Hong Kong Marathon 2015/2017/2018
Background: Since moving to Hong Kong in 2014, I've always felt compelled to do my home race, but it has always got the better of me. I've had three cracks at it and only manged one reasonable time in 2017 when I finished just outside 4 hours. It's held in either January or February, so ideal for a colder and less humid race as well as a good period of cool-weather training. Needless to say, I should do better.
The registration is now via ballot, so it's becoming harder and harder to get into. In 2015 it was still first-come-first-served and in 2016 I ran the half-marathon so got in okay. Since then, I've been lucky once (2018), unlucky once (2017 but I 'banditted') and sneaked in via a fastest time slot once (2019). In 2019, packet pick-up was a disaster, with long queues in the sunshine for a good 60-90 minutes. There are many categories with 10km, 21km and 42km, and we all queued together. As it happens, I didn't even race as I wasn't really ready and the race-morning logistics got the better of me.
Logistics: It's an early start - there are many batches of runners but all full and half marathon runners head off anytime from 5am to 6am from Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. They open the MTR nice and early so as long as you're staying close to an MTR station, it's pretty easy to get to. It's very well organized with plenty of logistical support at the race start - lots of portlaloos and bag drop of course.
The Course: You head off through the streets of downtown Kowloon before getting onto the highway and proceeding towards the shipping port area of Tsing Yi. The highway is a feature of this race - you see a lot of it and therefore very little outside (spectator) support from 1km to 38km. It's pretty mind-numbing at times - probably quite a novelty if you're travelling in from abroad, but if you live there and have done it three times, it's definitely mind-numbing.
After crossing over a couple of bridges, you turn back and head towards Hong Kong island itself. This is a good feeling, but there is a point here that always gets to me. You're into your stride as you get nearer and nearer to HK itself and there is plenty of space on the road. However around 28km, when things are starting to hurt, the slower 21km runners suddenly merge with you and the road becomes crowded. Many are slow, many are walking and often stop in the middle of the road, while others are there for the occasion and stop for selfies every few hundred metres. This is generally the start of my decline - if you let these things get to you, it affects your race for sure.
The highway continues and this eventually takes you under the harbour through the Cross Harbour Western Tunnel at around 32km, and lasts for around 2-3km. If you're feeling good, I imagine it's a good part of the race as you know you're about to enter the final stretch. But for me, I have always started my suffering at the point just before the tunnel starts. I think it's a mental thing now, my mind switches off as I hit the private hell that it is the last 10km.
Once out of the tunnel, you are almost home, but are still on the highway and are now faced with a series rolling slopes. Then you hit the HK Convention Centre area in Wan Chai and finally start to see some crowds who stay with you and increase in number all the way to the finish in Victoria Park.
The Finish: It's a grand finish for sure, and you're filtered through the various stages to get your medal, drinks and snacks. One year was a challenge though, as the exit gate to the nearest MTR was too narrow and thousands of runners were held up for a good 30-45 minutes just trying to exit the park. It was approaching midday too, and although not 'height of the summer' hot, it was sunny and a good 25 degrees. Not a good impression to leave the race with.
Post Race thoughts: It is definitely a well-organized race, and definitely worth doing once. But it's probably the most practical and the most boring of all the courses I've run. I've vowed not to run it again and didn't enter for 2020, but knowing me, never say never.