Hong Kong running – 2nd to 7th April 2018


Ah, Hong Kong. The Pearl of the Orient. Asia’s World City. Honkers.

It’d been more than 20 years since the last time I was there, so we tied it in as part of Lis’ belated 30thbirthday celebration. Naturally, I took my running shoes with me, so read on to find out how I found Hong Kong as a tourist runner.

Admiralty to Central Pier and back x 3

Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 21.24.02

Lis and I spent a lot of time around the Central district of Hong Kong Island, with it serving as a major hub to reach many other parts of the city. Strolling through the area on our first day, both of us couldn’t help but notice the large numbers of runners running up and down the promenade that leads to Central Pier. I kept my eyes peeled for potential running routes and this was one of the most accessible with minimal opportunities for me to get lost!

I returned a day later whilst Lis had a nap in the hotel. Travelling via MTR system, I felt incredibly exposed; I wore one of my skimpiest vest and shorts combos to factor in the 28°C temperature outside, but didn’t consider how high the air conditioning was turned up to!

Exiting Admiralty station, I only had a vague idea of where I needed to get to. There was an incredible amount of construction taking place, which meant certain exits and pedestrian access paths were closed off; thankfully, I successfully meandered my way to the start of my scoped out run – Tamar Park.

Tamar Park may sound grand on paper, but it was really just a collection of paths and a few patches of grass that are atypical of urban environments. Hong Kong unfortunately misses out on having a large-scale park in the vein of New York, Tokyo, London et al. Whereas Hong Kong does have plenty of country parks, they’re largely unpaved and better suited to trail runners than road runners.

One of my first thoughts when I started running towards Central Pier? “Damn. It’s hot!” 28°C along with humidity to match from the sub-tropical climate was a shock to the system; the last time I ran in such conditions was in Greece back in the summer of 2017. I had the sense to pre-load on some electrolytes back at the hotel and it was promising to see water fountains dotted around quite regularly throughout the Tamar Park section of the promenade.

I love running whilst abroad as it offers an opportunity to people watch without being too obvious. With my sunglasses on, nobody was any wiser that I was making observations like a laboratory scientist studying specimens in an experiment.

In spite of it still being incredibly warm and with the sun still high in the sky, there were dozens of runners out and about. The same held true on the previous day around 2pm when it was even warmer. Unlike Thailand, where runners only seemed to come out and play early in the morning or once dusk had settled, Hong Kongers appeared to take little notice of the conditions and simply ran when they could. I’m talking all types of runners; from seriously lean looking club runner types, to those merely out for an afternoon jog with no time or distance goal. Observing what people wore was also fascinating, with some adopting a more is more approach with long-sleeves and full-length tights (yikes and yikes), whereas others went with as little as they could legally get away with. I saw quite a few blokes running bare chested and I was tempted to join them, doing as the Romans do in Rome. Short-shorts, or split shorts, are also very much a thing in Hong Kong – they likely never went out of fashion! Many of the lean-looking male runners I saw sported them, and almost all of the sportswear stores I visited had them in plentiful supply in all sizes.

Making my way down the promenade, I had to keep my wits about me as people crossed to board or depart the timeless Star Ferry. Costing only 25p to 30p for a single ride depending on the exchange rate, it takes passengers across the water to and from Kowloon for some majestic views of the city, especially on clear days with little mist or haze. Passengers had little special awareness, which actually helped me out as it dictated that I had to be the one to take evasive manoeuvres.

I questioned myself once more if I were to be so bold to take my vest off and do as many of the locals did. There was little to no breeze that day and my only respite was the shade offered periodically by the Star Ferry terminals on the promenade.

Suddenly, all the tourists vanished and I found myself running through a much more industrial looking part of the promenade. I reached a tunnel and it was not obviously clear if there was a pedestrian footpath for me to follow, or that I could even get through to the other side. Rather than potentially end up on the evening’s local news, I decided against explorations and did a U-turn to head back to Tamar Park for another repeat. Each lap came to approximately 2km, and with a bit of faffing at the start to get back to the station, added up to 7 miles in total.

Having done a full day’s worth of sightseeing the day prior with lots of walking, my legs had seen better days. Much of the promenade was made up of hardwearing block paving – each shockwave was truly felt. My ribs and lower back were also still tender from the previous week’s go-karting shenanigans to have me falling apart at the seams…

One more lap and I was done. I had to return to the hotel via the MTR; I was thankful for the roaring air conditioning, especially as it was a rush hour train and I was incredibly self-aware of how sweaty I was, post-run…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Kowloon waterfront

Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 21.22.28

Hong Kong’s not an easy place to be a long distance runner. Hosting their own marathon in February, I have nothing but utmost respect for any Hong Konger that trains for the race with so few places to run long, undisturbed. The streets, whilst plentiful, are far from ideal for running on. Aside from being busy with other pedestrians, traffic light controlled crossings are everywhere. Hong Kong is a pretty compliant society, so the signals to cross are largely observed by most; needing to stop every 100m or so for a few minutes just isn’t practical when you’re trying to build endurance!

As much as I’d have liked to run a more imaginative route, time, accessibility and not getting lost were high on my agenda. I ended up on the other side of the water in Kowloon for a run along the other waterfont. If I had to describe Kowloon, I’d call it more traditional in comparison to Hong Kong Island. The buildings aren’t nearly as tall and there’s not quite as much polish as the more cosmopolitan Hong Kong Island.

Using the MTR, this time in morning rush hour, I travelled to Admiralty and changed lines to eventually end up at East Tsim Sha Tsui. As if by magic, I appeared exactly where I needed to be on the waterfront.

Normally, I would have been able to run through the “Avenue of Stars – monuments and statues to Hong Kong’s film and TV stars. Due to refurbishment of the general area, this section was closed off to require that I run a short stretch on pavement and jump a few traffic lights (shhhh…) before landing on the promenade proper.

There were dozens of runners out in force that morning. All shapes, sizes and ages. Normally, I’m the token Chinese guy out running and at races, so it was incredibly mind-boggling to see so many people from the same ethnic background as me out running. In a reversal of roles, I did see one sole white guy out running – we were like yin and yang, restoring balance to the universe, perhaps?

Peppered between hotels were apartment complexes – new and old. Some of the elderly residents practiced tai chi in the sun to be as clichéd Hong Kong as possible! Very gradually, the hotels disappeared, followed by the apartment complexes; in their place were more industrial-looking buildings, much like the extremities of my Hong Kong Island run.

Pace-wise, I didn’t feel like the heat affected me much at all, though this was after three whole days sightseeing in the sun for some quick acclimation. Similarly to the other side of the water, what I didn’t get on with was the very firm block paving underfoot. Adjusting my gait for a softer landing did little to offset the pounding, and with only an hour to play with, I chose to go with a simple out and back along the promenade.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Stray observations of a running man in Hong Kong

If you ever find yourself in Hong Kong and are in need of a 400m track, I’m aware of at least two for certain. I spotted the first 400m track, located at Aberdeen Sports Centre, whilst on an open-top bus tour; yes, there’s a place in Hong Kong named after a place in Scotland – go figure. The complex was open and completely free to the public. With so little space available, the Hong Kong Government have invested heavily in recreational facilities, and there were plenty of people coming and going from the 400m oval. Sadly, Aberdeen is not the easiest place to get to, with the nearest MTR station being Wong Chuk Hang and probably requiring a few line changes depending on where you’re based.

The other 400m track I’m aware of is at Wan Chai Sports Ground, and probably a lot easier to get to for most tourists, especially if staying at Wan Chai or nearby Causeway Bay. I did not see this track in person, so I can’t vouch for its accessibility – runners beware!

As an alternative to the track, I’m reliably informed the service road at the Happy Valley horse racing course is open for use by the public except on Wednesday, when horse races take place.

Finally, Victoria Park is worth looking into if you must run in a park and don’t mind covering laps. Unusually, there’s a “jogging track” within the park that’s made from the same synthetic material as a typical 400m track, except it’s not in the shape of an oval to better fit within the confines of the park. I did spot a sign requesting that the track be used for running only, though I’m told it attracts plenty of walkers that get in the way…

If you’re in need of running gear, you’re in luck as Hong Kong has no shortage of Nike and Adidas stores. Garmins, especially the high end examples like the Fenix, were also very easy to source, though the poor exchange rate and inflation means you’re unlikely to get a better deal than back here in the UK.

Well, that’s about it for my ramblings!