HONG KONG - Hundreds of runners competed in Hong Kong's first inner city ultra marathon on Sunday despite a repetitive two-kilometre course which has been criticised as simply too boring.
Ultra races - defined as anything longer than the standard 42.2-kilometre (26.2-mile) marathon distance - have taken off in Hong Kong in recent years, but are usually held on the extensive network of trails in the surrounding hills, where spectacular scenery can offset the pain.
Instead, Sunday's 50-kilometre Rotary HK Ultramarathon saw competitors pound the same stretch of mainly flat road in central Hong Kong 25 times.
In the weeks leading up to the race some of the city's leading distance runners voiced doubts.
"It will be boring and very difficult, if not dizzy, for the runners," Hong Kong-based Kenyan Thomas Kiprotich told the South China Morning Post.
"I don't mind monotonous courses, but this is a bit extreme monotony for my tastes," US runner Michelle Lowry, also based in Hong Kong, told the newspaper.
But runners taking part were upbeat Sunday.
"It's the first time I've run an ultra and the flat course was the reason that I signed up," said Woody Li-mok, a 50-year-old policeman.
"I think this is better for my first time." Caroline Ngai, 30, who works for an NGO, was also running her first ultra.
"I don't think it's boring. It's challenging. Every time you run is different." Building engineer Jeffrey Lam, 37, who already has a 100-kilometre ultra under his belt, prepared by regularly running 30 kilometres around a 400-metre track.
"Running is like meditation," he said. "I think a flat ultra is interesting because you have to train your mind." A bright morning after a long spell of pollution and heavy cloud had the Lung Wo Road course looking its best, with landmarks including the city's ferris wheel and China's PLA military barracks, plus a skyscraper backdrop.
Kwan Kee, chairman of the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association and one of the race organisers admitted the course was "quite boring" but said access for cheering spectators was an advantage.
"Distance running is becoming more and more popular in Hong Kong," he said.
"It was great that we could secure this course in the heart of the city... land in Hong Kong is very limited." Kwan said that 300 runners were taking part. He hoped to extend the distance next year and attract overseas competitors.
Young star Nestor Wong, 19 - who broke the city's junior half marathon record in January - won in 3 hr 24 min 20 sec.
"I didn't think it was boring because I could hear a lot of cheering from my friends.
"This is my first ultra on the road - I've done two 50 km races on trails. The road was easier because it was flat. I felt more comfortable." According to the International Association of Ultrarunners there are now more than 1,000 ultra races around the world, with Asia a particular growth area.