Pushing towards the finish line

Erin Hale

After being cancelled last year due to the pandemic, the iconic Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon returned this month with around 15,000 runners, including Institute members. Three of them who ran the full marathon talk to Erin Hale about balancing running with work and their journeys to the finish line


As Bryan Ho FCPA hit the 30-kilometre mark of the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon this month, he knew that he was heading into one of the hardest segments of the race. For most runners, the last 12 km of a marathon can be the hardest to face both physically and psychologically, but marathon participants like Ho face the last leg with a fighting spirit.

For Ho, the challenge was compounded, as it involved running through the Western Harbour Tunnel. “The tunnel is around 1.9 km of uphill road so many people walk this stretch of the race, and it can get backlogged. At the same time, the inside of the tunnel gets very hot after the sun comes up, so it’s a very messy and uncomfortable part of the race,” says Ho.

Bryan Ho FCPA, Chief Financial Officer of iFund, finished with a time of 3:40.

The Western Harbour Tunnel is an infamous segment of the marathon, but this year it was even more tasking, Ho says, because organizers merged runners in the 10-km race with the runners of the full marathon at the tunnel this year. Typically, the Standard Chartered-sponsored race draws over 70,000 runners participating in the marathon, half marathon and 10-km race, but due to COVID-19 regulations, the event was limited to around 18,000. The event was also held in October instead of the much cooler month of February.

Course modifications reflecting the smaller-scale event, however, created unplanned bottlenecks that were frustrating for everyone. “The 10-km runners had to change their route so we were all stuck in the Western Harbour Tunnel together. It was very crowded,” adds Ho.​

“When you finish a marathon or ultra-marathon, it’s something you can talk about for the rest of your life.”

Despite the obstacle, Ho took the race in his stride and finished with a time of 3:40. Ho, the Chief Financial Officer of iFund, a private equity firm, only began running marathons in 2016 and quickly became addicted, noting that he regularly runs marathons as well as ultra-marathons. He was planning to use the marathon as a way of training for the 100-km Oxfam Trailwalker in November before the race was cancelled.

“I think it’s very important to always push yourself. As accountants, we are always fielding new challenges, but for many people, facing something new can make them anxious or reluctant to change their ways,” Ho says. “I remember when I first enrolled in a marathon, it felt a lot like taking on a new project at work. I knew the one thing I could do was plan, so I prepared for more than three months and set out a training programme that included advice from experts not just on running, but also nutrition, rest and diet,” he says.

Ho says every race also teaches him an important lesson, because no matter how well he prepares, there’s always something that goes wrong like forgetting to carry enough energy gels or extra batteries for a headlamp used during a nighttime trail race. Even though running long distance comes with its frustrations and often humbling experiences, says Ho, he finds himself always coming back for more.

“I love running. There are so many things to manage in life, so it’s good to have something to be passionate about as well as a sense of balance. When you finish a marathon or ultra-marathon, it’s something you can talk about for the rest of your life.”

Benedict Li CPA, Chief Financial Officer of Million Cities International Limited, finished with a time of 4:43.

From quarantine to finishing

Benedict Li CPA, Chief Financial Officer of property developer Million Cities International Limited, was also uncertain if he would finish the marathon. He finished the race with a time of 4:43, slower than previous events, but to him, it was an achievement given his hectic schedule in the past two years. Li’s work frequently takes him to Mainland China, which makes life busy in ordinary times, but COVID-19 travel restrictions led to multiple stints in quarantine on either side of the border. “Quarantine has made it difficult to find enough training time to prepare for the race. Usually, I prepare for at least two months before the race and gradually increase my distance from 10 km to 13 and then 15 per run and so on, until I get to 30 km over two to three months,” Li explains.

This time, Li increased his distance from 20 km to 25 and finally 30 km in only three weeks. Many runners will run around 30 km at least twice before their race, sometimes increasing their mileage up to 32 km before they taper training ahead of race day.

Before COVID-19 travel restrictions set in, Li was a marathon regular and participated in races in Japan, Taiwan, Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom alongside Hong Kong. “Normally, I run two marathons a year, but of course, I haven’t run any recently because of COVID-19. Last year I applied for four marathons overseas and they were all cancelled.”

“I was a lot more relaxed and even took photos because there were fewer people than in years past. Usually, I’m concentrating so much I don’t want to waste a minute on anything – but this time, I just had fun.”

While Li often races alone, he does not train alone. In addition to his regular weight training at the gym, Li says he joins a running club once a week in Tai Po. The group’s activities often take them to the Tai Po Stadium, which he says was a real boon during COVID-19 because mask rules were more relaxed there than outdoors.

It was Li’s running friends who, in the end, convinced him to run the marathon this year despite his less-than-ideal training. “I applied online on the very last day before registration closed. I knew I wasn’t in shape, and I struggled with whether I should wait until next year, but my running buddies said they were joining and encouraged me to do the same.”

They also reminded him about what races are ultimately about – the joy of running. “Every time I run a marathon I usually have a target. Last time it was less than four hours, but this time I knew the situation was different, so I didn’t set a target,” says Li. “I was a lot more relaxed and even took photos because there were fewer people than in years past. Usually, I’m concentrating so much I don’t want to waste a minute on anything – but this time, I just had fun.”

Ian Leung CPA, Chief Operating Officer at Sterling Private Management Limited, finished with a time of 4:25.

Coming full circle

Ian Leung CPA, Chief Operating Officer at investment management and advisory company Sterling Private Management Limited, has run the marathon since it restarted in 1997, and until a few weeks before race day this year, he thought his marathon days might be over. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 event was cancelled and until a few weeks before, it was unclear if this year’s event would be held due to safety concerns. Leung, however, took his chance to join the race with a spot secured by the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs – even though he knew it would be a greater mountain to climb than previous years.

“Two months ago, I even couldn’t even run 400 metres because I was recovering from a foot injury, but I kept up training and physical therapy so I could do it,” says Leung. “I was able to run maybe three times a week. I was quite devoted to training this year because I knew I might not be able to finish it, so I pushed myself really hard.”

“Two months ago, I even couldn’t even run 400 metres because I was recovering from a foot injury, but I kept up training and physical therapy so I could do it.”

Leung says pre-pandemic he would spend at least two to three months training for a marathon,  and stick to a weekly routine running and playing tennis to keep fit. Training was particularly hard this year because of record high temperatures in September that made running outdoors – a necessary part of most runners’ preparation – a slog.

He also had to balance his training with other responsibilities. “I need to take care of my family before going out for a run, so I usually train in the morning. After sending my daughter to school, I’ll run for about an hour,” Leung says, adding that he was only able to withstand running 20 to 22 km during his training because of the weather. “I was often running when it was 30 degrees celsius.”

Leung, however, has able to draw on his experience from previous marathons. This year, he ran his third-personal best time of 4:25. He says he has learned the course well after watching it evolve from an event with around 6,000 runners into a major international event featuring experienced athletes.

“The first Hong Kong marathon was held near the new airport at Chek Lap Kok. I remember running on the landing area for planes in the cold weather because the airport was still being built,” Leung recalls. “It’s been an interesting experience watching the race change over the last 10 years. There are now many more sponsors giving out a lot of drinks, energy gels and other support to runners. In the old days, you just had your shoes and a few spots to get water.”

Runners Bryan Ho FCPA, Benedict Li CPA and Ian Leung CPA with their families and friends at the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon on 24 October.

15,650 runners took part in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon on 24 October. The number of participants allowed to take part in the three races – the full marathon, half marathon and 10 km race – was reduced from 74,000 to 18,500 as part of COVID-19 precautions.

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