Here in Lantau, it’s always a time for giving. Sam Agars talks to four actively altruistic members of the running community.
If there’s one thing that sets Lantau apart from the rest of Hong Kong, it’s its tight-knit community made up of people who enjoy life in the slow lane. But there’s something else that dominates any conversation about Lantau, and that’s running. Lantauers are mad for it and the trails on the island are some of the best in the territory.
Not surprisingly, when you cross a neighbourly, generous bunch with a group of people that thrives on testing itself in all sorts of endurance events, you get a running community ever ready to do its bit for charity.
There are numerous ways for people to contribute to the greater good, while getting their kicks on the trails. The Lantau-based founders of three of the island’s top races, Barclays MoonTrekker, Salomon LT70 and Country of Origin, explain how it works.
MoonTrekker is one of Lantau’s best-known running events and it’s certainly a heavyweight from a charity point of view. Dreamt up by Pui O resident William Sargent, it’s raised over HK$13 million during its nine years in existence.
The event takes place in October, with the 1,400 participants taking their pick between 30-kilometre and 43-kilometre night-time treks. Both races go up and over Lantau Peak, covering some of the steepest terrain in Hong Kong. The aim is to reach the finish at Pui O Beach before sunrise, either solo, as a pair or in a team of four.
In a sense, there are two ways to win MoonTrekker – you can do so by finishing first in your category, and/ or by raising the most funds. Runners set up a Simplygiving fundraising page as they register, with each participant required to raise at least HK$650. This year’s event exceeded its target by a quarter, raking in over HK$2.5 million.
Funds raised by each competitor or team in each category are tracked on an online Fundraiser Leaderboard, and competition is fierce. This year, Prudential Corporation Asia came out ahead in the Corporate Cup category with HK$154,500; Team HOKA in the Corporate Team category with HK$50,000, NocturnOwls in the Team category with HK$41,235; Try Club HKG 10 in the Pair category with HK$29,066; and Zheng Junhao in the Solo category with HK$611,500.
MoonTrekker sells out in minutes each year and initially raised money for Room to Read, an educational literacy charity that does work in Nepal. For the last two years, however, funds have been directed to The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a conservation organisation William is passionate about that works around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters. To date, TNC’s dedicated supporters have been responsible for the protection of more than 119 million acres worldwide, including cross-border initiatives in the Coral Triangle and the forests of South East Asia.
“TNC is big in the US and big in China and it is now doing projects in Hong Kong, so part of all of this is evangelising the brand and getting awareness in Hong Kong – letting people know what the charity is doing,” says William, who has lived in South Lantau since he was 12.
“TNC is doing stuff that is so pertinent to Lantau but people don’t realise it,” he adds. “There are not many large conservation charities that are actually deploying projects on Lantau, and TNC is doing exactly that through two key projects – oyster reef restoration and bio-diversity mapping.”
Country of Origin’s 450
Nic Tinworth’s Country of Origin trail race kicks off in Mui Wo and brings 150 teams of three of the same nationality together for a 30-kilometre run along the Lantau Trails. Teams must start the race together, stay together and finish together and, while running in national colours is not mandatory, it is highly encouraged.
Held annually in April, Country of Origin supports Free to Run, a charity which uses running, fitness and adventure to empower and educate women and girls from conflict-affected communities. Free to Run strongly believes in the power of sports to transform lives, and is committed to making that happen. Country of Origin donates five percent of each race registration to the charity and, boosted by further individual donations, raised close to HK$30,000 this year. Since its inception in 2015, the event has raised over HK$100,000.
Nic says it is obvious how much the 450 Country of Origin participants enjoy “doing good,” while they run. What’s more, he is not surprised that the Lantau community is so supportive of good causes.
“Generally speaking, people who live on Lantau seem to be a lot more laid back, friendlier and more involved and invested in their community, which definitely has parallels because as caring people they are more motivated to support charities and the causes they promote,” he says.
The past couple of races have also seen teams from Free to Run competing and getting involved by helping out at checkpoints. “Apart from being really fun for them, it really helps to raise awareness and is great for the runners to see,” Nic says. “This year, there were a lot of participants at the finish clapping all the teams in, and many of the registered runners and teams made extra donations when they signed up.”
Salomon LT 70’s 500
No ordinary trail-running and hiking store, Mui Wo-based Lantau Base Camp (LBC) is another Lantau organization that encourages the community to give back. It’s been organising trail races since 2012, and offers participants the option of making a donation to a charity whenever they sign up to compete.
FWD North Pole Marathon’s 52
Of course, Lantauers are not confined to the island in their pursuit of hard-core endurance races and fundraising opportunities. Tung Chung residents Elina Makilammi and her husband Diarmuid O’Shea ran the FWD North Pole Marathon in April this year, raising around HK$36,000 for 350, a charity that fights climate change and believes in developing 100% clean energy solutions.
The 52 competitors in the ‘World’s Coolest Marathon’ literally race at the top of the world. The 42.195-kilometre race is run on a small, 4.22-kilometre loop, over hard snow and ice floes less than a metre thick. Elina describes the challenge as massive both physically and mentally, with the eight-hour race taking place overnight in temperatures as low as -40°C.
“My husband is always looking into crazy races and he wanted to do this for a while,” Elina says. “For us, it’s always important to give money where it’s needed, we thought it was a great opportunity to raise awareness and money for a good cause.”
LBC holds six runs a year – including the two-leg Hong Kong Stairmaster Series and the LBC Valentines Race. The biggest of the lot is the Salomon LT 70, which takes place in October.
Limited to 440 solo runners and 15 teams of four relay runners, the LT 70 starts out from Mui Wo. The race unfurls over varied terrain, from rough, steep, mountainous single tracks to flat concrete footpaths, and covers the whole 70 kilometres of the Lantau Trail.
“Seventy kilometres on the Lantau Trail is not a walk in the park,” LBC co-owner Echo Gong says. “Your biggest climbs are within the first 13 kilometres. Later, the concrete catch-water sections make your knees hurt. Then you have a 200-metre climb up Nam Shan before the trail heads downhill into Mui Wo. Go out too hard and you’ll be smashed by Tai O. Pace yourself early and you’ll finish like a champ!”
This year, the LT 70 raised an estimated HK$3,000 for Tai O – Buddhist Fat Ho Memorial College.
“We team up with local charities, and people have the option if they want to donate or not and how much they want to donate. There is nothing compulsory,” Echo says. “We offer an additional channel for people to be able to contribute to charity and give back to the community. The running community are always willing to help and they are very generous and eager to give back.”
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