To the casual observer, a triathlon seems like a torture fest. It's an exhausting combination of swimming, cycling and running, interrupted by a flurry of transitions.
But that hasn't fazed the thousands of Hongkongers who take part in triathlons each year. Hong Kong's triathlon association has 2,500 members and is growing, says Fenella Ng, executive committee member of the Hong Kong Triathlon Association.
"Membership has increased by around 10 per cent every year since 2008. We now have 31 affiliated clubs and the HK ITU and Age-Group race held annually at Disneyland has a sell-out capacity of 2,000 entries," she says.
"There is a growing participation across the board: children, adults, corporate relay and, more recently, the introduction of the para-triathlon."
Joining a triathlon club is a great way to become acquainted with the local fraternity, get coaching and find training buddies. Here are a few that are making waves in Hong Kong's triathlon scene - and details on how you can become part of it.
Striking a balance between scientific training and having fun is the philosophy of the Tritons Triathlon Club. Founded in 2008 by former Olympians Annemarie Munk, Fenella Ng and Michael Tse, the club is firmly rooted in performance.
"We pride ourselves on top quality coaching and education, as well as providing a balanced approach to suit athletes of all calibres," says Tse, a performance coach. "We provide an environment where we really want our members to learn to improve to reach their goals."
Most of the Tritons train together through the club's affiliated triathlon training programme based at the Institute of Human Performance at University of Hong Kong's Pok Fu Lam campus. The partnership provides members with access to coaching, scientific testing, seminars and performance clinics.
But there's also a seriously social side to the group, with many get-togethers held throughout the year. Training, socialising, and travelling to training camps and races add to the camaraderie, says Ng, the swimming coach and club president.
"The Tritons really train and compete hard, but having fun is also a big part of it," she says.
"Being part of a triathlon team is very rewarding in terms of support from teammates, and it's a great way to meet like-minded people," adds Tse, who believes it's the club atmosphere that drives the Tritons' success.
"Our club consistently ranks among the top few age-group teams in Hong Kong and many of our members succeed at international age-group triathlons of all distances from the Olympics to Ironman."
Most of the Tritons' 200 members are professionals in their 30s and 40s; they are a driven lot who all have one thing in common: a hunger for improvement. "Most of our members are extremely motivated and want to achieve something," says Tse. "But ultimately, it's not only about the podium; it's about individuals challenging themselves to be the best they can be."
HOPE SPORT ASSOCIATION
Inspired by the 2008 Beijing Olympics, lifelong friends Marie-Christine Lee and Linda Cheng established the Sports For Hope Foundation to support the next generation of young athletes. Funded by the foundation, the Hope Sport Association offers a quality triathlon training schedule for underprivileged children.
"We believe in giving everyone the equal opportunity to explore their potential despite their financial situation," says head coach Lewis Lam.
Open to any child aged between eight and 16, the initiative includes a subsidised training programme, with access to equipment and gear.
Technical ability is not a prerequisite to join. "We can train them to be able to take part in triathlons," Lam says. "The most important thing is that they are interested in sport and, in particular, triathlons."
Hope Sport triathletes can train up to six days a week at venues in Kowloon Tong and Sha Tin and regularly take part in local competitions. Thirty children they trained took part in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 10-kilometre race this year.
"Youngsters have so much potential in sport," says Lam. "They have the time and energy to be developed, both physically and mentally.
"The most significant improvement I see in the children is in their mental strength, followed by physical strength. They're more positive after training and feel more confident." (Membership subject to interview.)
SONIC TRIATHLON GROUP
The Sonic Sports Association is more like a family than a triathlon group, says club secretary Charles Hui.
"We train together, race together, travel overseas together and even eat together - you often see each other more than your family members," adds fellow club secretary Gigi Leung.
Co-founded 10 years ago by ex-national triathlete Kenneth Yip and distance runner Kent Wong, Sonic began as a way to offer high-performance training in the heart of the city.
"I wanted to share triathlon with the office guys," says Yip. "They work long hours, so I wanted them to be able to practise and benefit from my experience training as an elite triathlete in a convenient location."
Back then, Sonic comprised only 10 beginners. Today, the club boasts 150 registered members, 50 of which train actively, and 10 junior athletes from the National B Squad trained by Yip.
Two times a week, they train at the Wan Chai sports complex in both running and swimming. The weekends are dedicated to cycling and brick training (combining the different sports together in one intense workout) in Shek O.
"It's a combination of beginners, those looking for fitness and those looking to train up for races," says Hui. "We are a very friendly club, very easy-going," he adds. "It's about self-improvement and having fun - performance comes second. However, when we do well, we celebrate."
It's a modest approach for a club which ranked seventh in performance among Hong Kong's 30 triathlon clubs last year. Almost all members found out about the club through word of mouth. "My old coach and a friend who was a member recommended it to me," says new member Jonathan Zamora. "I work near Wan Chai and the cost was reasonable, so I thought it all made sense. I'm really enjoying it."
26 COACHING - YOUTH DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME
Leading the way in elite triathlon training and youth development is 26 Coaching. The brainchild of national triathlete and former U23 Asian champion Andrew Wright, the organisation has really made a mark on the triathlon scene in Hong Kong since it was established a year ago.
Wright offers elite training to a handful of clients, including Kate Rutherford and Olaf Kasten, the best non-professional "age-groupers" in Asia, as well as youth training for 100 children, up to seven days a week.
"The community aspect is a huge thing. It's a great atmosphere and everyone's pushing for great results," he says. Wright is joined on his coaching team by Rutherford and Zeco Wan.
Plugging what Wright considers a huge gap in youth triathlon training on Hong Kong Island, he recently established a fully supported Youth Development Squad. His intention is to turn his hand-picked athletes into future Olympians. They train with Wright up to seven days a week, free of charge, and are also offered kits and nutrition sponsors.
"There's some unbelievable talent here in Hong Kong," says Wright. "I think people here push very hard from a young age. There's that kind of mentality - when they do something, they really apply themselves."
Wright's selection represents not just the best, but the most committed young triathletes in the city. "Some people are naturally talented, but that will only take you to a certain level. If you look at any triathlete who is any good, they will be training a lot."
At present, there are seven athletes on the programme, and Wright would like to see the number grow.
"We'd like to grow the programme to as big as we can. We wanted to cap it at 10, but our main goal is to build young local athletes who can compete at an international level. The more the better, as long as the commitment is there."