Ivan Li gains strength after being robbed while training in Kenya
Young athlete learns expensive life lesson during camp for high-altitude running
Ivan Li Chun-yin is so determined to make the podium in the senior 10km at tomorrow's Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon that he spent almost two months in Kenya to prepare - and as well as boosting his fitness, he learned an expensive lesson in being wary of strangers in a foreign country.
The 19-year-old from Chai Wan, who won the junior half-marathon at last year's event, graduated with a foundation diploma in business at IVE Chai Wan last summer. He was given an opportunity by Ivan Lo Ching-hin, a triathlete in the Hong Kong team, to train in Africa.
"Coach Lo has connections with the Robertson brothers, Zane and Jake, both top runners from New Zealand who base themselves in Kenya for high-altitude training.
They agreed to coach and take care of me and I could train with their running group," said Li, who gave up the chance to study sports administration at IVE to head to Iten in December, a town with an altitude of 2,400m where many of the world's best long-distance runners train.
But the education came at a hefty price after an amateur runner from Somalia took advantage of the naive youngster.
"I was not alert enough and this guy from the same running group was trying to make friends with me. At first he always accompanied me to town and in January he partnered with a policeman to assist me to get back what he claimed was 'overpaid rent' at the guest house," said Li.
"But in the end, I was forced to pay them 60,000 shillings, which is about HK$6,000, to settle this incident. I knew that if I didn't give them money I and my two coaches would go to jail."
Li thought about returning to Hong Kong, but with support from his coach and elder sister managed to get over his depression. He looks back positively at his training stint.
"I met runners from Germany, Canada and Finland at the training base. The Chinese women's national team was also there for winter training. I observed the way they train and saw how much effort they paid to be the world's best," said Li, who learned new drills and built up confidence and stamina under the Robertson brothers' tutelage.
"I feel the pressure as many have high expectations for me after my intensive training and I don't want to have excuses.
"I didn't have a 10km trial in Kenya before I headed back to Hong Kong as the roads there are bumpy. But with my current condition, I aim to finish close to 32 minutes. That will give me a chance to stand on the podium."
The young runner's key rivals on the day will be Clinton Mackevicius, the defending champion, runner-up local elite Chan Ka-ho and Jeffrey Tang Ho-fai, the Hong Kong 10km junior record holder.