Cross-country running is probably the world’s oldest sport, dating back to a time when it was the only means of transportation – and sometimes survival. Today it continues to be an adventure, testing an athlete’s fitness, endurance, and resilience, says 18-year-old Chui Tin-chi.
The Diocesan Boys’ School student warns: “The sport is fun, but some trails can be dangerous due to their uneven and slippery terrain. Sometimes the weather changes every single minute, and this makes cross country more challenging.”
To prepare himself for the variety of conditions, Tin-chi spent the summer running Hong Kong’s different trails, including Pat Sin Leng Nature Trail and Cloudy Hill’s Wilson Trail in Tai Po.
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“Although it takes more than three hours to complete these runs, the training helps develop the muscles in my thighs and my calves,” says Tin-chi. “These muscles are useful for tackling the uneven ground and obstacles, such as hills, mud, sand or rocks. You need strong leg muscles, as they help when you need to suddenly change speed.”
He also works on his arm muscles, especially his triceps, as they are used to help build momentum when running uphill. But aside from the muscle, Tin-chi believes that runners should not forget about developing inner strength.
“For each training session, I try not to run too hard and fast because it’s easy to get injured,” he says. “Finding a rhythm plays a more important role in my training as it helps boost my endurance. That’s why I could maintain a good pace, which always puts me in a dominant position during competitions.”
The training is obviously working, as Tin-chi has won several titles in cross-country tournaments. He says tactics were the key to his victory in October, when he beat 160 other runners to win gold at the All Hong Kong Schools Jing Ying Boys Cross Country Tournament. The tournament covered a 7km course near the Main Dam of the Shing Mun Reservoir on the MacLehose Trail (stage seven). His coach, Chan Ka-ho, advised him not to increase his pace until the final kilometre.
“Timing is vital in the race. If you speed up in the last 2km, you’ll run out of energy very quickly,” says Tin-chi. “The last kilometre was where I ran faster and made a breakthrough. Then I started to lead and finally won the race.”
He used a similar strategy when he won gold at the Division One Inter-School Cross-Country Competition (Hong Kong Island and Kowloon) in November, and he also applies the tactic to track events. Waiting until just the right moment to speed up and take the lead, Tin-chi won a gold medal in the 5,000m at the recent SCAA Inter-School Athletics Meet at Wan Chai Sports Ground, setting a new record with a time of 16:49.05.
He’s got his sights set on more medals when he competes in the 1,500m and 5,000m races at the Division One Inter-School Athletics Competition (Kowloon and Hong Kong Island) finals in March.
But for all his success on the track, Tin-chi tells Young Post that he prefers cross-country running. “Cross-country running is more exciting than track races, because you have the chance to check out the natural scenery in the wild,” he says. “The smell of the grass is pretty refreshing.”
Who is your favourite athlete?
I look up to Chan Ka-ho. He always reminds me that tactics play a significant role in every cross-country race, such as when and where I should speed up during the competition. He has also mastered the techniques of running on different slopes. For example, when running downhill, he taught me to slow down by leaning backwards, as speeding up and leaning too far forward will only put more pressure on your ankles and feet, giving you sore muscles and a risk of injury.
You can have the abilities of any animal for one competition. Which do you choose and why?
A leopard. Their explosive leg power is pretty impressive. I would like to have that so I could speed up whenever I need.
What drink would you never give up?
Milk. It has calcium, which strengthens my bones. It can also boost my energy and leg strength, and help me stay hydrated throughout the competition.