So tough to meet an epic Hong Kong challenge
Local runner completes four trails over 62 hours - the only finisher in an event organisers hope to expand next New Year
So Lok Vic is the new face of perseverance. Over the Lunar New Year, he ran the MacLehose, Wilson, Hong Kong and Lantau trails, non-stop, over three days - 298 kilometres in 62 hours and 10 minutes.
Known as the "Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge", it was not a race, but an exercise in realising the impossible, No prize or medal marked So's achievement, but as the tireless runner sprinted to the postbox outside Mui Wo Ferry Pier, an inconspicuous finishing marker, on Sunday night, he was rewarded by the cheers of fellow runners and friends - and the glory of knowing he'd done it.
"Taking part was about breaking through my limitations and enjoying the pain - and the joy - of long-distance running," said 39-year-old So, an investment adviser.
"I am just a very ordinary runner," said a humble So, who completed the Vibram Hong Kong 100 just two weeks previously in under 14 hours. "When I started, I had never run further than 100 km. I knew that every step after that is my new personal record."
Local ultra runner Andre Blumberg envisioned running all four of the city's ultra trails consecutively three years ago. Over Lunar New Year 2012, he did it in four days. Unsatisfied, he set a three-day target last year and invited other diehards to take part; Singaporean Ong Kai Wei and Hong Kong's Law Chor-kin also completed the feat. This year, he put out a call for the ultimate test: in reverse order (which is deemed harder), non-stop in 60 hours and self-supported.
Along with So, five other bold runners rose to the challenge - Dmitry Lysenko from New York, Anders Kartik Jensen from Singapore, Phyllis Neriah Tsang from Toronto and local runners Tina Gilbert and Dominic Rigby. One by one they succumbed to the unseasonably hot weather. But not So.
"On the first day, I still wasn't sure whether I'd complete it," said So. "But there were people everywhere along the course. They wouldn't let me quit."
"He's one tough b*****d," said Blumberg on the event's Facebook page. "This boy can suffer, remember his name."
Several runners provided much-needed company along the way, but none as much as Rigby, who ran the first 150km with So and skipped a second night's sleep to complete a further 50km.
"I just started to keep Vic company," says Rigby, 40, an accountant in the finance industry. "I feel privileged to have been a part.
"I think he is the only person I know who would be able to pull it off as he has the endurance and the tenacity … he's known to continue to do crazy distances in the heat and humidity after everyone else had all stopped."
So admitted: "I wanted to quit many times. Every time I saw a taxi, I wanted to jump in it."
Coaxed by noodles, the encouragement of Blumberg's wife, Patchanida Pongsubkarun, and the other runners, he continued, step by step.
"The first night I was OK but by the second night I completely forgot what I was doing. If it wasn't for my supporters, I would have fallen asleep. "When I was suffering, I reminded myself of my personal motto: 'It does not matter how slow you go so long as you do not stop'."
Although So had not prepared specifically for the challenge, he is a well-trained ultra runner who logs hundreds of kilometres a month.
"It is achievable for most people who love a challenge… but I don't recommend any runners do it without any good preparation and training," he said.
Next year, Blumberg has moved the event to begin on New Year's Day, to enable more local runners to take part.
"This event is not for everyone. It is very demanding. Completing this challenge will reset your perceived limits and be with you for a very long time," said Blumberg.
"For the 2015 challenge, we expect at least two dozen serious participants, with more than half from overseas," he said. "It makes Hong Kong Asia's world city for ultra endurance trail running."
Watch: Extreme workout - the art of trail running in Hong Kong