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The Joy in Community

By Tanya Bennett

“Yeah! That sounds like a bit of fun”, I replied to a friend of mine who suggested that it might be a good idea to sign up to Oxfam Trailwalker (OTW) later that year. With barely more than a few hiking kilometers between us in experience, and cloaked in a couple of wine jackets; we shook on a plan that would lead us to nearly a decade long adventure in the mountains, and one that has become such an integral part of my personal identity. Deciding that we should embark on this new journey as an all female team, and one comprised of novices, we recruited a couple of other team members and the HOTHs (Hot On Their Heels) were born. We have, over the years completed numerous Trailwalkers, in both Hong Kong, and abroad. As HOTH members flew the HK nest for new adventures in new lands, new members were recruited to our growing family of female trail runners. In general, we always tried to have a complete newbie join the team with our Trailwalker goal never being about time, and always about guiding and supporting each other through the difficult and rewarding task of completing an ultra marathon. We joked that OTW had become our friendship initiation test.

The HOTHs at Trailwalker, Hong Kong, 2016

Over the years, we have run 1000’s of miles in each others company, raced countless ultras together, traveled the world on Runcations, and run virtually by the side of others if they were competing in a different time zone. Beyond just the trails that bought us together though; we have attended each others weddings, been at the birth of mini HOTHs, traveled miles to see each other for occasions that were not running (shocking), mentored each other and sought refuge and comfort in the deep bond that developed between us throughout the years. HOTH became synonymous with sisterhood. After all, we had spent all of that time in the mountains, seeing each others’ physical struggles and triumphs against nature; with the trails becoming a sounding board for our musings on work, life, family, personal development, and achievements.

The HOTHs at Trailwalker, UK, 2017

Beyond the HOTHs, we belonged to an even larger community, one that we had discovered through our running journeys. Here in Hong Kong, where the town is small and the trail running scene is an even smaller snippet of life in a bustling metropolis, we found a kinship with other people who shared our joy of running in the mountains. We were able to rub shoulders with elites at race starts and run socials, we had platforms to exchange ideas and ask for advice. We gleefully asked questions about nutrition and felt comforted to know that other people suffered from blisters or chafing too. During the days that we were able to travel, I adored racing abroad. It allowed me to explore areas of a new country within the safety of a ribboned course, and it was here that I found pocket communities all over the world. It turns out, us trail runners are pretty similar creatures when covered in mud and depleted in electrolytes. Trudging up a rickety trail in the depths of the night, a stranger to your left can quickly become a friend, and I am lucky to have met many of them on my adventures.

At the start of Mt Apo Skyrace in Davao, Philippines.

I am delighted to be part of such an expansive group of thoughtful and friendly people, who understand why I ‘need’ to go run until the point of exhaustion, and who are as much fun to share a cup of cheap salty noodles with on a trail as they are to drink a glass of wine, or two, with too! And even though, in our chosen sport, we spend many hours alone; it is truly special to know that we are not alone, at all.

Kerensa and I refueling during our 100 miler in Lantau this year vs a chance to dress up in something other than lycra for a change!

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