Running might be the world’s most accessible sport; all you need is a pair of athletic shoes. But those who turn to the challenge of marathons are in another league. Finishing the 42-kilometre courses is a major achievement and a gruelling experience – and everyone seems to have their own reasons for doing it.
‘Part of it is definitely about health,’ says Iris Wong, who has been running for four years. ‘It also helps me wind down after a stressful day at work and prepares me for another hectic day to come. My husband is a marathon runner, too, and it has helped us maintain a close relationship, thanks to the training we do together.’
To Michelle Leung, who has been running international marathons for six years, the sport is as much about health as self-fulfilment. One of the best moments for her was at the Boston Marathon, which is the world’s most prestigious, requiring stringent qualifications followed by a lottery draw. ‘I can still remember the cheers I received from people on the street at the finish line,’ she says. ‘And the congratulations lasted into the next day, when people saw you wearing the finishers’ medal. I even got discounts at some restaurants. By comparison, the atmosphere is more subdued in Hong Kong. It’s still lively on the day, but just not a huge bash like it is in the US or Japan.’
That hasn’t discouraged Jack Chan, a private banker, from running at the Hong Kong Marathon this month, after finishing the Osaka Marathon in November. For him, it’s a social sport despite the solitary aspects. ‘It is fun to practise as a group, but it also helps you set targets as you strive to beat someone who’s faster than you,’ he says. ‘Outside of training, we meet up for meals as we plan our next overseas expeditions together. There’s a strong bond between us.’
So what’s it like to run the Hong Kong Marathon? ‘When you’re running the Western Harbour Tunnel section, it feels like you’re never going to reach the light at the end of the tunnel – it’s a real test of endurance and will,’ says Chan. ‘I grew up in Hong Kong and have an emotional connection to the place, so it’s exciting to be able to run on its streets.’
The Hong Kong Marathon is held on 17 February 2019