A rare sight will be witnessed in Hong Kong on Sunday morning – a mass public gathering. Such events have disappeared since the outbreak of Covid-19 amid tight social-distancing measures. But thousands will proceed through the heart of the city with a common purpose. Their aim will be to complete their race in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, preferably in a personal best time. All being well, I will be among them. The return of this iconic sporting event is welcome, marking another step in the city’s recovery. Last year’s race was cancelled less than two weeks before it was due to be held. This year’s event, originally scheduled for January, was then postponed. This time, there will be strict government requirements. The 18,500 runners permitted compares to 74,000 entries when the race was last run in 2019. There will be none from overseas. All competitors must be fully vaccinated and have taken a Covid test. An online health questionnaire must be completed and masks are to be worn before and after the race. I found the pre-race procedures very smooth and efficient. In addition to the gruelling 42km marathon, there is a half marathon and five 10km races. Even the course of the 10km, my event, has changed to limit Covid risks. It will start in West Kowloon and end in Central, ensuring all races follow the same route. Huge boost for city sport as Hong Kong Marathon gets go-ahead Previously, the 10km runners have dragged their weary legs up and down the Island Eastern Corridor, a less exciting route. But running that course in the predawn race, as I have in the past, with the moon casting its light on the harbour, was a magical experience. I am sure running in the daylight will be just as exhilarating. I hope all the runners are fully prepared. Three participants have died since 2015 and 29 were admitted to hospital last time. The organisers send out training tips and health warnings which need to be taken seriously. My preparations have been disrupted by a nagging calf injury. I underwent an annual health check this month and also got the go-ahead from my physiotherapist last week. But I will be taking it easy this time. One of the joys of running is that it provides an escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life. Sadly, though, there was no escaping dire warnings about the national security law. It is the first marathon since the sweeping legislation was introduced by Beijing. Race organisers said at a briefing last week it was not their job to vet runners to see if they are displaying politically sensitive slogans. They pointed out they are not a law-enforcement agency and would “focus only on sporting aspects”. What else are they to do? Hong Kong Marathon warns runners against breaking law with political slogans But this was not enough for the government, which appears to have pressured them into issuing a statement expressed in the sort of strident terms frequently used by officials. It said the organisers “strongly condemn” anyone using the marathon to convey political messages and there would be “zero tolerance” for breaches of the law. The run is not a speeded-up version of the July 1 march. It is a sporting event. Some pro-democracy competitors have, in the past, worn yellow to reflect their political stance. This time, there appears to be concern about stickers reading “add oil Hong Kong”, a popular slogan during the civil unrest of 2019. This is how politically correct Hong Kong has become. Is the government really so insecure it has to fret over allegedly subversive sports apparel? I wish my fellow runners a safe and successful race. Let them run free. The marathon provides a rare opportunity to put aside the troubles of the past two years and focus purely on competing, enduring and meeting the challenges the event poses. I love the atmosphere the race creates, a rare mix of fun, excitement, friendly competition and togetherness. It is uplifting and reflects the true spirit of Hong Kong.