Marie McNaughton, who is originally from New Zealand but who lives in Hong Kong, is one of the city’s best female trail ultrarunners, and she’s racing this weekend’s Vibram Hong Kong 100k. In our first interview with Marie, learn about how she got into trail ultramarathons as an adult, find out how she fits running into her busy life, and hear her description of the Hong Kong trail scene.
Marie McNaughton Pre-2018 Vibram Hong Kong 100k Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m with Marie McNaughton. It’s two days before the 2018 Vibram Hong Kong 100k here in downtown Hong Kong. I’m in your neck of the woods now. I’m really like a fish out of water.
McNaughton: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy here especially if you’re used to the country. There’s a lot of people.
iRunFar: This is our first interview with you though I’ve seen you race a couple times and have seen your results coming across the board over and over. Can you talk about your background with running and how you got into doing these crazy, long adventures?
McNaughton: I guess I always ran for fun and fitness in my twenties and thirties but nothing serious. I just used to do a few runs a week on the treadmill and maybe a marathon a year. I thought with breaking a sub-3:30 that I’d sort of reached my athletic prowess. I was sort of chuffed with myself at that point, and that was that. Then I moved to Hong Kong and met up with some trail runners here. As you probably got a feel, the community is huge and deep and amazing, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm. I did the Oxfam Trailwalker which is a very famous race that covers 100k on a course very similar to what we’re going to do in Vibram, but it’s a team race, so it has that whole team dynamic which is amazing.
iRunFar: Like adventure racing but just one sport?
McNaughton: Yeah, but you’ve got to cover that whole distance together. Yeah, I did that for the first time, and that was enough to get the bug for trail running. From there, I just started to train and race more and more. That was about four years ago.
iRunFar: Everyone I’ve talked to here in Hong Kong has interesting accents, and yours is Kiwi.
McNaughton: Yeah, Kiwi but maybe sort of annihilated by about 15 years of living in London and now here. It’s weird. My kids, I don’t know what their accents are—half American, half English. It’s such a melting pot here.
iRunFar: You’re a mom with a job and kids and a whole life outside of running.
McNaughton: Yeah, I have three kids, ages eight, six, and four, and they keep me honest. I’m lucky. I have a part-time job, and it’s very flexible. I think that helps make it all work in terms of training and racing.
iRunFar: As we were talking before this interview, you mentioned your husband is also an ultrarunner?
McNaughton: Yeah, he is, but I think he’d rather I said he is a rugby player first.
iRunFar: A rugby player with an ultrarunning problem?
McNaughton: He’s leaning into trail running. He’s done two 100ks, and this weekend will be his first Hong Kong 100k attempt.
iRunFar: Both of you are adult-onset ultrarunners.
McNaughton: That’s absolutely right.
iRunFar: I want to ask about this phenomenon of living in this global, city metropolis but having such an ornate trail system and such an ornate trail running community. How does this work here? How did this come about?
McNaughton: Well, I think the government did a brilliant job, or at some point—I’m not sure of the history—of preserving a lot of national parks. I’m not sure on the stats, but anywhere between 70% and some people say 90% is country park and government-owned.
iRunFar: So when you go into these places there’s a big sign that says, “country park.” That means it’s owned by the Hong Kong government?
McNaughton: Yeah, I believe so. Within those parks, there’s really mature trail networks that are maintained by the government largely. It’s just vast. It just means, I guess, that living in the busy city, you’ve got somewhere to go to escape from the mayhem of everyday life.
iRunFar: Is “escape” the right verb for it? Literally does it feel like you’re escaping for a bit?
McNaughton: Yeah, I think so. You definitely feel you appreciate it more here because of the contrast between the city and the countryside and to also have the accessibility which I don’t think you get anywhere else in the world. You can literally… even from here, I could get us on a trail in five minutes—taxi and then straight up. You can almost say that from anywhere in Hong Kong which really cool. It means we can train very easily. We also do a lot of night running. The trails are very safe. Hong Kong is a really safe city. There’s no bother about going out by yourself at night for a long run.
iRunFar: So, work all day, do family stuff, and then fit in a run after dark when you need to?
McNaughton: Yeah, you don’t necessarily have to get up at 5 a.m. stuff here. Also, when it gets hot, the heat is an issue here running in the summer, so nighttime is a good time to train.
iRunFar: Let’s talk a little bit about you and your relationship with racing. You’ve only been doing trail ultras for a couple years, but I guess from my outside position looking at the Hong Kong racing scene, you’re one of the top females in this scene. You’ve had plenty of success already at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k in what I think of has to be the most competitive trail race Hong Kong sees each year. Is that a fair assessment?
McNaughton: Absolutely. Because it’s Ultra-Trail World Tour it draws in a lot of international athletes and it has a big quota in terms of size. I’m not sure what the limit is, but I know it’s extremely high. Unfortunately a lot of the races now are capped a little bit here in size, a bit more like the US races. They’re starting to get a little bit stricter. Hong Kong 100k has a really deep field.
iRunFar: When I listen to people talk about you here, they talk about how you’re really good at running fast late in races. Are you just used to the terrain here that you stay strong when other people get tired, or is there some sort of light that turns on in you that allows you to surge late in races? What’s the story on you and your fast finishes?
McNaughton: I guess if I have a strength it would probably be my pacing. I think I do have a reasonably good feel of when I can push and when not to. Just being a little bit older—I hate to say that—I just don’t feel comfortable running fast early on. You’ll hear me breathing really heavy. It’s not a good look. That helps me as well. I tend to take awhile to warm up, and that helps with the pacing of the race.
iRunFar: Taking a natural, mature warm-up, right?
iRunFar: Going into this race this weekend, you’ve raced Hong Kong 100k three times before. Last year you were on the podium. What sort of expectations or mindset do you bring into Saturday’s race?
McNaughton: I think I just want to try and improve on my time. That’s kind of the goal for every race especially when you’re running the same course which you don’t always get to do. Just to chip away at that time, wherever it lands me, it lands me. That’s my goal.
iRunFar: Awesome. Best of luck. It’s been great to meet you. I look forward to chasing you around the course on Saturday. Good luck.
McNaughton: Thanks, Meghan. Thanks very much.