Ultra Trail Runner

Stone Tsang

In Hong Kong, as much as 60% of the land is covered with mountains. Dozens of peaks bear down upon the land's famed skyscrapers from right behind, revealing just how close the city and mountains are intertwined. Today, outdoor activities and mountain sports have become popular activities among those of all ages throughout the territory.

No doubt this is why, the moment when Hong Kong's most famous ultra trail runner, Stone Tsang, arrives in the mountains, he is welcomed by cheers, such as "Hey Stone! We are rooting for you!," and photo requests, to which he invariably responds with his enormous warm smile. Right now, the popularity of trail running in Hong Kong is reaching its peak, and despite Stone being the single most talented trail runner in the territory today, there is not a bit of arrogance or misplaced pride in him.

Love to take any challenge

Surprisingly, Stone never even started to run until he graduated from school. He took part in a road race when his colleagues of ambulance paramedics (a division of the fire department) invited him. This is the job he continues to this day.

"The first marathon I participated in, back in 2003, was a truly miserable experience. In the short road races I did before that, I was more or less confident in my speed. So at the start, I took off quickly leaving my colleagues far behind. Halfway through though, my legs collapsed completely and could barely move. My stomach was empty, my strength was gone, and I was quickly overtaken by everyone else. I hung my head low so that I could see nothing but the ground, which I scoured frantically, looking for a dropped banana. It took me about five hours to finish."

Since then, he has moved his main focus to trail running, particularly to races known by the term, "ultra" or long-distance races of 50km or greater in length.

"Right in the middle of my first marathon, I began to question whether I would ever do it again, and yet as soon as I reached the finish line, I started to look for my next race. Before long, results started to roll in from road races, and I encountered trail running, which quickly drew me in and became obsessed with it."

The race is just an opportunity
Mountain running is a great joy

As mentioned above, Stone fights his battles in the area of ultra-trails, while maintaining his job as ambulance paramedics. He is not what one would call a full-time professional athlete. Regardless though, his results are No.1 among Asian trail runners in many of major international races.

"Of course, my training environment is not perfect. In addition to my day job, it is important to spend time with my wife and children. Even when I manage to find time late at night to run, for example, I know I am lacking more time for body conditioning and recovery."

That being said, Stone believes he is naturally predisposed to take on challenges, so to him, training for trail running is not something painful or difficult.

"It is very important in life, to find something to be passionate about, something to pour your heart and soul into, something that is truly meaningful to you. Otherwise, what is the point? Then again, it is a simple pleasure to run in the mountains; there is nothing like it. On the trail, you are separated from the hustle of the city; you can feel the wind and hear the quiet chatter of the trees. As you give yourself over to nature, run freely, you can think about all sorts of things: work, family, and yourself. Perhaps, it is because when coming face to face with nature in the mountains, your mind is released, and it is not so uncommon for some solutions or answers to life's challenges just pop out.
Therefore, even if I was exhausted both in mind and body from work, I find my legs walking towards the trail. Of course, my body can feel tired after running in the trails, but it is a rather comfortable feeling, and makes me feel emotionally refreshed."

Stone explains further, "Trail running is a lifestyle. Setting one's goal to a race and achieving results is not the most important thing of all. The objective is the very act of running in the mountains. This is something that I value the most."

Passing on the joy of nature to children

This interview was conducted in December 2016. In recent years, Stone has not just been participating in races, but he has been involved in a number of projects.

"The closeness of the city and mountains makes Hong Kong trails attractive, but I recently find that many unnecessary numbers of trails are being concreted. From the perspective of us humans, it may be easier to maintain but is it really a good thing for nature? In spring 2016, my friends and myself launched a concern group for trail conservation and have been sending our views and opinions to the government. This has quickly grown into a movement of thousands of supporters, and we are now consulting and working with the government on how to build proper nature trails without concreting everywhere. It's been so rewarding to see the progress and the government listening our concerns."

"My biggest objective for the 2017 season is HK4TUC (the Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge). There are four beautiful and historical trails in Hong Kong. I plan to run through all four trails at once carrying food supplies, clothing and other necessities all by myself. The total length is 298km. It is not an official race, rather, it is a timed epic challenge! I am aiming to complete it within 60 hours, which is necessary to be an "official finisher", however, this has yet to be achieved by anybody. The other exciting thing with this challenge is that I will fundraise for underprivileged youth in Hong Kong who have never had the chance to enjoy outdoor adventure sports or camping in nature. The goal is to raise enough money to sponsor 200 kids and hopefully inspire them beyond their limited experiences in the city's lower income housing estates and schools. I can relate as I was raised in a lower income family, and my life was dramatically changed when I encountered running and other adventures in the mountains. I want to share this amazing experience with as many children as I can."

The week after he spoke with us so energetically, Stone won first place in one of the big races in Hong Kong - The North Face 100 Hong Kong (100km). It was unseasonably hot and humid, and most runners suffered badly and many gave up. Stone also had cramps and other unexpected problems and lost several positions when he had to start walking just 40km into the race.....but he stayed positive and slowly worked his way back in contention, only to miraculously take the lead in the last 20km and never looked back.


Stone Tsang

Born and raised in a countryside town in rural China, Stone moved to Hong Kong as a teenager. While working for the government as an ambulance paramedic and Fire Services physical trainer, Stone became an active trail runner and adventure racer in Hong Kong. After joining The North Face Adventure Team in 2006 Stone developed further and soon became one of Asia's top trail runners, as well as, competitive in major events internationally. He has ranked within the top 20 many times in world-class races, including winning the 2016 The North Face 100 Hong Kong and placing 2nd in the Vibram Hong Kong 100. Furthermore, Stone has ranked in the top 10 in the Ultra Trail World Tour in 2014 and 2015 and 17th in Europe's 2015 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. These achievements have made him the pioneer and local legend in Hong Kong's booming trail running scene. Born in 1978, Stone Tsang remains a key founding member of The North Face Adventure Team.