HONG KONG — I had simply returned residence from my 47th coaching run late in January when the textual content got here in from a buddy: “Marathon cancelled.”
I used to be crushed. I had been eagerly trying ahead to operating the Customary Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, scheduled for Feb. 9, however now it had been canceled due to well being considerations associated to the Coronavirus outbreak.
It was my first marathon, and I had secured a spot again in October, after sending a pleading e mail together with my software. I had slogged by way of a lot of the 16-week coaching plan for learners that I had caught to my wall and had been elevating cash for Thoughts Hong Kong, a psychological well being charity. After many years of hating operating, I used to be lastly starting to really feel like an actual runner, obsessing about issues like power gels, operating belts and motivational podcasts. My mother and father had been planning to fly over from Britain to cheer me on, however now they’d don’t have anything to cheer.
The cancellation was comprehensible. The race usually attracts greater than 70,000 runners, and the considered that many closely respiratory folks overlaying lengthy distances in public is a precarious state of affairs when a contagious and life-threatening virus is spreading throughout the area.
Cancellations have been additionally one thing we had turn out to be resigned to in current months, in a metropolis the place nearly each public occasion, together with the New Yr’s Eve fireworks and Clockenflap, Hong Kong’s greatest music and humanities pageant, had been postponed or canceled due to antigovernment protests. Coronavirus was merely the most recent motive to name issues off.
However I used to be nonetheless crushed. Within the runners’ WhatsApp teams I had joined, extra seasoned athletes have been sanguine. “Run more races and will understand these things happen…,” one wrote. “Japanese marathons get called off four hours before the run” due to climate, consoled one other. However this was my first marathon, I wished to jot down again. How might you may have forgotten how momentous every part feels when it’s your first marathon?
In a short time, although, I made a decision I used to be going to run the gap anyway. I had already constructed as much as 20 miles in coaching, and I wished to know what it felt wish to run the commemorated 26.2. I wished to make it worthwhile for all the chums and colleagues who had donated to my race charity.
I additionally decided that it was comparatively secure. On the time the marathon was canceled, there have been 5 confirmed instances and by the occasion’s scheduled date, there have been 36. However folks right here usually are not required to be underneath quarantine except they’ve not too long ago visited mainland China, the place many areas are underneath lockdown. Regardless of the uncertainty about how the virus spreads and the recommendation from Hong Kong’s Middle for Well being Safety to “stay at home as far as possible,” there are nonetheless lots of people on the streets.
Whereas all of the swimming swimming pools and public sports activities facilities are closed, many gyms and exercise areas are open, although fewer individuals are displaying up. Temperature checks are taken at entrances, and each arms and gear should be often sanitized. No less than one yoga class has made face masks obligatory. Mountain climbing stays a well-liked exercise choice for many individuals; Hong Kong, with its steep hills and community of trails, is nice for that.
I went forward and cobbled collectively my very own messy 26.2-mile course to create my very own marathon, utilizing the GPS operating app, Strava. I’d run backwards and forwards alongside Hong Kong’s waterfront, notable for its flatness, with the route ending conveniently near a burger bistro close to my home. Two different runners, mates who have been additionally victims of the canceled marathon, have been eager to affix me, one to run the complete course and one other for a half marathon.
[Learn extra: Running virtual marathons.]
Over the next two weeks, I tapered my training, stocked up on gels, and tried to decipher the confusing information on the internet about what to eat in the last 24 hours before running.
Race day dawned. Feb. 9 was cold by Hong Kong standards, at 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), but dry, perfect conditions for running.
I wore a surgical mask over my face on the walk to our made-up starting line in Golden Bauhinia Square, but ditched it once we set off. There was never any question of wearing a mask while running: They create a hot, stifling cocoon around your nose and mouth that makes it uncomfortable to breathe even when walking. While masks are uniform on public transport and in crowded places, you can still see the odd uncovered face in parks or more open spaces beside the sea. My route largely went through places like that.
The three of us started our run to a gong, not a starting gun. And while I didn’t have an official race T-shirt, I had my own unofficial version designed by the charity I was supporting, Mind Hong Kong, along with a hand-drawn bib that read “Please cheer.”
We had none of the whooping crowds that everyone says give you so much stamina on marathon day, but we did have a small band of friends, and their dogs, who appeared at unexpected spots along the way carrying motivational signs and yelling their support.
The streets were quiet at first but grew gradually busier, particularly near the ferry piers in the middle of the course, where we wove around oblivious passengers embarking and disembarking from the boats. In the harborside parks we ran past the usual assortment of families out strolling, people exercising and older Hong Kongers practicing tai chi. Despite my “please cheer” sign, no strangers offered vocal support for us. Maybe the message was too small to read, or they were simply mystified.
We encountered only one coronavirus-related issue during the run: In a hygiene blitz, the health authorities had taped black plastic over all the water fountains to avoid contamination risks. I had to ration my water supplies and probably ended up more dehydrated than I should have been.
But we were grateful that the toilet paper crisis that has engulfed the city since early February, when a rumor that supplies were running low prompted mass buying and caused a real shortage, had not extended to the public toilets on our route.
My friend and I finished our marathon together and were draped not with shiny medallions but with shortbread cookie medals that our friend had baked and tied on ribbons. And although our phone batteries died somewhere around the 23-mile mark, making it hard to tell if we actually ran slightly over or under 26.2 miles, it felt like a real marathon: painful, seemingly endless and exhilarating, in equal measure.
Olivia Parker is an editor on the International Edition of The New York Times, based in Hong Kong.