There’s no place in the world like Hong Kong. It’s the closest you’ll get to Blade Runner without actually travelling into the future. Formerly a possession of the British Empire, passed back to China in 1997, the place is an eclectic mix of everything that passes through it densely packed into 1,000 squared kilometres, hemmed in by the sea on one side and the mountains on the other. The marathon used to run from Hong Kong to Shenzen but now runs completely within the territory. A lot of the route passes out of the city over bridges and under tunnels so there’s not an awful lot interesting to see. It’s not a particularly fast marathon either, and it rained quite heavily during the 2016 edition, but I managed a half decent time of 3:24:02 and had a very enjoyable trip.
The best sort of place to stay in in Hong Kong is one of the box sized rooms in the city centre. You wont have a table, a window, or space to swing a cat, but it’ll be clean and there’ll be a bed a shower and internet. You’ll find this is about all you need. It’ll cost around 20 or 30 pounds a night and be in some massive building called paradise towers or something like this. The ‘hotels’ normally take up a few rooms on one of the floors and are run by Indian guys. The money saved on your hotel bill can be used to buy a slap up meal.
The food in Hong Kong is delicious and you can find just about anything you want to eat. In fact, in Hong Kong you can find just about anything you want, full-stop. On the way to the hotel an Indian dude started trying to sell me stuff, “What you want sir? Rolex, Gold, Gucci, Hashish, a Girl..”. I considered asking him for some Tato Cheese and Onion Crisps or a Nintendo 64, just to see what he’d say, but decided against it and moved on. I settled for a piping hot lasagna at the local western restaurant instead.
After dinner we visited the statue of Bruce Lee to channel some Jeet Kune Do energy for the next day’s racing. The bay looked peaceful and we had a short walk, but I didn’t want to overexert myself before the morrow’s race so it was off to bed early with a cup of milk tea and some bananas for the morning.
I was an early start on race day for the start at 6:15. Pitch black. It took me a while to find my way to the lift and out of the Paradise Towers, but once I got onto the streets I knew where to go. I wouldn’t be too near to the front at the start but I was cool with that. I’d already qualified for Boston at the Shanghai Marathon a couple of months prior and I knew that this one wouldn’t be too fast.
After the gun went it took us a minute to get moving. With the race starting down-town the street was quite narrow and it was still quite dark. It was strange not quite being able to see the people around me. After about three kilometres we moved out of the commercial centre onto the docks. Then after about 8 kilometres onto the first big bridge as it started to get bright. Not much to see, but I was enjoying running with the crowd of people and trying to figure out where people were from.
It was surprising to see some guy with a Stevenage Spartans vest on. Stevenage Spartans is my mums running club and I’d trained with them on a few occasions back in the UK. At first I couldn’t read the writing so well because it was too dark, but after I was sure he was a Spartan I said hello and wished him well. It seems he had arrived the previous day and was fighting jet-lag. It was nice to meet someone from back home.
For a while I tried to match my Boston Qualifier pace, but as we had to climb some steep bridges I started thinking a bit more realistically about my projected finish time and eased back a bit. About this time the rain started coming on a bit stronger and we had a couple of turnarounds running back along beside the runners coming the other way. I started trying to conservatively match the runners alongside me for pace so as not to overextend myself before the halfway point. This appeared to work well as I hadn’t pushed to hard earlier on and seemed reasonably matched with the runners around me.
The race passed under a couple of big tunnels providing some relief from the heavy rain. At the first tunnel around 26k I remember thinking how it was strange how the acoustics changed and everything sounded a more close and visceral. You could hear people coughing and snorting with their feet slapping off the ground. I didn’t mind getting wet outside the tunnel, but I was concerned about the skin on my feet getting soft and giving me a blister. In the end my feet bore up fine and I shouldn’t have worried about it.
I slowed down a bit around the 35k mark going into the second tunnel, but not drastically. The problem is, with a big race like this if you slow down a lot of people pass you, so I felt a lot slower than I actually was. For the last five or six kilometres I ran around a 5:15 kilometre after doing 4:40 for the first part of the race. It didn’t cost me too much time overall and at least I found I still had enough energy to push it the last 300 meters to finish in style.
It was a respectable 3:24:02 for a difficult 42 kilometres and a fine race. I could feel that I put in a good effort because my legs hurt something terrible on the way to the subway station. In any case it was a quick subway ride home, a nice warm shower at the Paradise Towers, and another short subway ride to the Airport for the flight home to Shanghai. Another marathon completed and some nice memories from the trip away.