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Sarah 2018 (BuBlu Gie).jpg

Sarah Pemberton

1) Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your running journey - how and when did you start running?

My school introduced me to running through cross country: every year, from year 7 to 13, we had to do a ~5km race. I used to dread it: I’d get so nervous the morning of and would be so sore the day after. At university, I inched my distances up to a half marathon in my second year (Apr 2013), and followed it with my first marathons and ultramarathons later that year. I’ve since run a range of races – week-long 250km races, 100 mile races, road marathons, 20km trails, etc.


2) What is your strength when it comes to endurance running? 

I don’t have a particular strength – I stop and start on flats, I’m not the fastest climber, I’m scared of falling when I run downhill, I have a sensitive stomach, and I can get upset when I’m tired or hungry.

Sarah 2019 (Viola Shum).jpg

But, having run long for a number of years, I am less phased now when things go wrong – getting lost, throwing up, having a cry, taking the wrong ferry… I know now that when I’m upset it's because I have not eaten enough and so I need to eat more. I know that when I’m upset I will inevitably bounce back. I know I hallucinate on the 2nd and 3rd nights. I don’t allow myself to make decisions while going uphill (I am always at my most despondent here). I know that I am happiest when I focus on the current kilometre or section rather than worrying about what’s to come (when I catch myself starting to think ahead I sometimes say out loud to myself, “Stop, don’t think about that”). I know my mind and my body better now than I did a few years ago, and knowing myself helps me stay calm when things inevitably go wrong.

 

3) What made you want to participate in the HK4TUC?

2021 will be the fourth time I participate, and my reasons for participating have changed a little each year. In my first year, I was lured in because it was the ultimate challenge on my home trails: I was born and raised in HK, I climbed up the stairs near Mount Butler on my hands and knees in dungarees. I had followed the race for a few years and felt like I was ready to take on the challenge.

I failed in 2018: I wasn’t fit enough and didn’t know the trails well enough. It took me a few months to think about coming back. To me, the spirit of the challenge is about taking on something that you know you will probably fail, but doing it anyway. I realised that embracing that spirit means coming back and trying again if I fail. I wanted to be resilient and the type of person who sought real challenges, so I wrote an expression of interest for 2019 to try again.

 

I failed again in 2019, but I made it to 3 trails that time, which was a big improvement from my first year. Ultimately, I still wasn’t fast enough and I had stomach trouble on the Wilson. After my second try, I did some reflection on the role of HK4TUC had played in my 20s and felt grateful that I had HK4TUC as the undercurrent to my movements in 2017-2019: working at McKinsey in Sierra Leone, moving to NY for law school, working in human rights law in London, then working in environmental work in Indonesia, and finally going back to McKinsey in London. In 2017-2019, HK4TUC was the one personal goal I had in the years of geographic and professional upheaval. I reflected, “Boyfriends have come and gone, I’ve moved countries, swapped jobs. But, underneath it all, I had these very special 3 days each year which spilled over and affected so many of my other days.” I was grateful to have HK4TUC as my undercurrent, a huge, mammoth challenge that I could grow up alongside and remain tied to even as my world around me changed. So, when Andre said there was a spot for me in 2020 if I wanted it, I couldn't say no.  

I was a survivor in 2020 – I was finally fit enough, knew the trails well enough, but also mature enough to know what goals were right for me. I aimed for 65-70hrs and planned paces that I knew I could hit. I knew to focus just on the current kilometre or section, and not allow myself to think about what remained. Of course I had inevitable lows, but only a couple of them, and I felt happy and grateful for most of the 70h45m that I was out there.

Andre has planned a family reunion for the 2021 edition: only the past finishers and survivors were invited to join. I’m toeing the line for my 4th time because I can’t imagine sitting back to watch this group of people run and not be a part of it. I will train hard, but I’m just grateful to have a chance to run alongside these people and will try to recreate the really positive, happy journey I had in 2020.

4) Apart from your own presentation which other sessions are you most excited about?

I’m excited for ‘preventing running injuries’ and ‘strength training for runners’. I'd love to learn more about proactively preventing injuries and I also know that strength training will help me become a stronger runner.

5) If you could give one piece of advice to women who enjoy running what would it be?

Explore the range of running (trail vs road, short vs long, hilly vs flat, multi day versus single stage, etc) because who knows what you might end up loving. 

(PC: Photo1: Bu Blu Gie; Photo2: Viola Shum; Photo3: Alan Li)

Asia Trail Girls