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Features Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon

21 February 2017, 11am

The unexpected rise of a financial centre to also become a centre of the marathon movement

To the next level

Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon
Sun 12 February 2017

74,000 runners from around the world showed up for the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2017 this year. This is phenomenal growth since the first edition, held in 1997 during the year Hong Kong was “handed back” to China, attracted just 1,076 runners.

Chairman of the Organising Committee William Ko said: “Since the beginning we have witnessed how running has brought positive change to Hong Kong. Marathon running is fast becoming the sport of choice among Hong Kong’s urbanites, and everywhere you go, you see people training for their next race.”

No one could have predicted that one the world’s top financial centres, known for its manic 24/7, 365-days full-on lifestyle, would become one of the epicentres of the marathon movement.

“What makes the race unique is that it reflects Hong Kong residents’ core values of perseverance, determination, efficiency, and can-do spirit,” said Ko. “Runners experience the many facets of Hong Kong all at once, the contradiction of old and modern Hong Kong as well as the city’s rich greenery versus hard-edged urbanism.”

The Marathon began as a celebration of the return of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to China, a cross-border race from Hong Kong to Shenzhen. At the time, the event drew the largest field of runners ever to a distance event in Hong Kong. Then in 2002 the city played host to the 8th Asian Marathon Championships, with participation jumping to 13,574. This was the Marathon’s first step towards the world stage, and the event again hosted this regional competition in 2008, 2013 and 2015.

As the years passed the number of runners grew exponentially until two years ago they were capped at 74,000. the Marathon now features several complementary races: a Half Marathon, 10km Race, 10km and 3km Wheelchair Races, and the all-new 1.8km Family Run.

The race is held in late January / early February so that temperatures will be favourable for long distance running (13–19C). Runners arrive at the starting line at Tsim Sha Tsui from around 05.00. The start area is marked with a towering arch marquee nearby which runners drop off their belongings at the baggage deposit.

The race starts at 06.10 on Nathan Road outside The Mira Hong Kong, one of the city’s most iconic hotels. The surrounding Tsim Sha Tsui area is a vibrant shopping, dining and commercial district visited by local and tourists alike and renowned for its eclectic mix of high-end shopping and local eateries.

Hong Kong streets are not as wide as those in North America so to get a better starting position you have to come early. Before the turn point at 19km the course is mostly uphill, rising from 10m to 80m, and thereafter it gently declines until reaching the Western Harbour tunnel (30m below sea level) and on to Hong Kong Island.

After the start you find yourself on Nathan Road in the heart of Kowloon. This is the Mongkok area, a hangout for locals filled with shops and restaurants — young fashion and small boutiques mixed together with street food and performers. You can see mid-rise buildings — the older side of Hong Kong — nestling amid towering concrete skyscrapers. This scene is especially impressive in the early morning.

As you reach the West Kowloon Highway and step onto Stonecutters Bridge you get expansive views of Victoria Harbour and the west side of Hong Kong Island. At this point you are quarter of the way into the race. After 15km you reach Tsing Ma Bridge, the world’s 11th longest suspension bridge (second longest at the time of its completion) and one of the key arteries that connect to Hong Kong International Airport. Be sure to enjoy the scenery and greenery, as it’s a unique side of Hong Kong that should be admired more.

After zipping through the Cheung Tsing Tunnel you pass halfway and race along the Tsing Kwai Highway. On your right are Hong Kong’s main container terminals, which are at the heart of Hong Kong’s industry. To the left, in stark contrast, are majestic mountains and rolling green hills. Hong Kong truly is a city of contrasts.

The course takes a giant dip as you enter the Western Harbour Tunnel to cross back over to Hong Kong Island side. Before you go underground you will catch sight of the International Commerce Centre, Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper, and Elements Mall, both symbols of modern Hong Kong and its position as a financial hub.

Emerging from the Western Harbour Tunnel on an uphill slope you will have passed 35km. From now on the race flies by as you run along the city’s waterline, looking across the harbour towards the Kowloon side.

Entering Causeway Bay — one of the city’s main shopping, dining and commercial districts — you see hundreds of shops along Hennessy Road, with thousands of fervent supporters cheering you home over the final 800m. Remember to raise your arms and smile for the cameras as you cross the finish line. Runners who finish the race within six hours receive finisher medals.

Water stations are placed at 15 locations with energy drinks available after 10km and bananas and chocolate at 25km and 30km. First aid is available at key areas and at every water station while first aiders patrol the course on bicycles. Physiotherapy stations are at 37km and at the finish. Mobile toilets are strategically placed along the course.

The Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon is not the oldest race around but it is a challenging and fun competition that is attracting more and more overseas runners.

The next Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon will be held on 21 January 2018.

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