Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2015. A Prologue.
We have the opportunity of visiting Hong Kong (again) as 2014 comes to an end. The plan is to spend a quiet couple of days in Sai Kung, a 'remote' or less populated part of Hong Kong, to commemorate the events of 2014 and usher in 2015. What can I say, we are romantic optimists.
As the 2 month long student protest concluded with a stale mate, at least outwardly, life resumes. The bustle of Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui speaks for it all. "Life goes on because in Hong Kong, ideology does not feed the hungry mouths!" If you still fail to grasp the 'reality' that I am talking about, a few days in Hong Kong is enough to hand you a sobering dose.
We are back here mainly because of my mother-in-law's failing health. The wife, a Hong Kongnese, would take every opportunity to return home to fulfill her daughterly duty. You would guess that I am the passive partner dragged into this against my will. You are probably right. But to set the record straight, it is not the in-laws, it is the perpetually claustrophobic environment in Hong Kong that I can never quite get used to. It is suffocating. The crowd. Everywhere. Faces and people. Endless streams of them. Where do they come from? Each time I am here, I feel like a song bird caged in. The wings would be clipped and I would never fly again. Can people live here?
But something has changed. Against the weakening Malaysian ringgit, Hong Kong Dollar is now strengthening thanks to the Americans. And with a positive outlook for 2015, it looks poised to regain its momentum despite a global economic downturn. Unfortunate for us, things are pricey. Hotels are easily 20% more expensive than it used to be. Goods, and food are not exempted. A bowl of noodles, is about 38-42 HKD. Convert that, its about 17-19 MYR. And we are not even talking about expensive restaurants but the 'Tai Pai Tong'.
You may think that this will hurt the tourist industry. Not necessarily. Just because some can't afford it, it doesn't mean that the rest of the world would feel the pinch. There are just too many rich folks out there. And that's the reality. Life goes on. The inflation goes on. The prices keep going up. The houses and apartments keep getting more ridiculously expensive. Sure, people complain, but what do you do? Start a revolution? Go on hunger strike?
Before I get more pessimistic about the situation, I must remind myself that I am only a tourist. I have my own sets of problems in Malaysia. There are bigger issues in life than what we eat, drink or wear. So, swiftly coming back to the topic, what are some of the considerations for those heading over to Hong Kong this coming 25 Jan 2015 for the SCHKM?
Most, not unlike myself, who frantically waited in queue for a chance to register for SCHKM 2015 had only a tunnel vision when it came to securing a spot in the event. The considerations only came later. Of course there are some lucid and focused souls out there that thoroughly thought through the decision before committing to this frenzy. You know who you are....
And when the cheap flights are booked. Then a dose of reality hits home as one suddenly realizes that he has taken the bait. There is hardly any reasonably cheap accommodation to be found! What is one to do? A place in SCHKM is secured. The flights are booked. There is nothing left to do but to book that darn overpriced hotel....
The recent trend of short term apartment rentals in the Airbnb is catching on. It offers an alternative to some but frankly speaking, unless you are the adventurous type, you may be less inclined to take the plunge. You will be gambling away your weekend, not knowing if what you have booked is really what it claims to be. For those with hotel reservation, at least you could complain about the room if it falls short of your requirement, the hotel may indulge you in giving you another room....
That said, travelling in packs may be the way to go. You can consider renting apartments for a group of 5-6. It seems like a more affordable way to travel nowadays, as long as you can get along with people, and not mind too much about your own personal space. But for a 40 something, I am way too old for that. Besides, those who have organized flights and travel plans for a group could tell you that it isn't at all an easy task. Nor is it an appreciated one. No one wants to take on that kind of responsibility. Why on earth the aggravation?
So, we have set the scene. The forecast for 25 Jan 2015? Typically cooler than February as they are still in the middle of their winter. So expect the low teens or sub 10 degree Celsius. This time, SCHKM 2015 is a tat earlier than usual. Not entirely sure why but perhaps clashing with Tokyo Marathon yearly had finally made the HK Stan Chart organizers think twice about the repercussions. After all, Tokyo is now a Majors. And spending wise, it is more economical to travel to Japan now with its recession in full swing. Food and accommodation is actually more affordable if one cares to consider that option. Just saying...
The SCHKM marathon route is the same as past years. The Starting point is at Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, next to Hotel Mira. It would be ideal to book your accommodation near that region but great accessibility thanks to the MTR means that you could get there in good time with relative ease. Nonetheless, you must take into consideration the crowd factor. In other words, just make sure you get there early for the bag deposits, toilet breaks etc.
So, ultimately, for most revisiting SCHKM, the only difference is the kind of crowd you are running alongside. By the time it was my turn to register online, I was already too late to secure a place in the Marathon Challenge category which commences at 6:10 am. The only option offered to me was the Marathon Run 1 (suitable for those with PB between 4-5 hours). So, I had to take whatever they could offer. And the start time is at 6:40 am. What this means is that I may be running with a slower group. (No offense intended!) And with that, I can expect a bottle neck finish along with the rest of the 10km and Half Marathon runners as all eventually converge and finish at Victoria Park, in Causeway Bay. It will be a massive crowd. God knows what kind of acrobatic manoeuvre is required to dodge your way out of it! But whatever it takes, I will plough my way through.
It is perhaps helpful to visualize yourself running along the Route. But the elevations in the initial first half is not to be trifled with. Be warned! After years of running in SCHKM, by sheer repetition, the route and elevations has been forcibly ingrained in me; Enough to grant me adequate experience by trial and error to come up with a strategy to run this particular race. The essence of it: If you plan to finish strong, it is wise to conserve adequately during the first half. There is no point pushing too hard just yet; just to blunder later on when you are handed your moment during the second half where the over all descent unfolds. By then, you would have hardly anything left in the tank to dig in.
So, another rendezvous with SCHKM 2015 awaits. It is less than a month away. If you are not already putting in the mileage and doing all those hill repeats, then you are already behind. Someone once pointed out to me that running a marathon isn't just about going out there and finishing that 42.195km distance. Anyone can do that. But to truly enjoy what you do is to make the effort to delve into it like a student of marathon. I am still learning the art of it. I am still discovering more about myself each time I train. And each time I fail.
Perhaps that is probably why I come back to HK time and again. Though the route is the same, and the crowd is as massive as ever, yet, whatever it is, you can never out learn the lessons that awaits you. Because it is never the same each time. I may think I know the strategy, route and elevation, the logistics, and all there is to know about SCHKM, I am still going to find out on 25 Jan 2015 something that I have never considered. That is the magic and mystery of marathon running! It always surprises you. And more importantly, humbles you.
So, with an open heart and mind, let's make these last few weeks count until we meet in HK, yet again, on 25 Jan 2015!!