Off and running – minorities, recovering addicts and the underprivileged benefit from Hong Kong Streetathon
More than 10,000 runners are expected in Central in August in an event designed to promote running in the city
Furqan Ur-Rehman knew that to become part of Hong Kong society he would have to integrate. So when the sports-loving ethnic Pakistani was urged to join the Youth ROC social group, he jumped at the chance.
Within a year, the 19-year-old had become a competent runner, improved his Cantonese and forged friendships with others from the fringes of society, including those who were battling addictions.
The programme has blown open the doors to a possible career in sports and his case represents one of the many positive outcomes of the Youth ROC concept – a creation of social enterprise RunOurCity, which stages the Streetathon festival in Central that this year expands into a nine-day event climaxing in a 5km race.
“In the past I had difficulty with the language but after spending time with them I learned what the main language skills were and that helps me to communicate much better.”
Youth ROC provides youngsters such as Furqan the chance to obtain the foundations of running, which they can take to higher levels should they wish.
The programme comprises eight lessons and by the end of the course, participants should be able to run 10 kilometres in 90 minutes or under.
“This enables them to compete in any international distance running event anywhere in the world,” said Andes Leung Pak-hang, co-founder of RunOurCity.
Leung said the youth programme is closely linked to the street festival from August 13-21 because one finances the other.
“We started this as a social enterprise to train young people to run,” said Leung. “We believe running can encourage and train people to improve their physical health, perseverance, stamina and also confidence.
“That’s why we train our youth from 0km to 10km. This is a kind of stepping stone for future distance running. The Youth ROC programme caters to those who may be recovering from addictions, ethnic minorities, people who are in poverty and others who are underprivileged.
“But at the same time, we have to be financially sustainable so that’s why we have created this business in which we promote running to the people of Hong Kong.”
The result is Hong Kong Runningfest 2016, a nine-day thematic carnival of running that includes an expo, music, nutrition, running with workmates, exploring the back streets of Hong Kong island, a “ghost” run and ending with the Hong Kong Streetathon in Central on August 21.
More than 10,000 people are expected to take part throughout the nine days and while Leung wants participants to run their best, the focus is on convincing people to don a pair of running shoes and take to the streets.
“We want to help promote and nurture a running culture in Hong Kong,” said Leung, whose event enjoyed the support of thousands of runners and volunteers last year.
“This year we’ve developed the concept into a nine-day running event and created different aspects and perspectives so that it is something appealing to all walks of life in Hong Kong, including tourists.
“We are not promoting speed but more on participation, that’s why our distances are very short – 5km for the main race and 3km for the elderly. Although running is trending upwards in Hong Kong, there are more non-runners than runners and it’s difficult to make non-runners take up running.
“So, we want to encourage people to take part, 5km is not that long and is something that can be achieved. If they can complete 5km maybe it will spark something in them to continue running, so we are also promoting many of the fun aspects of running,” added Leung, who has competed in distance races and ultra-marathons across the world’s seven continents.
“You never know, it can be the foundation for where Hong Kong’s future runners start out.”
To make it less daunting for inexperienced runners, the event will have six water stations over 5km. International events require one station every 5km.
One of the more unusual events is the Ghostfest Run on August 16 when runners traipse through graveyards and shops selling death-related products.
“Death is a sensitive subject and this encourages people to think about it more because it’s very much part of life,” said Leung.
On a more lively note, participants can also sign up for the FOOL Marathon, which is the full marathon distance but takes in pedestrian routes through various parts of Hong Kong, starting and finishing in Central and including ferry and bus rides.
For Furqan, last year’s run was a eye-opening experience.
“I never experienced running outside of school and after this event I made a lot of friends,” he said. “I also improved my running with the coaches giving valuable advice on posture and running skills.”