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Epic running challenge: 64-year-old has done 10km-plus daily for 1,461 days unbroken on quest to run the length of the equator before he’s 70


Four years ago, Peter Hopper set his mind on a far larger number than his coming 60th birthday – 40,075, to be precise. This is both the length of the Earth’s equator in kilometres and the cumulative distance he planned to run in the decade before he turns 70.

Hopper’s challenge to himself, he decided, was to run at least 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) every day for the next 10 years. Four years into the challenge, he has an unbroken streak of 1,461 days in which he has run over 10km every day.

“Right now, I am somewhere in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean heading for the Americas,” he says with a laugh.

What prompted Hopper, who grew up near Durham, in northeast England, to take up this challenge and how has he kept it going?

Hopper on Bowen Road in Mid-Levels on Hong Kong Island, one of his favourite trails. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

“I wanted a goal that would motivate me to get out there and run even as my years advance. I was inspired by Ron Hill, a British long-distance runner and Olympian who became well known for running a minimum of a mile every day for 53 years non-stop,” shares Hopper, now 64.

It helped that he knew what he was getting himself into: the experienced runner, who moved to Hong Kong in 2000, started running in school and kept it up through his 20s and 30s. He started taking his hobby seriously after arriving in Hong Kong in his 40s.

Since then, he has completed 37 half-marathons, 14 marathons, the Mont-Blanc 90km race in the Alps and has finished the city’s 100km Oxfam Trailwalker twice. He achieved his personal bests at the age of 49 (a marathon in two hours and 43 minutes, a half-marathon in one hour and 17 minutes, and a 10km race in 35 minutes and 17 seconds).

He went from 20 years of smoking to running 100km ultramarathon at 62

He says he managed to keep his streak unbroken by running on a treadmill at home while in isolation when he caught Covid-19.

“I controlled my heart rate and monitored my oxygen levels. I try not to overreact to every sniffle and just carry on, and genuinely believe constant exposure to the outdoors is a better defence [against] infection than all this effort to sanitise everything around us,” he says.

Hopper was inspired by the late Ron Hill, a British long-distance runner and Olympian. Photo: Ron Hill
As for travelling, Hopper says he runs between airport terminals and he ran the length and width of his hotel rooms during his mandatory hotel quarantine stays.

His father, a talented footballer and cricketer, influenced Hopper’s interest in sport. Young Hopper grew up playing cricket, golf and squash, and he ran his first race – the Great North Run in Newcastle – in his early teens.

“Little did I know then that it would begin a lifelong love affair with running which would transform my life,” he says.

He adds that he loves the discipline and the fitness that running brings and the time spent in nature when on Hong Kong trails.

Haile Gebrselassie celebrates after winning the Berlin Marathon in 2008 in Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The 2008 Berlin Marathon was Hopper’s favourite race.

“Standing next to [Ethiopian athlete] Haile Gebrselassie at the start of the race, in which he set a world record, was truly special. I finished 40 minutes behind him,” says Hopper, who ranked 17th in the UK Marathon rankings for his age group that year, has had several age-group podium finishes, and has finished six marathons in under three hours.

Hopper trained under Chris Wardlaw, an Australian Olympian who lived in Hong Kong for some time and who taught him the importance of building volume.

“His favourite question was, ‘How many weeks have you run above 100km, back-to-back? He would only work with you if your answer was eight weeks or more,” Hopper says.

These days, Hopper gets in about 70km a week. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Wardlaw’s training encompassed track repeats for speed, tempo runs for endurance and a long run to build stamina. Hopper’s weekly mileage while training for a marathon peaked at 160km.

These days, he gets in about 70km a week. He runs in the mornings and his favourite running trails in Hong Kong are Sir Cecil’s Ride, the Twin Peaks, the Pat Sin Leng trail, Lantau Peak and Sunset Peak.

“I realise my running personal bests are in the past, but competing in age-group races still fuels my competitive spirit. It is great fun but now a bit of a shock when I collect the trophy in the 60-plus category,” he says.

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Hopper has sustained several injuries over the years, resulting mainly in lower back pain. Listening to his body, resting, and reducing his mileage and speed have helped in his recoveries.

“The benefit of the running challenge is that I get to exercise daily, and I feel great after the run,” shares Hopper.

His greatest motivation to run, he says, is to inspire more people to take up the sport.

Its Gone Runners Running Club has 400 members and organises more than 200 group runs every year; it has a dedicated women’s running support group; and it has an online training platform where people can access top-class trainers.

Peter Hopper is a partner in Gone Running, a running and trail running shop in Wan Chai. Photo: Roy Issa

Hopper leads the Tuesday track sessions, Thursday tempo runs and the Saturday long run. He has helped nurture a community of runners and his passion has inspired his family and friends to embrace running, too.

Running is a simple sport. All you need is a good pair of shoes and the motivation to just get out there,” says Hopper. “What I find most gratifying is seeing people take to the sport and making it a part of their life.”

His advice to people in their 50s and 60s who want to start running is to simply get started and build up gradually to avoid injury. If you do get injured, accept that recovery may take longer than it would if you were younger.

Most importantly, enjoy the process.

Hopper’s passion has inspired his family and friends to embrace running, too. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Hopper can’t wait to run his next race: the Hong Kong-Zhuhai Macau Bridge Half-Marathon in November 2023.

“I am excited to run on the new bridge for the first time,” he says.

Article was originally published from here

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