I love heading out and getting lost on the trails – lost in my thoughts, lost in the stark contrast of the concrete jungle I live in and lost in the beauty of it all.
Because of my passion for the subject, I often get asked what’s the best way to get involved. It sort of makes me laugh as the first time I ran on Hong Kong’s trails was with a US$20 helmet on my head* – and that was only three years ago.
That said, I’ve run many more trails since then (thankfully sans the helment) and have managed to acquire a bit of know how over the years. Since I’ve had many people ask me for more info, over the next few weeks (to coincide with the imminent arrival of the trail running season), I will endeavour to craft HKAB’s Rookies Guide to Hong Kong trails!!
In the coming weeks, thanks to the awesome advice of Jeremy Ritcey, one of Hong Kong’s top runners, I’ll be providing some simple gear and nutrition tips. Together with wife Valerie, Jeremy owns and runs Lantau Base Camp in Mui Wo. Not only is Jeremy super fast and skilled on the trails, he has a wealth of knowledge on all the best gear and nutrition to get you on the trails.
But, to kick it off, let’s look at some races to get you out there. Why? Because I believe races are the best way to get started in trail running. Sign up to a race and there is no turning back.
What races can I do in Hong Kong?
While many people associate trail running with super long distances, the goods news is there are a number of 14 – mid 20 kilometre distance races on offer from October to May, and they’re the perfect place to start. I’ve set out a list of them below, but before that, let me answer your burning question.
20-freaking kilometres? Are you kidding me?! Why running 20 kilometres on the trail is a lot different from running it on the road – and why you can do it
If you’ve run 10 kilometres on the road before, I promise you can finish a 20 kilometre trail run.** Here’s why.
Running these sort of distances on TRAILS is nothing like running it on the road. Running a half marathon on the road is far more taxing on the body as you’re running fast and keeping to a pace. It’s a lot more intense.
Running a half trail marathon, you’ll often run no more than 7 kilometre stretches at a time before you face some hills, forcing you to slow to a walk. It breaks up the monotony of running on flat surfaces. It also gives you a break.
Because the surface of the trails are more challenging – think tree roots, rocks, streams etc – your pace will also naturally be slowed. For example, if you usually run a comfortable 5:30m/kilometre on the road, you’re probably looking at a 7min/kilometre on the trails.
The best bit about trail running is, if worse comes to worse, you can walk the whole thing (which may take a few hours) and it’s totally acceptable (though, then you’re a “hiker” and not really a “trail runner”, but no one will know the difference!) And you still get a medal at the end. Woohoo!
Ok, now you know (or at least think you can) run 20 kilometres on the trails, lets look at some options.
Rookies Race guide to Hong Kong 2013
Lantau Twin Peaks – 4 October [FULL!]
Twin Peaks has both a 21km and 15km version. Although the 15km isn’t quite as scenic, it’s a lot easier than the 21km version and is your best way to get a taster of trail running. Unfortunately the race is actually sold out this year, but it’s a good one to mark in the diary for next year.
Have a read of my friend Nic’s blog if you want to learn more about this race.
A few weeks after Lantau is the MSIG 23 kilometre race on 27 October. It’s run on sections of the Hong Kong trail, which is a nice runnable trail, and also goes through some steep hills around the island. This race is differently in the more milder/runnable categories of trail races, so the extra distance won’t be so brutal. Promise.
The other races in the series Lantau (7 Dec) and Sai Kung (4 Mar) are hillier and will be more taxing on the legs. But if you do the HK race, you’ll have to sign up to the whole series !
In the North West of Hong Kong, this is a nice route which has plenty of runnable sections around the reservoir as well as some seriously brutal steeps, so it’ll be another nice intro into the world of trail running. The buses on offer from AAE also mean you have no excuses – just rock up, get on the bus and run.
This is a wonderfully scenic and challenging route on some beautiful trails in Lantau. It’s got the least concrete of the Hong Kong races, which makes for a much softer landing underfoot. But it’s also seriously hilly, making it among the tougher of the runs on offer, and will require you to have some strength in the legs, so specific training will come in handy for this one. But definitely worthwhile signing up to.
One of the oldest trail running series in Hong Kong, the King of the Hills is a must for any trail runner’s calender.
Though the half marathon distances range between 14-20 kilometres, there is plenty of “bush bashing” / “shiggy” as well as steep climbs on these courses, so the races are among some of the tougher “shorter” distance races you can do. The best bit about this series is the community – it gathers a slightly smaller crowd of diehard runners with a little less fanfare. So it’s worth the extra hard work.
Why on earth was my first running experience with a helmet on? When it begins to hot up, Action Action Events runs an adventure sprint series, combining trail running with rock scrambling and running through rivers, among other adventurous challenges. One for the slightly more courageous, but good fun!
** Of course, please consult your doctor and be sensible with all these things!!