Physics graduate Woody Wu Man-tsun is by no means a household name to most Hong Kong runners. But fellow cross-country runners at CUHK can claim him with pride. In February, he participated for the first time in the 100-kilometre Oxfam Trailwalker with three teammates. The four came in first among 1,271 participants – the fastest Hong Kong team since 2009. Being part of a winning Trailwalker team on his first attempt, says Woody, was a moment of personal triumph but also of gratitude. “I wouldn’t have participated in this competition without my teammates’ encouragement. Unlike me, they are leading mountain runners in Hong Kong.”
Team leader Joseph Yeung Chi-shing, full-time running coach Wong Ho-chung and another CUHK alumnus Ferdinand Tsang Fuk-cheung, maintained a cracking pace despite the rugged terrain. “Mountain running is different from running a marathon,” Woody explains. “The training I’d received since my schooldays and years at CUHK was for road running. To run on mountains, our legs are really put to the test, but the cardiac load is relatively lower. Despite physical strain, the journey is a mentally relaxing one.”
Woody’s ability to take exhaustion in his stride did not develop overnight. In fact, he suffered from chest pains when he joined the CUHK Cross Country Team in 2015. After many medical appointments he was still none the wiser about the cause. “I still recall one doctor telling me that I am incapable of running given my physical condition. But I was reluctant to give up and with encouragement from my coach, I kept trying to adjust myself while still paying close attention to my physical condition. Eventually, I no longer saw speed as my only pursuit. Being able to take full control of my body was just as important. I became more relaxed, and soon forgot about the stress-induced pain,” says Woody.
Like a big adventure
While studying at CUHK from 2015 until graduating with a master’s degree in 2021, Woody would run across campus to lectures. Now a full-time computer programmer, he runs 18 kilometres from his home in Shatin to his workplace in Tsim Sha Tsui during the cooler months.
“I have been running for myself since I was young,” says Woody. “Apart from competing in teams, running is all about breaking personal records and becoming better day by day. Trailwalker was an 11.5-hour experience that was unique for the four of us. The preparation work, the process, and the joy of having it bear fruit are like embarking on a big adventure.”
Although teamwork is crucial for Trailwalker, the four team members who each have full-time jobs did not have a chance to practise together before the competition. “Luckily we had run together in previous events,” says Woody. “On the starting line we exchanged looks, as if we could read each other’s minds.”
The Trailwalker route starts in Pak Tam Chung at Sai Kung and finishes at the Po Leung Kuk Jockey Club Tai Tong Holiday Camp in Yuen Long. Woody was suffering from leg pain throughout the “blood, sweat and tear” journey. “Without the support from my teammates, I could not have made it to the finishing line,” says Woody. The team crossed the finishing line in 11 hours and 38 minutes.
Running into inspiration
Woody’s 13-year journey of long-distance running began when he was in secondary school. “At that time, my teacher encouraged me to take part in long-distance running and inter-school cross country competitions. That was when I realised my potential and made the most of it.”
He has been trained by coach Wong Chun-wing since Form 3, whom he describes as not only his running coach, but also a life mentor. “She always reminds me that running is more than moving one’s legs. It also involves the brain and many thinking processes. Stay focused and relaxed – this is how I run faster and further,” says Woody. While he also played the piano and trumpet as a youngster, it was running which really fascinated him. “I found solace in running. Soon I came to realise that running and studying complement each other, they complete my life – inspiration often came after I finished a long run!”
Being a “runaholic” also enabled him to enjoy university life to the fullest. Apart from serving as an executive committee member in the Wu Yee Sun College Sports Association, he also joined the CUHK Cross Country Team, representing the university to compete in the annual Cross-Country Race organised by the University Sports Federation of Hong Kong. “Apart from regular practice sessions, my teammates and I would go for a morning run before lessons. By organising different events, such as around-the-campus runs and sports teams annual dinners, I broadened my horizons and developed life-long friendships with sport lovers.”
Woody reflects upon the fact he had many expectations when he was younger. “It may sound clichéd, but I find that the more you expect, the greater the disappointment. Now I constantly remind myself not to overthink, for running is something I genuinely love – not a competition, but self-enjoyment.”
By Gillian Cheng
Main banner photo by San