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Ready, set, go!

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With the weather getting cooler, now is an ideal time for beginners to hit the trails for the first time, or – for those with more experience – to start training in preparation for a race. Elizabeth Jerabek gets the lowdown on gear, nutrition and motivation from three local experts (Photos by Col Sim)

There are many reasons to live in Discovery Bay, but having Lantau Country Park right in your backyard is one of the best. During COVID-19, this proximity to some of best trails in Hong Kong has provided a lifeline for many DB residents.

With so many trails leading out from DB, it’s up to you whether you want to challenge yourself with a tough uphill sprint in preparation for a race or simply get a little gentle exercise on a Sunday morning.

The gear
According to Shakeel Nawaz, director of retail operations for Escapade Sports, the most important consideration for trail runners is their shoes. “The outer sole of the shoe is the most significant difference between a typical running shoe and a trail variant,” he says. “The outer soles of trail running shoes have lugs, which provide increased traction. Some trail running shoes have shorter lugs, which are better suited for the hard surfaces often found on many of the paved concrete trails in Hong Kong. Other trail running shoes have longer more aggressive lugs on the outer soles, which are better suited to runs on loose, soggy or wet trails and paths.”

Once properly shod, how much other gear you need is again determined by the kind of trail you are tackling. “A short run might only require a water bottle, energy bar, Octopus card and a phone – all of which could be carried easily in a waist pouch,” explains Shakeel. “But a 30K walk across Lantau would call for a hydration pack where – in addition to the reservoir for water – you could carry some extra food and electrolytes, a jacket and other essentials like trail poles.

“Night-time hiking and trail running are getting popular and are a good way to beat the crowds, beat the heat and enjoy fantastic sightings of Hong Kong’s wildlife,” Shakeel adds. “If you are planning to run at night you not only need a good headlamp, but also a small auxiliary torch as backup.”

Shakeel is quick to highlight recent innovations in the way trail running gear is made. “Changes in outerwear not only include new styles, but also a greater choice in fabrics, such as high-tech super breathable polyesters, bamboo fibres or classic Merino wool,” he says. “GPS watches have become more affordable and superlight weight with longer battery run times.

“Ten years ago, finding a pair of poles usually meant settling for a pair that a mountaineer would want on a K2-bound expedition,” he adds. “But now you can find lightweight aluminium and carbon fibre poles that can be quickly and easily folded away with the pull of a string. Hydration packs to head lamps, shoes to caps, everything has evolved and choices have improved.”

Michael Skobierski racing up Lantau Peak in the Lantau Vertical, 2017 (Photo by Col Sim)

Michael Skobierski racing up Lantau Peak in the Lantau Vertical, 2017 (Photo by Col Sim)

Fitness and nutrition
DB resident Michael Skobierski started trail running eight years ago when he arrived in Hong Kong. “I was looking for a way to access all the hills I kept seeing from the office and I was fascinated by Hong Kong’s natural beauty,” he says. “I was amazed at how quickly you can exit the urban area and find yourself in completely different environments.”

Michael’s basic advice for trail runners is to put on your shoes and go: “You don’t need much for a short trail run and you can be ready with five minutes of preparation.” But with that said, he has some valuable wisdom to share. Michael was a member of the winning team, Gone Running-Joint Dynamics, in the 2018 Oxfam Trailwalker race, as well as the Lantau 70 and Lantau Vertical individual champion in 2017, and the King of the Hills overall champion 2017/ 2018.

For those transitioning from road to trail running, Michael says the biggest challenge is the constant up and down across different surfaces. “When you are running on the road, you can usually hold a steady pace. But on the trail, you need to constantly brake and accelerate due to turns, technical downhills or steep uphills,” he explains. “For trail runs over a longer distance, you might not run the uphill but power hike instead to conserve energy.”

In Lantau the conditions on the trail can be very tough and a steep climb in the sun will quickly wear down your reserves, so it is important to be mindful of your nutrition and hydration. “There are many different formulas, and you will want to try different things to see what works best for you,” Michael says. “I usually hydrate from the start and make sure I have a constant calorie intake. For each hour of running I have 500ml of liquid and at least 100cal of nutrition (solid food such as banana, granola bars or energy
gels), and I keep the intake steady from the start.”

Trail runners often experience injuries as a result of over use, as repetitive movements over a long time can wear down joints and ligaments. “The strong impact of running downhill can be very tough for the feet and knees while some preconditions like an unbalanced stride will also result in injuries,” Michael confirms. Cross training, consequently, is important for trail runners, particularly exercise targeting the core and hip strength.

Giving your body sufficient recovery time to rest and heal after a run or series of runs is equally important. “The beauty of trail running in Lantau is the variety and you can keep changing between hillier trail runs or flat runs. Or you can take a break one day with a run on the road, as well as changing the intensity of the runs,” Michael says. “But there are different forms of fatigue, and when you notice any of them I would either just do a very easy and short pleasure run or not run at all.”

Staying motivated
DB resident Nikki Han has been trail running for seven years and is a member of the Hong Kong Sports Clinic Team affiliated with Lantau Base Camp in Mui Wo. In 2019, Nikki was also one of the top three finalists in the non-stop, 300-kilometre Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge (HK4TUC). Nikki beat out 26 local and international runners to finish in third place in 58 hours and become the first woman to do so.

“Trail running is awesome,” she says. “It makes you feel free. It clears your head and everything you see makes sense. The trails teach you. They keep you calm and not so worried about ‘stuff.’ The more you run the more you filter out all the meaningless stuff.”

Speaking of motivation, it also helps to hit the trails to benefit a good cause, as Nikki did on August 15 to celebrate her 50th birthday and to raise awareness for Asia Trail Girls (ATG), an organisation dedicated to helping girls and women from all over Asia discover the beauty of trail running.

“My goal was to inspire and encourage ladies of a similar age to challenge themselves, to keep moving forward,” says Nikki. “I want other women to see the benefits that come with trail running. Doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are, just getting out there is the thing you can do for yourself.”

As part of the ATG Vert – Race for Elevation Challenge, Nikki completed an ‘Everest’ by running 20 laps from the bottom of the golf course road in DB to the top of Tiger’s Head and back down – in 22 hours. Nikki started the challenge at 6am on August 15 and finished at 9am on August 16. She was joined by 15 trail running friends who each ran a loop with her, and she also did five loops on her own.

Nikki’s Everest Challenge route is popular with both veteran trail runners and casual weekend hikers, as are many of the trails that lead out from Discovery Bay.

Nikki’s Everest Challenge route is popular with both veteran trail runners and casual weekend hikers, as are many of the trails that lead out from Discovery Bay.

Asia Trail Girls, www.asiatrailgirls.com
Escapade Sports, www.escapade.com.hk

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