Endurance athletes try to break three hours in swimming and running
'Cold Standard' competitors hope to break the magic mark in both disciplines by finishing a 10km swim then the marathon
In marathon swimming and running, the magic number is three: a sub-three-hour 10-kilometre swim is as elusive as a sub-three-hour 42-kilometre run. The athlete who nails them both? Unheard of - until now.
The Sub-3 squared Marathon Club unites endurance athletes who have done those times in a calendar year. Steven Munatones, of the World Open Water Swimming Association, proposed the challenge in 2012 and no-one has yet been able to claim membership.
But that is set to change this weekend when five hardy souls take on the world's first Sub-3 squared Marathon event in Hong Kong - the "Cold Standard", comprising at least 10 kilometres of the Cold Half open-water swim on Saturday, followed by the Standard Chartered Marathon on Sunday.
"Usually, an athlete who's great at running isn't great at swimming," says organiser Doug Woodring.
"I could easily do the swim, for example, but not the run."
Locals Chris Molnar, Alexandre Reinert and Henry Wright, together with internationals Chad Bishop from Singapore and Tobias Frenz from Malaysia, are taking part.
"It's a little mad," admits Wright, 26, who won the Cold Half relay together with Hong Kong Olympic swimmer Hannah Wilson last year. Completing the feat will represent an opportunity for him to "step up" in a sporting family - older brothers Andrew and Mark are Hong Kong national athletes in triathlon and rugby sevens respectively.
"I felt I haven't really pushed myself to do anything until now," he says. "I thought I had to pick a challenge that was a little extreme. And I was just a little bored, to be honest; I was looking for something exciting."
The weekend will be one of firsts for Wright - he's never swum farther than eight kilometres and his longest training run has been 30km. He has decided to use a charity as the prime motivation to make it to the finish and aims to raise over HK$30,000 for Hong Kong Dog Rescue.
"I might be in for a big surprise … but even if I get injured, I'm going to make sure I finish."
German Frenz placed third in the inaugural Cold Half swim last year in four hours and 59 minutes and is no stranger to endurance challenges.
He has completed multiday ultra-marathons in the desert, and several Ironman competitions. He regards the weekend events as a warm-up for next year, when he plans to swim the English Channel, but only after running from London to Dover. And he then intends to cycle to Paris.
Based on last year's time, Frenz will have to be more than 20 minutes faster in the swim to reach his goal - and then get up the next day and knock off a fast marathon.
The gruelling swim also features "The Wall", a section of waves off Stanley Peninsula that allows swimmers - if conditions are right - to bodysurf downwind. Either way, it will be "a hell of a ride", says Wilson, 26.
"It's the most frustrating part of the swim, it feels like you're not going anywhere. But once you get past that, it's really nice."
Together with Kevin Chow, Wilson aims to break the relay record (which she holds with Wright) this year, although the duo face tough competition from young local swimmers and Olympic hopefuls Fiona Chan On-yi and Singha Chau.
Although not game for the Cold Standard, Wilson will also run the 10 kilometre race tomorrow.
"I don't think I could hack a marathon," admits the Olympian. "I'm a swimmer, not a runner. I find it very difficult."
Fifty swimmers have signed up for the second edition of the Cold Half, including three-time German National 25km champion Benjamin Konschak and global-channel swimmer Ned Denison.
Ireland's Denison was recently admitted to the Open Water Swimming Hall of Fame, and with nine epic marathon channel swims, was nominated for the 2013 World Open Water Performance of the Year.