Mon, Feb 10, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Intrepid “ultras”

The agony and ecstasy of Hong Kong’s extreme runners

By Laura Mannering  /  AFP, HONG KONG

“If you can tackle all that and come out with a smile on your face, you can do anything in life.”

Though ultras are physically and mentally tough, many runners find them the perfect antidote to modern life in a highly-strung city.

“I don’t like road races — I like getting out into the mountains because it’s beautiful,” banker Wilson Leung, 45, said after finishing the popular 50-kilometre Green Power Hike.

“In the hills I can forget my problems.”

He spent seven years working up to ultra distances after taking up running in his late 30s and says it suits his age group.

“People lose their speed but not necessarily their endurance, so they start running longer as they get older. Experience is important, knowing how to protect your body and building up slowly.”

CLOUDS ON THE HORIZON?

But there are fears of a blot on the landscape for future trail races in Hong Kong as pollution worsens in the territory.

Murky smog frequently blankets the skyline and a new government index has recorded high or very high levels of pollution almost every day since it was implemented late last year.

“The air quality is better in remote places, but Hong Kong is too small to get away from it completely,” says Keith Noyes, race director of The North Face 100 Hong Kong and organizer of the long-standing King of the Hills mountain marathon series.

“It’s only going to take one incredibly polluted event with a big international crowd to get a bad reputation.”

For now though, while runners might stay indoors on the smoggiest days, the lure of the hills remains.

“The demand for the more challenging trail races in Hong Kong is phenomenal,” says Noyes.

The Vibram Hong Kong 100 saw 1,650 racers, compared to 250 in its first 2011 edition, with 500 enthusiastic volunteers en route.

“Runners are beginning to realize it’s much more fun to be on the trails than the roads,” says race director Steve Brammar, who founded the event with his wife Janet Ng.

“They are also realizing that a marathon distance isn’t the limit of human endurance — it’s almost just the start.”

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