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Louise Duncan: Taking on the Great Wall

written by

Leukaemia Care, Charity

  • Louise Duncan Green Power race

In June 2015, I left my position as principal of a pre-school in Sai Kung, an area in Hong Kong’s New Territories. After 20 years of teaching and being part of the education system in Hong Kong, I felt it was time to spend more time with my family and have a little bit of “me” time.

I have always enjoyed exercising, but bringing up a family, working full time and supporting a husband who had his own business left me very little time to fit it into my schedule. I had often listened enviously to other mums and friends, who filled their days with yoga, box-fit, hiking etc., and yearned for the day when I could do that too.

Now, without work, I could focus on all the things I felt I had missed out on.

With some trepidation and feeling very unfit, I joined a host of classes including yoga, outdoor bootcamp and a ladies-only dragon boat team. I slowly built exercise into my daily life. With a small group of friends, I hiked the same steep hill twice a week, nicknaming it “Kick Ass Hill” for good reasons! I thoroughly enjoyed myself and felt that I was now on my way to a better lifestyle. Along with my fitness routine, I also overhauled my diet and am now much more mindful of what I am eating, which all goes to show that life does indeed begin at 50!

I decided to set myself a few personal goals too. The first one was The Green Power 25km, a trail race which takes in the highs and lows of Hong Kong Island. Next up was climbing Mount Kinabalu in Borneo - after which my 16-year-old son told me how proud he was of me.

With each new challenge, I have felt a sense of achievement and realised that I can actually accomplish these goals with training and determination. My latest goal is a six-day, 72km trek along The Great Wall of China for Leukaemia CARE and in memory of my sister, who died prematurely 25 years ago aged 31. Despite having lived in Hong Kong for 24 years, I have never been to the Great Wall, so as well as a fitness and fundraising challenge, I’m also ticking off an item on my bucket list.

Here’s how my trek training has been going so far.

Hong Kong
It’s 8am and the temperature is already well over 30 degrees Celsius with humidity levels about 90%, if not more. I’m dripping in sweat and I haven’t even started walking yet. I’ve been trying to hike five times a week with at least one of the four friends I’m going to China with and, although I know I’m getting fitter, the heat is very draining.

If you’ve never been to Hong Kong, you’d be forgiven for thinking it is one big concrete jungle with its iconic skyscrapers and busy streets. In fact, about 75% of the territory is countryside and Sai Kung where I live has been dubbed Hong Kong’s back garden for its abundance of trails. Most trails have steep inclines and lots of steps, and there are also snakes to keep an eye out for. But once you get going, the views are breathtaking and I am forever grateful to have all of this on my doorstep. Having seen photos of the Great Wall, it also makes for excellent training – which I have to keep reminding myself as I haul myself up yet another hill.

With the arrival of the long school summer holiday, we swap Hong Kong’s heat for the south of France and what I envisage will be glorious hiking in gorgeous weather. And it is…until this year’s freak heat wave in Europe causes forest fires in the hills around where we are staying and many of the trails I was hoping to hike are closed. Still, I manage to average two walks a week in undulating countryside with a refreshing glass of rosé later on in the day as a reward.

Me and my family take a side trip to Italy and I’m determined to continue training. There are some stunning walks in the Alps around Sauze D’Oulx and no snakes to speak of, but the obstacles to my training are more culinary. Sometimes, it’s just too hard to forego the prosecco, delicious pasta and gelato in favour of a healthy salad and a hike – well we are on holiday, aren’t we?

Two weeks to go

With two weeks to go till we set off for Beijing, I am getting excited but nervous at the prospect. Will I be fit enough? Will the weather be kind to us? And will I be able to find room in my backpack for a bottle of rosé?


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