Trail Running in Hong Kong
Can’t believe time just went by like this. I have been in Hong Kong for two months now. We are still living in temporary accommodation but the good news is that our container has finally arrived. Our shipment has spent more than 8 weeks from New York to Hong Kong, stopping by very interesting places such as the UK, Oman, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Shenzhen. I imagine it would have been fun traveling along the same route as our container but I didn’t feel I missed anything, because I have had quite an adventure trying a whole different kind of running.
A Nice Start in Hong Kong
We arrived in Hong Kong the second week of April and we were lucky with some nice weather, clear blue sky, and mild temperatures of around 20C (70F). The conditions were comfortable for running but the hills were challenging. My thighs and quads got pretty sore and tender only after two days of "easy" running, I realised how ill prepared I was for running in Hong Kong and how my body was asking for some strength work.
Exploring and Rediscovering My City of Birth
On the bright side, it was refreshing to explore different parts of Hong Kong and observe how the city has changed since I left to study abroad in the 1990s. I learned to see my city of birth, old and new home from a new perspective. Hong Kong is not just a compact city full of swanky buildings, traffic jam full of Teslas and air filled with smog and pollution. The city is actually much greener, wilder, and parts of it much cleaner than how I remembered it. If you are on Hong Kong Island, you can easily hike up to any trail within half an hour and be surrounded by greenery and birdsong, and yet all the office skyscrapers, high rises and the beautiful Victoria harbour are only an arms' length away.
Hong Kong is Actually Really Green
As a kid, I have lived in an outlying island called Hei Ling Chau and Stanley on the south side of the Hong Kong Island, so I would say I grew up with a little more exposure to the countryside compared to most people in Hong Kong. Despite all this I have never made an effort to explore trail running, it just wasn't done in the family. Hong Kong people are typically more into shopping, dining, karaoke and maybe some mahjong games, anything with air-conditioning goes. Summers are hot and humid in Hong Kong, I wouldn't have gone out in this heat if I hadn't already fallen into running in New York. I am happy and grateful that running has opened up my eyes and given me a great sense of appreciation for things I used to take for granted.
In Search of a Running Group
Aside from trying out some running routes, I was also keen to join some running groups, to help figuring out where to run, how to tackle the heat, the humidity and the hilly terrains. I was keen to settle into a new regime given these new training conditions were pretty overwhelming.
Hong Kong Trail Running
I went for my first ever night rail run with Hong Kong Trail Running. I found the group on Strava and learned that they had planned a trail run for beginners at the end of April. It was a free event and runners were advised to bring headlights. I was pretty freaked out about running trails in the dark so I decided to try out the route during the day a few days earlier.
Testing Out the Valley Vortex
The route started in Star Street in Wan Chai, up Bowen Drive (which felt like a 20% incline) to Dutch Lane (trail), Black's Link (path), Wong Nai Chung trail and finally down Tai Hang Road and Blue Pool Road to Happy Valley. There was A LOT of climbing but the route was filled with wonderful views of the city. I became a feast for the mosquitoes in the open air steam room and it took me almost two hours to complete the route because of the incline and I had to stop to find my way through the trails. It wasn’t easy but I felt the test run gave me the confidence to join the HKTR night run.
My First Ever Night Trail Run
My first night trail run turned out to be a blast and I really enjoyed it. 20 people showed up, some were new to trail running, some were super fit and there were quite a few serious runners chatting about ultras. It was so cool (metaphorically) to run in the dark with the city skyline just right around the corner. Physically it was sweaty, sticky and humid. I would have been scared on my own but with a group it was completely fine. They also made a few stops to wait up for slow runners like me. We saw a porcupine and baby snakes along the way. There was more wildlife in Hong Kong than I had expected. The investment in my first ever hydration pack was absolutely worth it. I had so much space for water, electrolytes and the much needed “life saving” insect repellent.
Saturday Gone Running
My second group trail run was with The Saturday Gone Running Group. The group meets every Saturday morning for 6.8 miles or 11 km of trails in Aberdeen Country Park. The park sits between the Peak and the south side of the Hong Kong Island. The open views over the sea and the Aberdeen Reservoirs are quite a contrast compared to the dense and sleek city view from Dutch Lane or Black's Link.
An Uphill Struggle
My first ever run with this group went as follows, the first three miles were manageable, the middle two were tough, and the last was an uphill struggle. It took me almost 20 minutes just to hike up the last mile, as if my legs felt like jelly with no power in them. I have no idea how many months or years it would take me to conquer this beast of a hill. Hopefully one day I will feel comfortable enough to deal with it and maybe the hot weather was playing tricks with my mind too. I've been to a second run with them two weeks latter, I took a short cut this time but hopefully I will run the full loop in the near future so that I can report back how I am doing.
Those Bloody Hills
I couldn’t get an accurate read of the elevation gain from the Saturday Gone Running route on my Garmin. Based on what I saw on others runners’ Strava records, the incline was between 1700 - 2000 feet over 6.8 miles or 11km of trails. The trails involved a lot of turns and uneven surfaces with rocks, tree roots and branches sticking out, combined with the heat and humidity, really tested my physical toughness and mental focus. There were a couple of optional short cuts but I really wanted the challenge and the sense of achievement from completing the full loop. In the end it took me one hour and 19 minutes and I was by far the last one to cross the finish line. I was still pretty happy that I did it. I kept reassuring myself that I was still faster than the Vicky who would have otherwise sat on a couch.
Marathon Training Academy Coaching
After two months of running in Hong Kong, I still don’t really know how to tackle the heat, the humidity and the hills. One thing I am super happy about was signing up for Marathon Training Academy coaching. I really enjoy their podcasts and I am learning a great deal of information and interesting topics on marathon and endurance training. My coach Athena has really helped me with this difficult transition by providing the most practical advice about hydration, strength training, and focusing on effort levels rather than my pace. It's only been five weeks and I can already tell that my body is getting a bit stronger for the steps and hills.
The Heat and Humidity Really Bring Out the Humility in Me
The weather is getting hotter and more stifling by the week. I have been trying to get up earlier in the morning to avoid running under the blazing sun. The heat and humidity really bring out the humility in me and the hilly trails can be very humbling. I am trying to put aside the pace I used to run in the New York winter and focus more on my effort levels, as advised by my running coach. I am finding the adjustments very tough but I am willing to persevere because trail running and the beautiful scenery nature offers can be hugely rewarding.