No slowing Frank Pilkington as he competes in Action Sprint Trail Series

The 75-year-old grandfather was the eldest participant in the race at Discovery Bay, finishing the 13-km mixed-terrain race in two hours, 19 minutes and five seconds, while Seth Fischer and Joyce Edmondson win the men’s and women’s races respectively

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 April, 2017, 5:34pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 April, 2017, 11:04pm

Most people tend to slow down in old age, but not Frank Pilkington. At 75 years of age, the Irish grandfather is training for trail running more seriously than he’s ever had. Sunday morning, he was the eldest participant at the C3fit Bonaqua Action Sprint Trail Series race at Discovery Bay on Lantau Island, finishing the 13-kilometre mixed-terrain race in two hours, 19 minutes and five seconds.

Pilkington may have crossed the line about 50 minutes behind race winner Seth Fischer (1:29:10) and about 30 minutes behind women’s champion Joyce Edmondson (1:48:16), but it was still an awesome performance from the elderly gentleman considering most of us at 75 would be happy to just be healthy and pain-free.

Remarkably, Pilkington, a long-time resident of Hong Kong, only started to get serious about trail running in recent years.

“I started running in 1983 and did my first marathon in Macau in 1985. I started to train more seriously when I was 70, and now I don’t know when I’m going to stop,” he said. “Trail running for me is just the sheer joy of being up in the mountain and being able to feel the freedom, the air and the green bushes and trees, even the birds. Hong Kong has a lot of birds and so full of wild lives. You would not notice them unless you are in the mountains.”

Though he has raced in different countries, Pilkington is especially fond of Hong Kong trails. “I don’t think I would have started trail running if I wasn’t in Hong Kong,” he said. “Hong Kong is so full of fantastic trails and once you find them, you always want to go back. You will never want to stop trail running in Hong Kong – especially when you reach the finish line and you have a few beers and a few laughs and jokes with your friends.”

Pilkington, who retired 15 years ago, sometimes does races together with his grandchildren. What’s the secret to his youthful energy? “I train hard but my secret is to rest well two days before the races,” he said. “I was working in the Architecture Department and just like any other job, you just must stop working sometimes and make time to get into the mountains as much as you can.”

Race winner Fischer, a native of Israel who has been living in Hong Kong for 13 years, also shared his fondness for trail running in Hong Kong. He runs daily on the trails near his mid-levels home on Hong Kong Island.

“Hong Kong has a great trail running scene and Action Asia Events always organises great events to get you to different places in Hong Kong. Every weekend there’s a race around town so it’s a lot of fun for me,” said Fischer, whose win was his first in a couple of years.

Brian Mcflynn, from Ireland, was second in 1:33:43, repeating his second-placed finish at the Sprint series opener at Repulse Bay nine days earlier. “It was a good test today again. The uphill was quite tough and it was very challenging on the downhills,” he said. “I liked finishing with the water section. At one stage, the water was nearly up to my knees and it gave my legs a nice cold dive. It is such a lovely section because it freshened up my legs for the last couple of kilometres. Also, Discovery Bay is a good test with good hills and mixed with very good terrain. I really enjoyed this experience.”

Third place went to local runner Ho Hoi-to (1:37:40), who has been competing in trail running for about 10 years. “I love the Sprint series races. The course is diversified where you can experience different kinds of trails in one race, such as mountain, beach, stone road, reef, pebbles, etc. I also miss the former course, which is more exciting, as you will jump into the sea at the beginning of the race,” said Ho. “Trail running is an important part of my life, as it helps in getting away from the busy work, and also makes me more confident when I am facing challenges.”

Among the women, Discovery Bay resident Joyce Edmondson of Canada came first in 1:48:16. It was her fourth straight year competing in the Discovery Bay race and her second champion title. She said: “It’s a good race. It’s nice to be around my own community and to have the family here to support. I also know many of the competitors very well. My favourite part was the stairs as it’s like my backyard and I’m very familiar with it.”

Last leg’s champion at Repulse Bay, Swiss runner Magdalena Cvetkovic, grabbed second place (1:55:08). She said: “I love the course and I used to live in Discovery Bay. That used to be my regular training road.”

Only 20 seconds after Cvetkovic, Japanese runner Jinko Takeshige crossed the line in third (1:55:28). “I was fourth last year, so I’m satisfied with my time. I have been enjoying trail running for five years. I also do lots of different exercises and cross training. I dance, do yoga and other exercises,” said Takeshige.

The nine-year-old girl, Sofie Salgado from Brazil, who stole the limelight at Repulse Bay race continued to shine at Sunday’s Discover Bay race. With the time 2:49:52 recorded, the girl took the crown in female junior category again.