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At 81, Hong Kong runner shows no sign of slowing down

  • Retired minibus driver Chau Wai-chuen, who regularly ran in full marathons until he was 76, first took up the activity nearly 40 years ago to boost his health
  • He is so passionate about running that he goes training whatever the weather – often three times a week – to prepare for 10,000-metre events each month
PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 3:22pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2018, 12:07pm

This article is part of a weekly series that dives deep into the small things that add character to our city, enrich our culture and make our lives beautiful.

Long-distance runner Chau Wai-chuen trains for his monthly races at the Happy Valley Recreation Ground, on Hong Kong Island, every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoon.

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When he gets there, usually after 4pm, he warms up and starts with a soft 10-minute jog, before embarking on a 10km (6.2-mile) run. That is 25 times around the track.

Chau is 81 years old, and has no plans to slow down.

“I don’t stop to take a break in the middle, he says. “When you run, you run … My coach used to say that you’ve lost the game once you start walking.”

I don’t stop to take a break in the middle. When you run, you run … My coach used to say that you’ve lost the game once you start walking
Chau Wai-chuen, 81, runner

Age is not a barrier to sporting achievement for the veteran Hong Kong athlete who has been running for almost 40 years.

He loves training in Happy Valley where he can also go running up and down the hilly streets and rough paths in the neighbourhood.

It is especially crucial for him to build physical resilience and mental toughness because he competes almost every month, not only in Hong Kong but also in different parts of mainland China.

Chau started running in 1979 for health reasons.

A minibus driver at the time, he felt dizzy whenever he knelt down to check the tyres and was having nasal and breathing problems.

He had started working as a teenager, doing restaurant chores and toiling on construction sites before becoming a sailor and later, when he was a minibus owner and driver, his body was worn out by the time he was 40.

Medication offered only temporary relief, so he tried to improve his health through jogging.

Once he started running, there was no turning back; he fell in love with it.

He also came to know a group of running mates.

Chau joined a sports association that offered training to its members and started entering competitions. He has never stopped competing since.

At last weekend’s Hong Kong Masters Athletics Championships 2018 he competed in six events – 100 metres, 200 metres, 400 metres, 800 metres, 5,000 metres and the 4 x100 metre relay.

Up until the age of 76, Chau was regularly competing in full marathons of 42km (26 miles).

When he was 75 he took part in a marathon in Thailand where he endured the stifling heat for seven hours.

“We started at 4am in the morning,” he says. “It was very hot by 8am.

“Some soldiers handed me water while others splashed water onto my head every 500 metres or 1,000 metres. I am very grateful.”

I run on very hot days ... when it gets cold and on rainy days ... you become energised as you run. It’s all about maintaining good habits
Chau Wai-chuen

He carries out his training with patience and enthusiasm and continues to push himself to the limit every time he competes.

Persistence and discipline are key parts of his fitness training.

For most of the past four decades he has been training by going running at least once a week.

“I run on very hot days when it’s 35 degrees or 36 degrees Celsius (95 degrees to 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit), or when it gets as cold as 8 or 10 degrees,” he says.

“On rainy days, I warm up a bit, splash a little water on my face and do some jumping and stretching before going out in the rain.

“I get soaked for over an hour, but I have got used to it.

“You become more energised as you run. It’s all about maintaining good habits.”

He keeps up with his training routine even when there is a typhoon.

Once, he went running in Repulse Bay when the typhoon 10 signal was raised. The heavy winds almost blew him away.

“I had to call my son and asked him to pick me up,” he says. “There were no taxis.”

Among the other sacrifices Chau has made is not drinking water while running.

“Many runners gather at the aid station for water,” he says.

“But it would slow me down if I joined them. It also takes time to ‘reboot’ your body after stopping even for a short while.

If I can no longer compete in a half marathon, I will run 10km, which is fine, If you’re truly passionate about something, you will never give it up
Chau Wai-chuen

“Some people carry a water bottle with them when they run, but this is not a good practice.”

Embracing old age with a positive attitude, Chau has been adjusting his goals accordingly while still giving his best in every event.

In a half marathon earlier this year, it took him more than three hours to complete the 21km race.

He did not receive a certificate from the organiser, which was given to runners finishing within three hours.

However, that did not bother him.

“I’m very happy as long as I have the opportunity to take part in a competition,” he says.

This year he signed up for at least 10 competitions and is already looking forward to the next event, which will take place on the mainland.

He has continued to compete in running events partly because he wants to encourage other people – especially the elderly – to exercise.

As for himself, he plans to keep running right up until the very end of his own journey.

“If I can no longer compete in a half marathon, I will run 10km, which is perfectly fine,” he says.

“If you’re truly passionate about something, you will never give it up.”

Inspired by Chau Wai-chuen’s story?

There are many sporting events in Hong Kong you can consider joining, including the biennial Masters Games for athletes aged 35 or above.

Other than running, you can also choose to compete in categories such as badminton, swimming, table tennis, tai chi and tennis. This year’s Masters Games are on!

Find out more at www.lcsd.gov.hk/en/mg/2018/