Hongkonger who ‘doesn’t like running’ does seven marathons in seven continents in seven days

Chik Wing-keung spends Lunar New Year week jetting across the globe to compete remarkable feat

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 February, 2017, 4:27pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 February, 2017, 9:01pm

For someone who professes to “hate running” Chik Wing-keung has a funny way of showing it. The 46-year-old spent his Lunar New Year week competing in the World Marathon Challenge – seven marathons in seven continents in seven days.

He was following in the footsteps of Australia-born Hong Kong resident David Gething, who won the inaugural event in 2015.

And though his average time of five hours eight minutes and 50 seconds didn’t compare to Gething’s 3:39:26, the regional director for insurance company FWD is delighted to have raised around HK$100,000 for the Hong Chi Association, a charity that works with the mentally disabled.

“I first heard about it in November 2014 when I did the Antarctica Ice Marathon that the same organiser puts on,” says Chik.

“I actually don’t like running and Antarctica was my first ever marathon. I like hiking and have done Trailwalker every year since 2008 but running I find boring!”

Chik didn’t think he’d be able to complete the ordeal. Little wonder, just reading the itinerary is tiring enough.

The first marathon was on Union Glacier, Antarctica; from there runners flew to Puntas Arena, Chile for race number two, and on to Miami via Bogota for race number three. A quick hop across the Atlantic to Madrid via Lisbon, and then over to Madrid, Spain, for race number four, then to Marrakesh, Morocco for number five, on to Dubai for number six, then to Sydney via Jakarta for the final leg.

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Chik only confirmed his participation on January 2, so had “about 15 days” to train.

“I hate running training, I think it’s boring and doesn’t make much sense,” he says. “I did some 20km runs in the morning and maybe 10-15 in the evening, and on the last Saturday before the trip the full 42km.

“It was amazing for me to finish, my situation was far, far better than I had expected. After the race I could still walk quite a long distance – I was trying to find a friend in Sydney after the final marathon and was walking around the city for an hour and a half!”

Chik did the gruelling Marathon des Sables – a six-day, 251km race through the Sahara Desert in Morocco – in 2013, but says the World challenge was far more intense.

“I just walked the MDS,” he explains. “It’s 10, 11 hours a day, the difficulty there is carrying a big bag with your gear, but you can take a lot of rest and at the finish of each day the tents are there for you to go straight to sleep.”

For the World Marathon Challenge, competitors were rushing for flights immediately after each marathon and had to snatch what sleep and food they could in the air.

And Chik revealed that he and six competitors from mainland China were almost scuppered by the USA’s famously welcoming immigration authorities just before President Trump announced his travel ban.

“For the Miami race we needed to travel in our race gear to go straight to the start line, but for whatever reason with the Hong Kong and China passports we were held up for more than an hour by immigration,” he says.

“The bus was almost about to leave without us and we were scared we might miss it. From there we barely had time to get a proper wash before heading to Europe.”

Chik reckons competitors spent some 60 hours in the air compared to 20 - 40 hours actually running, with maybe 20 hours in immigration lines.

This year’s male winner was American Michael Wardlian who set a new world record with a stunning average speed of 2:45:56, breaking the three-hour mark in all seven marathons. Among those he beat was Ryan Hall, 10th in the Beijing Olympics marathon in 2008 and the only American to have run a half-marathon in less than an hour. Chile’s Silvana Camelio was fastest of the nine women who took part with an average time of 4:12:36, almost exactly a minute faster than Xie Guoping, the first Chinese woman to complete the race.

“The toughest was definitely in Dubai,” says Chik, who was more than happy to go at his own pace rather than try to stay with the elite runners. “The temperature was supposedly not too hot, around 23 -25 Celsius, but it felt like you were running in 40 degree heat. Even some of the very expert runners needed four or five hours to finish while they did the others in around three.

“My strategy was usually for the first five to 10k to follow this girl who had a very stable speed. Then if feeling good I would try to go a little faster. After 23, 24km I needed some walking to relax my muscles. I’d maybe walk a couple of minutes, run a couple of km then run again. The last five km I love, my speed was always great then because I knew it was nearly over!”

Chik’s feat was all the more remarkable considering he admits he barely exercised until his late 30s as he was focused on working his way up the career ladder. Raised in Tai Kok Tsui, Chik never went to university as a youngster (he later completed an MBA), but worked his way up to his present position through stints in many of the city’s key industries – shipping, banking and real estate.

“I was about 37 before I did anything like this, the [100km] 2008 Oxfam Trailwalker,” he explains. “I didn’t like hiking before but my colleagues were doing it and got me into it.

“Also one colleague, her husband had recently passed away so going hiking every weekend with her training for the Trailwalker was a nice way to try to take her mind off it and give her something else to focus on.

“The first year we really didn’t prepare properly and I was in agony afterwards, every single joint hurt. I didn’t pack a head torch and injured myself in the dark about 30km in. I like challenges so said I’d do it again in 2009 to try to improve the time and have done it every year since.”

Chik’s 15-year-old son is studying in the US – “at the same school as Steve Jobs, that was his idea, he’s a big Apple fan!” – and dad hopes his feats have provided a positive role model.

“My family didn’t think I’m crazy because I’ve done a lot of crazy things before and I think they’re used to it by now!

“I think for my son it’s a good model for him, we don’t communicate that much but I feel he wanted to follow a bit in my footsteps and it was a good example of hard work and perseverance for him, to take on things that are challenging. He wants to go to Stanford for example and has been looking at getting an internship there.

“Definitely one major thing I learned from the experience was focus – in Hong Kong that can be difficult. I just had one big target ahead, no emails or WhatsApp.”

And Chik’s not taking much time to rest before he takes on his next challenge, the North Pole Marathon organised by the same firm as the World Marathon Challenge in April.

He will be the first Hongkonger to do the two events back-to-back, and is sparing no precautions having failed to make the start line last year.

“You have to wait in Longyearbyen [Norway] for the weather to get cold enough so the ice is stable. Last time it was quite ‘warm’ at minus-18 and the pilot didn’t want to land.

“After a few days I had an important meeting in Hong Kong so I had to go back. This time I won’t even book a return flight.”