When Janice Cheung Chiu-man crossed the finish line of the Oxfam Trailwalker in 2018 to win, she had improved her time by 26 hours compared to her first attempt. The Hongkonger proved that elites are not a different species, but products of hard work and sacrifice, she said.
Cheung has now been nominated for a Gone Running trail award in the Trailblazer Most Improved Female Runner category.
She hiked the famous 100km course in 2004 aged 18 in 41 hours and vowed never to do it again. Eventually, convinced by a friend in 2015 to try again, Cheung finished in 33 hours.
“Thirty-three hours is not bad in my mind, but when I looked at the list of finishers, I was in the lower half,” she said.
She decided to see how much she could improve and started running. “But I hated running ever since I was a teenager. I can’t say I even like it now. But I want to see where the limit is and how far I can go. And I love the mountains, and want to spend a lot of time there.”
Cheung ran nonetheless and improved to finish in 21 hours in 2016. Then this season, she and her team, Salomon Overstims Reflex Hello Kitty, finished in 15 hours claiming first female spot by an hour and a half.
“We often refer to those elites as UFOs,” she said. “It's like they are born from another planet because they are so far from us, their level is so high. It looks like we are different species. But after we won Trailwalker, I know something that seems so impossible we can achieve it through progression of efforts.”
“[Elites] went through the same process. It is just a matter of how much you are willing to sacrifice,” Cheung said.
She added she sacrificed her entire weekends, and was driven to wake up early to run even when she was exhausted from work.
“You need to spend all your spare time on it, either thinking about how to do it better or actually training to do it better,” she said.
Cheung, now also Queen of the Hills after winning the King of the Hills series, said none of her Trailwalker team – Hui Wing-yan, Karen Tse and Rouisa Tse Wing-yan, who has also been nominated for most improved female – are naturally gifted athletes.
“We just started running and in a few years time, step by step we made it happen,” she said, pointing our her Trailwalker finishing times improved by almost 10 hours each time she competed.
Cheung’s next race is the 100km CCC at the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc week but she has no particular goal beyond finishing because it can be cold, and she is not adept at running in chilly conditions.
“The coldest race I’ve done was in Japan. It was like 10 degrees Celsius,” she said. “That's not very cold and I was already feeling like I was going to die. The weather is my enemy.”
But who knows, maybe it will be like her other races when she has “achieved something that feels impossible with great effort”.