Running the half-marathon of Hong Kong barefoot

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After almost two stiffing years in Hong Kong, for the first time, as mass competition was allowed by the Hong Kong authorities, under the form of the Standard Chartered marathon. I knew that one of my goals was indeed running such a race, but I was not sure of my performance, as the past two years had been hard on my training form. Still, I made the decision of running the half-marathon of Hong Kong barefoot.

THREE YEARS BAREFOOTING

Although my fitness dramatically decreased over the year 2020 with the restrictions (among which that period where authorities demanded people to run with masks), this did not mean that I stopped either barefooting or running. In fact, I did make the effort, even walking to work. There was however a period, during the third wave, where restrictions became absurd, with masking being obligatory even to jog around. Meanwhile, restaurants kept open and had people eating unmasked during the whole pandemic.

The final control over the locally transmitted cases in Hong Kong finally opened the way for a resumption of running competitions. And the most important of these was the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon. Of course, it was always my intention to run the half-marathon of Hong Kong barefoot.

Hong Kong’s COVID paranoia

Having any form of mass competition in Hong Kong is a tall order, given the local authority paranoia with mass events and sporting events. A previous trail running race was only allowed back in July with stringent precautions, among which compulsory vaccination for runners and some regulations on masking at departure and arrival lines.

While this race only demanded competitors to be fully vaccinated, the Hong Kong marathon, added to its requirements, the obligation of undergoing a COVID-19 test. Given that around 17,000 people registered for the race (but eventually only 13,000 ran), it took basically three days to get everyone tested.

At the same time, since COVID is not prevalent in Hong Kong, one cannot help but wonder why this requirement was added.

Competitors for the Hong Kong marathon line up to pick their race kit and under Covid-19 tests. The race is only open to vaccinated runners and numbers were slashed compared to the pre-pandemic situation.
Competitors for the Hong Kong marathon line up to pick their race kit and under Covid-19 tests. The race wasonly open to vaccinated runners and numbers were slashed compared to the pre-pandemic situation.

While the pandemic is a reality and has seen a rebound after the appearance of the Omicron variant (which was not yet known at the time of the race), Hong Kong has pretty much avoided new infections after the 4th wave was defeated earlier this year.

Race Day

Here came then race day, and because my time on 20 k was only 2h 44, I was placed in the “G” group, namely the slow guys to put it otherwise. This meant that my departure time was around 8.30-8.40, which, in Hong Kong, is not optimal, as heat starts coming down hard at around 9 AM.

However, on race day, the temperature was a quite acceptable 25 ° C, might made it easier to run faster and not be affected by the heat and the humidity.

Hong Kong, China, 24 Oct 2021, Runners congregate on Nathan road ahead of their staggered start.
Hong Kong, China, 24 Oct 2021, Runners congregate on Nathan road ahead of their staggered start.

People were really keen on going out and running together in what was the first mass event since the start of the pandemic. But it would not really be Hong Kong, without a polemic on the clothes which some runners sought to wear (namely protest slogans). Some runners were barred from joining the race, and any who carried a bag (me included) were invited to have it opened for a quick check.

Hong Kong, China, 24 Oct 2021, Police were present in force at the start line of the marathon. Any runner with a bag was required to open it for a search.
Hong Kong, China, 24 Oct 2021, Police were present in force at the start line of the marathon. Any runner with a bag was required to open it for a search.

Police was also present in force, seeking to dissuade any attempt to restart the protests which marked most of 2019 and a part of 2020.

Pacing yourself during the race

The main issue most newbies on long-distance running encounter is pacing themselves during the race. In fact, if you keep running at a speed for which you did not really train beforehand, you will end up injuring yourself or being unable to end your race except by walking. This is all the more important if you plan on running the half-marathon of Hong Kong barefoot.

It was thus that I used my watch to carefully time myself during the race in order to keep myself within my own limits; I was however surprised to notice that on flat sections I managed to reach 6.36 min/km, without feeling particularly tired or feeling that I demanded too much of myself.

I slowed down somewhat to around 7.30 min/km around the climb on the highway to Kwai Chung, then resumed a faster 7 min/km pace as the race turned around and started going downhill towards the tunnel.

The cross-harbour tunnel

The cross-harbour tunnel of Hong Kong is dedicated to cars crossing between Kowloon and Hong Kong. However, on this occasion the Western cross-harbour tunnel was reserved for runners exclusively, and I was probably the first one to run there barefoot.

My selfie in the cross-harbour tunnel
Hong Kong, China, 24 Oct 2021, A runner takes a selfie in the cross-harbour tunnel which was closed to traffic for the occasion..

As we ran, we came to the end of the tunnel and that was another climb which, in my training, I had viewed with apprehension. But as I had kept my energy until then, I again surprised myself, being able to keep a reasonable pace altogether. By now, runners were slowing down, some were walking, and some stopped to catch their breath. I pushed forward, trying to keep an even pace, but also supplying myself with the occasion coconut juice and bananas provided by the race organization. This enabled me to keep some fuel for the final track.

My video of my half-marathon barefoot

The most difficult 3 kms

In the run-up to the race, I had taken the precaution of running as close as I could to 21 k, but did not go further than 18 kms in total. This showed on race day, as the last 3 kms between Wanchai and Victoria park gradually grew to become the hardest for me. I realized, checking my watch on Henessy road, that I had somehow slipped down to 9 min/kms! I caught myself and tried to run faster for the last few kilometers, trying to push myself over the finish line, somehow.

As soon as we arrived, we were literally assaulted by volunteers, asking us to wear masks (while being totally out of breath and being all vaccinated…). Today, in light of the omicron variant and its increased transmission capacity, I would agree such precautions make sense. But in the specific case of Hong Kong, their stringent 21-days quarantine all but eradicated any transmission from outside.

Anyway, it then came time to check my watch and my progression time… And I was literally surprised to find out that I had managed a time sub-2h30 (2h26, to be precise).

I managed to ask a helpful runner to take a picture of me at the finish line, after the race… And you can see by my smile, that I was tired but happy!

After the race

Another milestone

This was not my very first 21 K, but the first one was on a quite different course, very much made of climbs and descents around Sai Kung. This half-marathon gives a better idea of my intrinsic capacities, bearing in mind that I was basically training five days per week during the month preceding the race.

Also, this marks another event for me, as it is my fourth year of barefoot running! Conclusions and thoughts on this belong to another post though. Nevertheless, I should emphasize that I only had positive reactions from other runners on this race, and I hope I might have inspired one or the other to take the path to barefooting in turn.

Did you like this article? What thoughts does it inspire you? Leave a comment below!

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