Avid trail-runner Echo Gong first put on her running shoes in 2011, and hasn’t looked back. From her first 10k run, she’s gone onto run full marathons, and has recently taken on the challenge of ultra trail marathons, including a multi-stage 250k race in Madagascar and a 100-mile race in France. She talks to Liv Magazine about her journey from running newbie to long-distance pace-setter.
I started running in mid-2011 as back then I really liked a guy who had just finished a 10k race. I had also made some new friends who were into running. I never imagined I would ever do a full marathon – it seemed like an insane distance only for serious, elite runners. When I was preparing for my first 10k, I could only run 5k in one go. But once I finished 10k, I thought that I should probably be able to do a half-marathon as well. So I kept running and training, increasing my weekly mileage. After I finished my first full marathon I got hooked on ultra trail marathons – any distance of more than 42k.
When did you start trail running?
In October 2012 I signed up a for a race on Lantau Island with no idea what trail running was all about. I thought it was the same as road running until I saw all the hills and stairs. It was tough, but I was rewarded with beautiful views along the trail.
What kind of equipment and fitness level do you need to start trail running?
If someone can run 10k flat then they should be OK on a 10k trail run. Road running is a repetition of smooth, efficient movements. Trail running requires alternating speed and effort plus more lateral movement. It’s essential to carry more water; road runners do not like to carry water. But you need it as you’re spending more time on trail and there’s increased effort involved. Road shoes can be used but trail shoes offer more support for the feet.
What are the main dangers that you should be aware of?
Underestimating the effort needed for trails and misjudging the amount of time you need are the biggest dangers. New trail runners coming from the road often misjudge pace and end up out longer than expected. This can lead to dehydration and exhaustion. Dogs are common in rural areas and can be as much of a threat as the monkeys around Shing Mun.
Hong Kong gets crazy hot in the summer. How do you get around that?
Trail runners slow down in summer and fast hike more. They also carry more water and add electrolytes. Planning routes with water stops is essential. The biggest mistake we see in the summer is new trail runners not bringing enough water. Alternatively, you can start in the early morning at around 6 or 7am or in the late afternoon at around 4 or 5pm.
Can you give us some health tips for people about to try trail running for the first time?
As with any exercise routine, make sure your doctor says it’s OK, considering the increased effort required. Factor in the heat, which can raise sweat rate and heart rate.
Have you ever suffered an injury while trail running?
I have only experienced minor injuries and overuse injuries while trail running. People often worry about falling or tripping, which can happen. Trail runners do need to pay attention to the trail but we also slow down and don’t mind stopping to look at a great view or the beautiful scenery.
What was the hardest run you’ve ever done?
UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc), a 100-mile race with total elevation of 9,600 metres across France, Italy and Switzerland, which I ran last summer. It took me over 40 hours to complete it and I only had a total of 45 minutes’ sleep.
Together with a group of equally running-mad friends, Echo has set up Lantau Base Camp, an online store that also organises trail running races and activities for beginner runners. Find out more at www.lantaubasecamp.com.
Routing for You
Want to give trail running a go? Echo recommends three easy trails that are ideal for beginners.