The Standard Chartered Hong Kong marathon started at 7:15 a.m. at Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. I was familiar with this area for shopping, but never did I imagine that I’d be standing there, among 8,000 marathoners and with fellow Pinoys, Dra. Lora and her husband, and Jinoe, waiting for the marathon gun to start.
The weather was cool in the start, but not as cold as I initially expected (so much for the arm and leg warmers I purchased in SM!) According to reports after the race, temperature was actually 24 centigrades with 92% humidity, which surprised me as I didn’t feel the heat except for a few times during the race.
The atmosphere was electrifying and exciting. I, on the other hand, was a lot more calmer than I expected. Don’t get me wrong: I was anxious over the unknown (what injuries or pains may come during the long, arduous road ahead) but I felt no pressure to beat a specific time or run at a certain pace. My only goals were 1) to avoid getting swept by the bus at the 5:30 cut off, and 2) to enjoy without injury.
BRIDGES & TUNNELS
As we made our way towards the Stonecutter’s Bridge, I got into a comfortable pace, kept my ipod off, and allowed myself to stay in the moment. I made a conscious decision to savor the experience of running in a new city and take in the sights around me.
The first thing that caught my attention was the sight of Tsing Ma bridge. From afar, I could see thousands of runners, like soldiers marching off to war trampling on the ground beneath them. I looked forward to reaching the bridge asap.
“Wow!” That was all I could say when I finally made it to the bridge. The view from the top was spectacular. I ran as close to the edge as possible seeing the water a hundred feet below me. Soon after, we made our way to another bridge, Ting Kau bridge.
– Check out this video I took on one of the bridges (I honestly don’t know which one). The view was breathtaking –
After the bridges came the tunnel. The first time I entered the Cheung Tsing Tunnel was an experience. It felt cooler insider the tunnel and it wasn’t as frightening as I had imagined. In fact, I enjoyed the change of scenery. The only problem was my Garmin lost all GPS signals so I was running blind all the way.
UP, UP, AND UP
Running through Tsing Kwai highway felt like forever. I don’t recall exactly when all the ascents started, but I completely remember how I thought that they never seemed to end. (Actually, I believe they only ended at Km 41!)
One time we would climb half a kilometer, happily reach some flat ground for a few meters, only to find another ascent awaiting us. Despite the language barrier with other runners, it was pretty obvious that we were all tiring from the climbs with various moans and grunts heard before each hill climb.
The slanted roads of HK, particularly the on the highway, had caused some pain on my right ankle. I found it difficult to run without frequent stops to stretch, massage, or rest. With all my injuries in the past though, I had learned how to manage these little problems by changing my gait or distracting myself from the pain.
Somewhere on the highway as well, I felt a bit dizzy and, for a moment, I thought I was about to blackout. Thankfully, I munched on two chocolate bars and drank water and that was good enough to get me back on track.
GOOD ENOUGH TIME
Every now and then, I glanced at my Garmin to make sure I was far from the 5:30 cut off. Hong Kong is very strict with their implementation of cut offs, not just at the end of the race, but at various locations along the course. At specific points, there was a bus waiting to sweep runners who didn’t make the cut off. It was as if the grim reaper was running behind us! Early on, we heard horror stories of runners at 39km being forced to ride the bus…so I was hoping I wouldn’t be one of them!
For the first half, I ran at around 2:05. That’s just an estimate as I had fiddled around with my Garmin, turning it on and off, to capture a GPS signal. While I was fine throughout the first half, the second half was slower and a lot more challenging.
I clearly remember when we entered the second tunnel: the Western Harbour Tunnel, which was so cool inside I was tempted to run fast. It would’ve been another favorite part of my race if I had been able to run, but my ankle started acting up again at this point.
THE TOUGHEST MARATHON IN THE WORLD?
Soon, I found myself on the other side of HK, which was mind-blowing really! As we neared Victoria Park, where the finish line was, spectators lined both sides of the roads cheering all of us runners.
By this time, I was already walking due to the pain on my ankle and I didn’t mind at all. From out of the blue, I heard a woman yell “Go Bull Runner!” and I spotted three Filipinos cheering for me. I stopped to tell them something like “I couldn’t go any further” but ironically it was that instant when I regained the energy to run. (Thanks Khun and friends!)
I finished the the marathon with a gun start time of 4:54, the same time as my first unofficial QC International Marathon. It wasn’t my best time, but considering my trip to Disneyland the night before plus Condura Marathon 3 weeks before, I was all too happy to just finish what I heard was one of the toughest marathons in the world.
* Thank you once again to New Balance for sponsoring this trip, especially Anton Gonzales and Bing Buenaventura of Planet Sports!