A 24-year-old man who collapsed from exhaustion during the Hong Kong Marathon last Sunday has died, while another runner aged 49 years is still in critical condition.
The incidents suggest that marathon runners here have a higher chance of injury or loss of life, compared to such events in other global cities. So, is the Hong Kong race is really too dangerous?
This year, about 65,000 runners took part in the race on Jan. 25. About 40 had to be sent to hospital, up from 30 last year. The death took place on Monday, one day after the race. The last time a marathon runner died in Hong Kong was in 2012.
Some observers may argue that a higher accident rate is only natural as the number of participants this year marked a fresh record high.
That may be so, but it doesn’t tell the whole story, as columnist Ko Tat-bun noted in Stand News recently.
In a commentary piece, Ko said poor planning and inadequate arrangements by the marathon organizer — Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association (HKAAA) — is partly to blame for the comparatively high accident rate in the race. He listed out some of things that were wrong.
To begin with, he said the marathon in Hong Kong starts way too early.
The race starts before sunrise, depriving runners of a good night’s sleep and affecting their physical condition. In contrast to Hong Kong, races such as the Boston marathon start at around 9 in the morning.
Marathon organizers in other cities hand out fortified mineral water to runners, but participants in Hong Kong get only Watsons’ distilled water.
While running, athletes lose electrolytes through sweat, and they need to replenish the electrolytes to maintain their salt balance. Although energizing drinks were given out during the race, they don’t match up, according to Ko. It would have been proper for the organizer to provide water with minerals rather than just plain distilled water.
Lack of supporters and audience is another reason that explains the high accident rate, Ko believes.
Ninety-percent of the Hong Kong race takes place on bridges and highways. Supporters are not allowed to gather in those areas, depriving runners of vital support.
At aid stations and water stops that are positioned along the track, runners may not find it easy to locate the facilities easily. Runners have to rely on fellow participants to inform the emergency center in case of trouble, leading to delay in assistance.
Mobile first-aid and emergency medical personnel are common in marathons held in places like Japan and South Korea. They would patrol the track by jogging, cycling or even roller-skating. However, there has been no such arrangement in the Hong Kong marathon.
Finally, the organizer believes that Hong Kong Marathon is a professional race, and that the runners should be aware of the challenges and be able to cope with them.
If that’s the case, Ko says the organizer should raise the bar for entering the marathon, by only accepting those who could finish the race within 3 hours and 15 minutes.
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