Welcome to the first edition of Trail Mix and here’s what you can expect: ruminations on the outdoors, a celebration of adventure, an examination of the issues of gender, diversity and representation, and a lot more. In short, outdoor sports in all its wholesome variety, complexity and excitement.
Why the name ‘Trail Mix’? Well, just as a bag of trail mix is full of the savoury crunch of walnuts and almonds and the tart chewiness of raisins and apricots, this column will try to reflect the diversity of experiences, voices and stories that play out on the trails and beyond.
Many of those stories this week will revolve around the Oxfam Trailwalker, one of Hong Kong’s most classic and eagerly anticipated trail running events of the year. The event, starting on Friday at 8am, has competitors traversing Hong Kong from east to west on the 100-kilometre MacLehose Trail, packing in 4,730 metres of elevation gain, including a jaunt up the city’s highest peak, Tai Mo Shan (957m). The men’s team record stands at 10 hours 58 minutes; the women’s at 13 hours 53 minutes; and the mixed, set last year, at 12 hours 51 minutes.
Running is so often a solitary pursuit, and part of what makes the Oxfam Trailwalker so special is that it is first and foremost a team event. The final time recorded is that of the last team member to cross the finish line, meaning that any team will only be as strong as their weakest link.
This dynamic can be a source of tension at times, but can just as likely bring out inspiring examples of teamwork. I haven’t yet competed in the Trailwalker, but will be part of a support crew this year, running parts of the course with the Gone Running-Joint Dynamics team. (Full disclosure: I am also a sponsored runner for Gone Running-Joint Dynamics.)
The focus on running as a team makes me think back to running cross country in college. It was always such a beautiful and powerful sensation to stand at the start line, bunched up shoulder to shoulder with my teammates in a small box that had been spray painted on the ground, all of us staring ahead silently and intensely in those final few seconds before the starting gun went off with a bang.
Then we would all be hurtling forwards, our legs spinning furiously beneath us as the competitive frenzy of the crowd swept us along, goading us to go faster against perhaps our better judgment. In one sense, we were all running our own race. But in another, we were running together, pacing and helping each other along, forming a pack to hold off our rivals.
Trails also keep things real. Many a trail runner will surely relate to the feeling of being alive and at one with themselves when they’re flying down the side of a mountain, their minds entirely blank but for thinking ahead to where they will plant their next step, or when they’re speeding across a ridge, surrounded by expansive vistas of mountain ranges and the open sea. I have, on more than one occasion, spread my arms wide like wings and yelled out in exhilaration. It is a sensation of complete freedom.
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A post shared by Mary Hui (@maryhui) on Jun 2, 2017 at 4:52am PDT
But perhaps now more than ever, it’s become soberingly clear that freedoms in Hong Kong cannot be taken for granted, not least because of the government’s decision to bar Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet from entering the city after refusing to renew his work visa in October.
Press freedoms and trail running may appear to have very little in common, but the two can indeed come into the same mix.