Hongkonger, 70, is ready for his 16th Trailwalker 100km race. And he volunteers to clean up the trail
Ultra runner Raymond Lo passes on his experience and techniques to younger athletes to help them run safely, and so he can avoid becoming ‘a lonely old man’. The retired architect tells us his nine tips for ageing well
For many people, running a 10-kilometre race is a triumph. But for 70-year-old Raymond Lo, it is just a warm-up. On Friday, he’ll be taking part in the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km race – for the 16th time.
Lo’s endurance is impressive, not simply because of his age. The last eight times he completed this annual fundraising event, run across the hills of Hong Kong’s New Territories, he joined the volunteer “mop-up” crews, returning to the course to pick up rubbish.
His maiden Trailwalker, in 2001, was the slowest, taking 33 hours after stopping a total of seven hours along the way. His fastest, in 2009, was 17 hours 12 minutes. This year, his team – Flying Geezers, with Yeung Wui Man, Kwok Chi Man and Tsui Pak Long – is targeting 20 to 22 hours.
The retired architect, who is also a marathoner, describes himself as a running addict, but he’s more than that. He uses his years of experience to teach novice runners the safe way to run long distances.
On a rainy Sunday morning in Tai Wai, Lo waits for his students to arrive. Friendly and welcoming, but impatient to begin, Lo teaches the basics inside the railway station until the bad weather passes.
Lo wants to stop people getting injured because of poor technique.
He diligently shows the newbies how to properly adjust their bag straps and how to best tie their shoes to stop getting blisters. He talks them through headlights and hiking poles. It’s more than just trekking.
Running to Lo, a level two reiki practitioner and student of traditional Chinese medicine, is almost spiritual. He combines his time on the trail with tai chi and mindfulness exercises. After seeing the documentary What The Health, he is also transitioning to a vegan lifestyle.
“Most of my friends are hikers, so that’s my social life,” he says.
Once the rain passes, the group heads out onto the trail. Lo drops his hips and knees so his tendons can absorb the impact of running. His students awkwardly try to copy, and waddle along behind as they settle into their new running positions. The runners go up and down steps and hills, all the while getting to grips with the required technique.
The slap of trainers rings out as the group heads up a staircase.
“Silence. Every time your shoe makes a sound, you are losing energy,” Lo declares. “We want to move forward. You are losing energy by moving up and down. Your torso must be still, and your feet silent.”
Why did you decide to start teaching running techniques?
Seeing people getting injured … complaining about knee injuries. I was doing it correctly, so that’s why I started. I found the technique on my own, through experience.
Do you consider yourself a role model?
Some people, my friends, when they introduce me, they say I’m their mentor. I wouldn’t say that, but if people want to emulate me, then I won’t complain. I want them to be healthy, so they live long and can be my friends when we are old. I don’t want to be a lonely old man.
You went back out onto the course the last few times you finished Trailwalker to pick up rubbish?
My hiking group (Hong Kong Hiking Meetup) is the official cleaner for Trailwalker. The group rents a hostel near the finish line, and rest there before going back out over the last 13km to clear up. It’s active recovery. By walking, and bending or stretching to pick up the rubbish, we recover much quicker than just sitting at home.
We started going back out to collect directional signs on the route in 2008, and in 2009, the clean-up started. The volunteers from my hiking group are conscientious and will not litter. We regularly organise trail or beach clean ups, and sometimes wait at the entrance to trails to talk to people about littering and support the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department’s drive to keep trails clean.
Many trail runners talk about a transcendent experience when running – do you hold any beliefs around running such as it balancing your life?
When I run I actually fall into a trance. I’m half in and half out of consciousness. It can be dangerous.
I was once in a trance and as a result I jaywalked. A car hit me in the thigh. I could feel myself fly into the air, hit the bonnet then land on the hard ground. I knew what was happening, but I didn’t feel anything.
I got up without a scratch. The driver was more scared than I was. The trances began around 2008, when I was at my peak physical condition and winning all the races in my age category.
Why are you running Trailwalker again?
I’ve become addicted to it. Every year is different. I’d like to do it as fast as possible, and it’s become a benchmark for how quickly I’m deteriorating.
How has your approach to Trailwalker changed with age?
I have to go slower and not take risks, like jumping from boulder to boulder. I make sure I don’t lift my back leg until my front foot is firmly planted on the ground.
What advice do you have for first-time Trailwalkers?
Check your ego at home before you start. Be flexible about your target time and be ready to adjust if anything unexpected happens. Resolve problems amicably and be tolerant and accommodating towards each other. Instead of looking towards the finish line, break the route into short sections and look forward to each landmark or checkpoint.
Lo’s nine tips for ageing well
1. Remain active, physically and mentally.
2. Have a positive attitude, even under adverse conditions.
3. Never stop learning, and be willing to explore unfamiliar subjects.
4. Keep a social circle with like-minded people.
5. Befriend people of all ages, from children to those older than yourself.
6. Eat a healthy, mostly plant-based, diet.
7. Have faith, religious or otherwise.
8. Live a disciplined and balanced life, with time divided equally between work, sleep and leisure.
9. Do the right thing without looking for rewards.