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Keep on running - my marathon story

Boase Cohen & Collins solicitor Catherine Lau has twin passions – the legal profession and distance running. Here, she describes how she became a runner and her determination to keep improving.

Hong Kong, 12 February 2016: It is early on a Sunday morning in Hong Kong. As I pound along the edge of the Shing Mun River in Shatin, the calm waters shimmer and the grassy banks glisten in the first rays of sunlight. A few lights are on in the countless surrounding apartment blocks, but the city has yet to properly wake up, so I have the entire towpath to myself. Here I am, enjoying my regular weekend training run amid this spectacular scenery. For me, this is the best feeling in the world.

If you had told me a decade ago that distance running – alongside law – would be the major passion of my life, I would have laughed. At secondary school, simply taking part in the 800 metres on our sports day was a daunting task. I finished third, but there were only four of us in the race. Even in my first year at the University of Hong Kong, I was never sports-minded. But then, encouraged by classmates and realising that I needed a release from my studies, I tried running. First, just a couple of kilometres, then slightly further, and then my first 10k race. Bitten by the bug, I tried a half marathon and enjoyed it. I continued to stride out in Canada, where I was studying on an exchange programme at the University of Western Ontario. My new surroundings added to the sense of fun and adventure that I gained from running.

Back in Hong Kong, studying for my Postgraduate Certificate in Laws in 2010, I resolved to complete a once-in-a-life-time mission – a full marathon. I believed my impending legal career would force me to scale back my running, so it was now or never. I entered the Hong Kong Marathon, trained for months, and finished in 4 hours 9 minutes. I was overjoyed. A few months later, I joined Boase Cohen & Collins as a trainee solicitor and was resigned to putting running to one side as I concentrated on the next phase of my life. However, amid the daunting deadlines and endless tasks that make for a steep learning curve in the legal profession, I was amazed that I still had enough energy to train. Indeed, it seemed the harder I worked, the more I wanted to run. I entered the Hong Kong Marathon again and finished in 3:47 – more than 20 minutes faster. Far from a legal career and distance running being at odds with each other, I found they were mutually beneficial.

Catherine Running Profile

Catherine Lau is pursuing excellence in running and the legal profession.

At that time, I was still running by myself and I set a target of completing a marathon inside 3:30. I thought making up 17 minutes would be simple – just train longer and run further. But improvement was elusive and I soon understood I needed expert help. In running, in sport, in life generally, sometimes what has brought you to a certain point will not take you any further – you need to change tactics to achieve a breakthrough. I was fortunate then, that in November 2012, the Law Society of Hong Kong’s distance running team was recruiting members for professional coaching classes. It was here that I met my current coach Gi Ka Man – the Hong Kong record holder for 10,000m, 15,000m and half marathon. His coaching soon made a profound difference to my performance levels.

Inspired, I joined coach Gi’s club, Runners Athletic Club, and took my training to a new level. These sessions, surrounded by some of the best athletes in Hong Kong, opened my eyes to what was possible and gave me a new perspective. We trained smarter and more efficiently. I learned about core muscle training, strength, intervals, tempo runs, goal pacing runs, hill training, cadence, stride length and posture. It was tough – very tough – but hugely enjoyable and the camaraderie among the athletes was special. In February 2014, I finally completed the Hong Kong Marathon in 3:28, a marvellous milestone in my running career, but I knew I could go even faster. A year later I finished in 3:23, good enough to be placed in the top 10 among all Hong Kong ladies. Now I have formed a sub-group of “317 Teammates” with the goal of finishing inside 3:17.

Even better, this love of running has allowed me to indulge in my other passion, travel. I have run the world famous marathons in Gold Coast, London and Boston. Berlin was ticked off last November. The next stop will be Paris on 3 April for my 12th career marathon. Of course, work always comes first and fitting in the training is not easy, but the Partners at Boase Cohen & Collins are understanding and supportive. The messages of encouragement and congratulations from colleagues are inspirational while the sponsorship I receive from the firm is greatly appreciated. I am delighted to say we now have our own Boase Cohen & Collins running team, with regular Monday night training sessions supervised by coach Gi. My colleagues are enjoying the breaks from work and the bonding that comes with helping and encouraging each other on the running track.

My quest for self-improvement at work and outside continues. I treat each marathon as an unforgettable journey in which I can learn more about myself, meet new people, broaden my experience and expand my vision. Running is my way of reaching out to the world.

This Sunday morning, I will be back on the banks of the Shing Mun River. My race continues.