and pounding dirt trails.
'A lot of these sections just throw people completely outside their comfort zone, which is what we want to do - but only to give them a taste of adventure,' says Maddess. 'They will overcome these obstacles and the satisfaction will kick in after the race.'
Participation has grown from about 100-plus people per race to a field capacity of 400 (for safety's sake). The series, says Maddess, was created because people asked for a shorter version of the Action Asia Challenge Adventure Race, which involves some 50 kilometres of trail running, mountain biking, ocean kayaking, rock scrambling, orienteering and rope skills. Many people couldn't find the time to train for such a long, technically demanding race.
'They loved the idea of something adventure-related to get their mind off work,' says Maddess.
Mark Western, 45, started competing in the series three years ago and has finished on the podium in a few races. Here are some of his tips on taking part.
1. Do a recce
If you want to do well, you need to know the course beforehand. A good mental map of the course can translate into a smart and effective race strategy. For slower runners, knowing the course will cut at least 15 to 20 minutes off your overall time, and five to 10 minutes for the faster runners.
2. Quality over quantity
When it comes to training, my personal philosophy is less is more. I train only twice a week. I make sure those two sessions are run at close to race pace - involve some big hills where I really push myself - and are done exclusively on the trail. I find that if I really push myself, I need at least one or two days to fully recover - which is paramount.
3. Travel light
It's just a sprint, so you don't need three litres of water, six energy gels, two bananas and/or any other gear. Keep it simple, travel light - your time will reflect it. The same goes for your choice of shoes - try to find a light pair of trail running shoes. I do all trail races in my super-light road runners.
4. Build mental toughness
Develop your ability to ignore pain. The next time you're grinding your way up a hillside and your thigh muscles feel like they're sizzling on a barbecue, ask yourself: 'Can I endure this pain and keep moving?' Of course you can. The human body is an amazing machine. Just keep pushing it and it'll get easier.
5. Nurture the tummy
I try to get away with eating and drinking as little as possible before and during a race. I figure the more food and fluid I've got bouncing around in my belly, the less efficient I am. In fact, there was an article in Outside magazine a couple of months ago on 'The 6 Biggest Nutrition Mistakes' and one mistake was eating too many solid foods directly before or during a race. The article said: 'Solid foods are typically less nutrient-rich than liquid fuel, plus they take more energy to process. You can perform almost indefinitely on liquid fuel.'
Other nutrition titbits to consider: hydrate heavily the day before a race, and eat your pre-race meal at least two to three hours before the start gun goes off.
6. Massage thy muscles
Over the past year or so I've learned the importance and effectiveness of self-massage the night before a race. I spend 15 to 20 minutes working my thigh and calf muscles, making sure the fibres are loose and soft and there are no knots. It works wonders.
The sprint series starts on March 4 in Repulse Bay, then heads to Mui Wo (April 1), Sai Kung (April 15) and Discovery Bay (May 6). Fees start from HK$220 per race. For more details, go to www.actionasiaevents.com