Of the 647 participants who sought medical help yesterday, it's a surprise Alison Chow Chi-ngan was not one of them. The 32-year-old defied the odds to finish as Hong Kong's leading woman in the marathon - five weeks after having knee surgery.
Chow had a cyst removed after suffering acute pain and then had to fight "mental illusions" to finish in two hours, 52 minutes and 56 seconds. It placed her sixth out of the 14 top runners in the Asian Marathon Championships, run concurrently with the marathon, and more importantly secured her elite funding at the Sports Institute as she pursues a dream of representing Hong Kong at the Olympics.
Chow showed her toughness by resuming training only one week after the surgery.
"I did a 35km pre-race trial in Sha Tin alone. It was so difficult and tiring but I knew if I couldn't overcome it I wouldn't be able to finish today's distance. And I completed the trial in the end," said Chow. "I had worked hard before and I am familiar with the running rhythm. I am glad I could get this ranking as the Hong Kong route is really hard."
The 2010 Asian championships bronze medallist said she wanted to give up at the half-way point. "Tiredness almost beat me. My strategy was to keep telling myself that the signals of running out of energy were only mental illusions and I am capable of finishing the race. I kept my pacing and the strategy worked well."
The Hong Kong team runner was a secondary school teacher before she turned full-time pro in 2010 to try to qualify for last year's Olympics.She failed to win a ticket to London but joined forces with former Hong Kong team head coach Paul Wright and also took up a teaching post at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.
Wright, who left his post at the Sports Institute in November and now coaches in the United States, still assists Chow by sending her programmes. Wright flew to Hong Kong to support Chow and his former charges yesterday and was most impressed with Chow's resilience.
"With her finish [fifth out of 14] in this Asian championships, Alison has secured her elite funding for the coming year," said Wright, "Even though this race's ranking doesn't guarantee her a place in the Asian Games next year, she has more than a year and a half to achieve good times and impress the SFOC [Sports Federation & Olympic Committee], which is responsible for selection."
North Korea Kim Kum-ok won her third Asian championships title and finished third overall in 2:32:21, while Mongolian Bat-Ochir Ser-Od was the top Asian male (2:17:56].