A Hong Kong race organiser has devised a clever way to combine a physical and virtual trail race during the coronavirus pandemic. Trail races in Hong Kong are on hold as the government imposes social-distancing rules and gathering restrictions. Around the world, virtual races have exploded as participants compare distances, times and vertical gain from their respective locations. But Action Asia is challenging runners to head out on a set route from October 1 to 11 and to compare times. They will all be physically running the same course, but the race will be virtual as the scores are compared online rather than who crossed the line first. This will ensure participants are spread out and avoid any gatherings. “I think a lot of people are missing challenging themselves,” said Micheal Maddess, head of Action Asia. “Sure, you can sign up for different virtual races around the world, but not on a particular course. I think a lot of people are desperate to get outside and do something they are familiar with, more so than just getting out and doing 23km anywhere.” The course in question is the Lantau 2 Peaks. The 23km course packs a punch, taking in Hong Kong’s second and third highest mountains with beautiful but steep terrain. There is nearly 2,000m accumulative gain. Action Asia considered an algorithm that equated distances to vert, so some people could compete on different but equivalent courses. Polling 700 respondents, Maddess said it was split nearly 50/50 as to whether runners would prefer to have to go to the course, or were OK with some runners working out another course. “If you run along the waterfront for 42km, is that really the same punishment as doing the Lantau 2 Peaks? No way,” Maddess said. “We know there is a lot of people out there that want the option. Looking at the purpose of the course, it was designed from the very beginning to punish people.” Tough Lantau 2 Peaks pushes runners to their limits The course holds a place in Maddess’ heart. “Seeing what the participants go through on that course is special. Trying to take on that kind of elevation at the beginning of the trail season, in the October heat, is really though.” With the challenges in mind, Maddess urges runners to be careful. Runners are signing up for the privilege of being in a competitive race, having the chance to push themselves against others and feeling part of the community once again, even if it is remotely. But given the race is over 11 days, there will be none of the usual support and checkpoints. “This is one thing Action Asia has to be very careful about,” Maddess said, adding that it is possible to go via Ngong Ping to restock but that is a 1km detour. “Most people will carry water, maybe carrying a huge amount of water, maybe 6 litres to get through that course. “It’s possible, I’ve seen it. But we have to tell people to take their safety very, very seriously. Even with two checkpoints, we’ve had to rescue people. So, more the reason to enter as a team and not solo. “If anything, this is going to be more difficult and challenging, more mentally exhausting, doing the virtual Lantau 2 Peaks than the actual race because you have to think about so much more – hydration, nutrition, personal safety – it’s like an adventure race.” Races are returning to the rest of the world in one form or another . In Europe and the US, race organisers are enforcing strict social-distancing rules, including staggered start times. Maddess is unsure when normal races will return to Hong Kong, even with safety measures. “It’s tough. From a race organiser’s point of view we’re wondering if there’s something else we can do aside from virtual races to survive? Expect to see more virtual races in the future,” he added.