Thanks to the generous time limit, Chong managed to finish the race and take lots of photos along the way. However, his finishing time was not good as he did not have a rigid and systematic training plan for the race.
Chong’s overseas marathon experience has also led to some unforgettable moments. He proposed to his fiancée during the Prague Marathon in the Czech Republic. He recalls the day when the Prague Marathon organisers prepared a special bib for him with the words “Will you marry me?” on it. They also gave him a bunch of flowers at the 41km point of the race. As he crossed the finishing line, the organisers even changed the music for him. It was a romantic moment.
Compared with the distinctive routes and warm support found in overseas marathons, Hong Kong appears to offer a less satisfactory experience.
There are only two marathon races: the China Coast Marathon organised by the Athletic Veterans of Hong Kong (AVOHK) and the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, which has been organised by the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association since 1997. The former is more challenging because of the design of the course in Pak Tam Chung, Sai Kung. This makes it less popular than the Standard Chartered version which attracted around 65,000 participants in 2011.
Despite the high number of participants, there have been many complaints about the routing and organisation of the Standard Chartered marathon.
Chong writes in his blog that a great sports event should not just be a game but an event that strengthens a city’s spirit and its citizens’ sense of belonging.
He says that runners in Hong Kong do not come into contact with the streets that show the real Hong Kong as they are running on the highway for almost 99 per cent of the route. This disappoints him. He sees it as a failure to unite the community through sport.
One runner who has participated in both local marathon races and found them lacking is 56-year-old psychiatric nurse Fung Kwei-lap. What upsets him the most is the lack of support from the government, other local residents, and even family and friends.
As both of the races are run outside the urban areas, there is nobody by the roadside to cheer on the runners. “Sometimes I felt so alone as I was running along the road. The training and running are already very difficult and harsh. When there is no support, this can easily make a runner want to give up,” he says.
Only the famous Standard Chartered marathon “three bridges, one tunnel” landmarks bear witness to the success or failure of the participants as they pound along the highways. Once, when Fung was running along the Route Three highway, he was scolded by a truck driver for blocking the road.
In the final stage of the race, runners do pass through urban areas like Wan Chai and Causeway Bay and, for safety’s sake, the police clear the roads in these areas for the race. However, unlike other cities, not everyone supports the runners. Sometimes, they even reprimand them. Fung says the police have even been known to hold up the runners to let pedestrians pass and they make it clear they just want to re-open the area as soon as possible.
What makes matters worse, says Fung, is that family members and friends are not allowed to wait for participants at the end of the race. “Training for a marathon is harsh and time-consuming. I just want to share my joy with my family and friends as I finish one.”
Although Fung and others find the race unsatisfactory, they still support the event simply because they are local runners. Sadly, in Hong Kong, marathon runners are not respected.