And they have the numbers to prove it too. Boasting a whooping record 74K participants, 2017's edition is by far the largest one. You know how we Chinese love our numbers....
Quality wise, as of recent years, the organizers has taken the pain to ensure a certain fluidity by introducing different waves of start off, namely: Marathon Challenge (6:10 am) followed by Marathon Run 1 (6:35 am) and Marathon Run 2 (7:00 am). This was a change born of necessity as massive demands for slots has soared in recent times. Marathon is now a worldwide phenomenon. For SCHKM, some form of ballot has already taken place. Fortunately, I was granted priority registration. Thus qualifying me for the Marathon Challenge slot. If I were to ballot, chances are I may not even secure a place. Who would have predicted that such Marathon craze could come to this?
I flew in on Saturday 11/2/17, with Kok Fei, whom I just met on the flight. So happened, we both intentionally booked our hotels in Causeway Bay near the finish line. And if you think that was mere coincidence, we later found out that we were staying at the same building block, with his hotel just a floor below mine!
Being his first ever trip to HK, and first ever marathon in a temperate climate (though already an accomplished ultra marathoner in Malaysia), I thought we would hang out together so that I could be the self appointed tour guide for the day. However as we made our way to Bib collection, I made an embarrassing blunder by heading to Victoria Park instead of the newly designated place in Tsim Sha Tsui. Such is the fallibility of assumptions and familiarity. Later, it was Kok Fei who also alerted me about a change in the marathon route which I had assumed to be the same as the previous umpteen years. Though the change was minute, one would still need to at least do his 'homework'. I failed on both counts.
I had come with little expectations. This is a start of a new year, and I am slowly working towards Boston in April. But I wouldn't go as far as calling this a training run. Marathon distance beckons respect. I would still desire a good timing based on my current form. But the question is: what is my form?
Recent time trial of sorts was about 3 weeks ago when I did a 21km in 1:37. Off the chart. Way off for a sub 3 attempt. So, I have set my aim at a 3:15 finish based on this. A week prior to SCHKM, the pace had improved a little with a 14km run which I was able to clock comfortably just below 1 hour. But who knows if the pace would be sustainable? Total weekly mileage has not been more than a lethargic 60km. So, the hope isn't high. But I wasn't too concern either.
To me, to get in a good run and learning something along the way would be my primary focus. The timing is actually secondary. What I had hoped to do was in fact to find out what God has in stored for me this time round. This, to me is far more meaningful and lasting. So, prayed I did and committed myself to Him. What was about to unfold was far beyond my expectations.
One thing I realized as I prayed, was that I needed to trust Him. (And He did say to trust Him too!) In order to trust, I have to strip off the self reliance, self sufficiency and self confidence. I have had very close shave with sub 3 all too often. And certain barriers cannot be overcome unless I am ready to let go of my preconceived thoughts and past 'experiences' which were largely speculative and inadequate. In other words, when you are so full of yourself, there is really no more room for God. Trusting Him requires a lot more courage than I thought too. It requires a renewed focus on His All sufficiency. I was about to make a discovery that would change the way I see marathon running....because its not about just me letting go, God would be actively involved too.
While the exuberance of running with a large crowd fueled the initial excitement, one has to sink into the reality of maneuvering through the man made 'blockade' created by differences in pace. You waste valuable time in doing so. SCHKM had set aside the Marathon Challenge wave for this very purpose, but try as they may, there are still going to be some degree of glitch. I suppose one just have to accept this inevitability. I found out later that it was worse in the 2nd and 3rd waves. This is the c'est la vie moment.
I set my aim on a lofty goal. One which would require all of me, and nothing less of God. Why bother setting an easy target when you know your God is the God of the impossible? Would He take pleasure in something easily achievable, that one could manage with or without Him? So, it was not because I was able. But He is able. More than able. I just needed to find out how to rely on Him and work with Him on this.
Because as I ran, one thing was loud and clear. He said: Trust Me. And Me alone.
I felt a sense of lightness in the Spirit. Peace and joy, filled the heart. I was not levitating or in a transcended zone or anything like that. My footing was sure. But my heart was even more so. I felt the strain just like anyone else. I heaved too when climbing the elevations. But something inside me was different. My mind was stayed on Him. I focus only on His greatness and His power, for lack of a better description. His sufficiency was like a constant flow of rhythmic pulse, coursing through my muscles and veins. I don't think I have ever felt like this before. Last I checked, I wasn't on any drugs or alcohol.
I was not too flustered with 44:39 @ 10 km. (Net time). I was not bothered either with any thoughts of trying to catch up or make up for lost time. In the past, almost habitually, that would be my instinctive preoccupation: increase pace, just to pay for it dearly later. However, this time, with every propulsion, I was just looking forward, eager to make every km count. But above it all, more importantly, His presence was there! Tangible and palpable, every step of the way. It wasn't that I don't tire like the rest of the mortals, it was that awesome knowledge that He is right there with me, that made the world of difference. And that was despite my physical perceptions. I recall that moment, thinking thoughts of my son when he took his first steps, being a father, right there with him. Yet this was more. His very strength was felt.
My trust in Him emboldened. His voice became clearer with each passing km. I even heard the call to take the gels at intervals that I would normally not take. Details right down to refrain from taking too much water lest I over drink. When to step up the pace and overtake a trailing group. When to fall back and keep steady on an incline. When to press forward with the pace and charge through.
Perhaps the most 'uplifting' moment was when I had to clear an elevation. The moment when you are at 35km, with the strength sapped and drained. I almost felt dizzy. Then He brought to mind a vivid memory of me carrying my daughter up the Lion Hill just 2 weeks ago when we came to HK for our CNY break. An asthmatic, she was wheezing badly and worn out from the walk. No one along the trail could understand what she had endured. Many were even critical of her. Saying she was too pampered. But I knew. I carried her through because I knew she needed that. Now, my Father was carrying me. The strength came. The power welled up. Believe me, I felt every bit of the strain. But the power just surged through the strain, like a break away dam. He comes through. He just needed me to know that He does. Especially through the pain.
Nearing the end was always a struggle. And when I pleaded with God, it was this: I don't want to suffer that last part. When I think about the end, I often shudder. It was the test of one's limit. But on 12/2/17, nearing the 2:30 hours, after I have just cleared 35km, there was a call to surge.
I was tired. Man! was I tired. But at the same time, I felt an enormous momentum lifting my spirit. I wanted to run. Never have I wanted to finish strong this badly. But it wasn't an impatient kind of spirit. But that of calm, relentless, and fearless, joy filled steps. I was at peace like nothing could shake me. Not even the impending cramps at 39km. I just prayed and ask my Father to take care of it. Hold it at bay. In the final 2 km, heard the call to release all my strength and push forward. Soar! On wings of eagles! These Scriptures meant so much more in the light of this. Do you know what it is like to soar when you have nothing left in you? Well, I tasted that.
Huffs and puffs, arms in full swing, thighs lifted high. I pounded the last tarmac stretch to finish a respectable 3:04:09.
I would look back on this one day. And savor the sweetness of His presence through out the journey of 42.195km. He came through. And knew a bit more about trusting in Him in ways that I could never have dreamed of.
What is reality? Except that God is really Who He is. And we were made for Him.
I want to echo the famous quote from Eric Liddell: " I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel His pleasure." SCHKM is perhaps one of the tougher routes for marathons compared to many other races that I have done. To do a decent time, though not sub 3, has been my dream. This is more than fine for me. And I know that He is pleased with it.
Gun Time: 3:05:09
Chip Time: 3:04:09
Overall Position: 250 / 3,812
Men Position: 231 / 2,170
Men's Master 2 Position: 39 / 1,780
Senior (Born 1983-1997)
Master 1 (Born 1973-1982)
Master 2 (Born 1972 or before)
Time (Gun Time)